NEAR KARMAH, Iraq -- Units from Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, concluded counter-insurgency Operation CHINA SHOP II July 8 in Al Anbar province here.
The battalion, serving as the Ground Combat Element for the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, continued census surveys and carried out sweeps and methodical searches for weapons caches beginning July 5.
In the course of 96 hours, elements from the battalion, including India and Weapons companies and Light Armored Reconnaissance assets, covered more than 400 square kilometers north of Karmah, sniffing out numerous weapons caches, explosives factories and Improvised Explosive Devices.
Among the explosives-making factories, large quantities of nitric acid, ammonium nitrate and chlorine were discovered. Raw homemade explosive materials totaled nearly 30,000 pounds. Artillery shells, rifles and mortar rockets were also uncovered by the battalion. All munitions were reduced in place by Combat Logistics Battalion 13 Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians.
The operation has been dubbed a success by unit commanders. “The incidents with IEDs are definitely being reduced in surrounding areas,” said 1st Lt. Mike Geiger, a platoon commander from Weapons Company, BLT 3/1. “We’re exploiting logistics areas, places where insurgents bed down, and taking away their safe harbor here.”
In addition to taking away enemy accelerants, BLT 3/1 has also been tasked with a census operation, allowing the opportunity to speak with local populace, a piece of the war traditionally known as “hearts and minds.”
“We talked to one farmer and told him we were going to be around for a few days,” said Geiger, “and he said ‘Thank God.’”
Geiger described the rising dangers for locals here, as insurgents conduct illegal checkpoints, hijack consumer goods, and rob civilians along routes. The presence of Coalition Forces here, said Geiger, inhibits such activity.
“The insurgents are conducting ‘murder and intimidation’ operations, and as long as we’re here, they can’t do that.”
The Fayetteville, N.C. native also submitted the evidence uncovered by the searches as indication that insurgents are continuously utilizing the rural region as staging and recuperating areas.
“In some houses where we found explosives, there were bedrolls, human waste … it’s not like we’re chasing ghosts here.”
Junior Marines conducting aspects of the operation say they felt a lasting positive impact made from a precursor mission, Operation CHINA SHOP.
“Every little thing we did made a difference, taking IEDs out of the hands of the enemy and the ‘hearts and minds’ stuff,” said Lance Cpl. Nick Velasco, a weapons company mortarman and native of St. Paul, Minn.
Velasco, who is on his first deployment here, said he felt a moment of clarity, realizing the importance of coalition presence during CHINA SHOP II.
“During our screening mission for LAR, some guys were able to sit down, actually sit down with a family and just talk with them. One of the guys was arm wrestling with a kid … it just shows they’re not afraid of us and know we’re here to help them.”
Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Phillip Chandler was again pleased with the efforts and success of his Marines under difficult circumstances.
“Marines did a great job going out using an analytical mindset in order to find out where these guys are hiding this stuff,” he said. “It’s a ‘needle-in-a-haystack’ type of search.”
Looking ahead, Chandler noted the battalion is “beginning to focus efforts on combined operations with the Iraqi Army.”
For more information about the warriors of Battalion Landing Team 3/1, or the Fighting 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, visit the unit’s Web site at www.usmc.mil/13thmeu.