HAQLANIYAH, Iraq --
U.S. Marines have discovered four weapons caches in three days, effectively taking weapons out of the hands of insurgents in at least one city in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province, U.S. Marines here say.
The Marines, part of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, discovered everything from mortar rounds to bullets in the caches, which were discovered in Haqlaniyah, one of three Euphrates River cities which make up the Haditha “Triad” region.
One cache had more than 65 rocket-propelled grenades, a common weapon insurgents use during attacks against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces.
Golf Company’s 1st and 3rd Platoons discovered the caches while conducting cordon and search operations in the city.
The company is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province late last month in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi Security Forces, according to U.S. military commanders in Anbar Province.
The battalion is part of the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). A Marine Expeditionary Unit is a team of about 2,200 U.S. Marines and sailors who form a “forward deployed, sea-based, naval expeditionary force” which conducts maritime-oriented missions, often in response to real-world contingencies.
The Haditha “Triad” has been one of the most insurgent-active regions in western Anbar Province, where U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces face small-arms fire and improvised explosive attacks daily.
While clearing old, uninhabited buildings here, the Marines discovered several rocket-propelled grenades. After digging a bit deeper, the Marines hit the jack pot – 65 RPGs, 150 blasting caps, two RPG launchers, two RPK machines guns and radio equipment, according to Staff Sgt. Brian K. Withrow, platoon commander for 3rd Platoon.
“We started digging through some stuff…the next we knew, we started clearing some rocks and started finding big barrels that were buried under the ground,” said Withrow.
Withrow explained that many of his Marines simply have a “nose” for finding the caches and know exactly what they are looking for. More often than not, as soon as one of his Marines says there might be something to look at a little more closely, they have usually stumbled upon something big, said Withrow.
“Once they pull something out, that’s when we start turning the place upside down and just start looking for everything. It’s prideful to find some of that stuff, especially when it’s so obvious,” he said.
Lance Cpl Jeremy Holstein, radio operator for 1st Platoon, discovered the cache of 65 RPG rounds after finding a bag of 10 RPG rounds. After that, the squad began picking the area apart, utilizing metal detectors and shovels to uncover rocks and dig up dirt.
Holstein, explained that while conducting a search around the area of a broken down house he spotted something in the back of a room that did not appear quite right. Once he moved a couple of the rocks it was then he spotted the bag.
Holstein says finding the insurgents’ hidden weapons and munitions saves lives. It gives him a “good feeling,” he said.
“I think it was pretty significant. 65 RPG rounds are enough to fuel quite a few attacks,” said Holstein.
Cpl Andrew Dotson, one of 1st Platoon’s team leaders, was responsible for finding another cache in the same week.
While searching a local’s home, the resident told Marines that someone had been in his garden possibly hiding something, said Dotson. Based on this, Dotson and fellow Marines searched the area and made their find.
“I was looking in some small caves and found two mortar heads and proceeded to Search
,” said Dotson. “The combat engineers found a (box of .50 caliber) rounds, we also found a surface to air rocket and a few hundred shotgun shells [in a septic tank],” said Dotson.
Finding the cache was just business as usual for Dotson, he explained, but it did feel good finding it.
“It’s a great feeling whenever we find things just because it’s not on the roads anymore,” said Dotson. “It’s not going to be blowing people up and hurting your friends.”
While 1st Platoon was busy digging up the cache they discovered, Golf Co’s 3rd Platoon found a third cache, this time in the city’s market area. One of the platoon’s Marines spotted what appeared to be an improvised hand grenade in a store.
After further investigation, the Marines found the hidden cache – six RPG rounds, two hand grenades, five AK-47 assault rifles, thousands of rounds of ammunition, one bolt-action rifle and some insurgent clothing – behind the shop.
Lance Cpl. Cole Young, a combat engineer attached to 3rd Platoon, is credited for making the find, which included an improvised hand grenade – what Young says was one of the more unique weapons discovered in the cache.
With two prior deployments to Iraq under his belt, Young said that this is the first time he “has seen something like this.”
“That’s was the first anti-personnel device that I’ve seen like it,” said Young.
The Marines say they will continue to look for hidden weapons and munitions caches, which saves lives.
“It’s a good feeling finding something like this because you might think ‘I just saved about ten Marines’ lives,’” said Holstein.