By JOHN KOOPMAN
San Francisco Chronicle
August 05, 2005
The Corps lost 14 men to a roadside bomb Wednesday, six to an ambush Monday, and another to a car bomb a few miles from there.
Except for the Marine killed by the car bomb, the deaths all occurred in the city of Haditha, about 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, halfway between Fallujah and the Syrian border in Anbar province.
Already, more Marines have died in August than all of July, and nearly as many as in the entire month of June.
"The main reason for this is that the Marines are in a bad neighborhood," said John Pike, military analyst with Globalsecurity.org, a defense think tank in Washington, D.C. "The area in and around Fallujah is not a good place to be. "
Haditha, with a population of about 65,000, is the smaller cousin to Fallujah. It occupies a crossroads between the Syrian border, from which jihadis and weapons enter the combat zone. It is also strategic because it is adjacent to a large hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates River.
The Marines have held operational control over much of Anbar province. It's a rough and tumble region, considered the "Wild West" by the Marine commanders in the area. It is currently under the control of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, normally based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Those Marines took over from the 1st Marine Division out of Camp Pendleton in San Diego County.
The Army and Marines perform much the same function throughout Iraq, despite their slightly different capabilities and missions. Like the Army, their general mission is to keep the peace, seek out insurgents and perform civil affairs functions like building schools and power stations. Army units are often placed under the control of a Marine commander, and Marines often are assigned to work for Army units.
Most of the Marines who died this week belong to the same unit, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, a reserve outfit out of Brook Park, Ohio.
What's unclear is whether the recent casualties are just business as usual in a very dangerous area or the result of other activity. U.S. forces have recently conducted large offensive operations along the Syrian border.
"This is a very lethal and unfortunately very adaptable enemy we are faced with," Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, former commander of U.S. forces in Mosul, told a press conference at the Pentagon.
Pike said there was no way to know what, if anything, prompted the insurgents to step up attacks in Haditha or anywhere.
"There are a lot of different scenarios for why this might be going on, but the only way to find out for sure is to get inside the mind of that insurgent commander who might have control of a handful of men," he said.
Pike wondered whether the heavy fighting in the Fallujah-Haditha-Syrian border area had anything to do with the conduct of the Marines who are there. Within the military there is great debate, which will most likely never be settled, whether the Marines are correct to rotate units in for shorter periods of time than does the Army. Marines spend about six months in-country, while the Army usually sends in units for a year.
It's possible, Pike speculated, that the Marines leave just when they're getting the lay of the land. On the other hand, he said, spending a year in Iraq can burn you out.
"It's not just twice as long as a six-month tour," he said. "It feels like four or five times as long."
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