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American Forces Press Service

Operation Marne Courageous Targets Al Qaeda in Anbar Province

By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Nov. 19, 2007 – Coalition forces, Iraqi army soldiers and concerned local citizens near the border of Anbar province are working together to drive out al Qaeda in Iraq operatives during Operation Marne Courageous, according to Multinational Division Center public affairs officials.

More than 600 coalition troops, about 150 Iraqi soldiers and about 70 concerned local citizens are taking part in the operation, which kicked off Nov. 16. The forces went into two villages neighboring the border of Anbar province to lay groundwork for a coalition presence, officials said.

"We're going to put a footprint there. We're going to establish a forward operating base," said Army Col. Dominic Caraccilo, commander of the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

Iraqi soldiers joined the 101st Airborne Division troops in the air assault on the Sunni villages of Owesat and Betra, west of the Euphrates River and about 15 miles southwest of Baghdad.

Troops were transported in four helicopter lifts across the Euphrates, using two CH-47 Chinook helicopters and eight UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. A Marine reconnaissance platoon and soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, stationed in neighboring Anbar province, secured the landing zone.

Once on the ground, the U.S.-Iraqi force was supported by an air-weapons team of Apache and Kiowa helicopters, while the concerned local citizens assisted in securing the outlying perimeter.

While U.S. and Iraqi forces moved through the villages, other troops set to work building a bridge across the Euphrates to allow for the transport of materials and supplies to build a patrol base in the area. Officials said the base will allow for a sustained coalition presence in the area of Owesat, part of Baghdad's southwestern "belts."

No enemy fighters were killed or captured during the assault.

Before the air assault, U.S. F-16 fighter jets dropped two 2,000-pound bombs on an island in the Euphrates that was believed to be used by al Qaeda in Iraq as a staging ground for attacks. The bombardment was part of a "terrain denial" strategy, cutting off a potential al Qaeda escape route and denying the enemy a location to regroup, officials said.

The operation's main strategic thrust is to clear extremists from the area of Owesat. It also aims to establish a coalition presence and develop a concerned local citizens program in the area as a bulwark against further enemy activity, officials said.

According to officials, the assault mission was also conducted because there are indications that al Qaeda fighters operating in the area were involved with the May 12 attack that resulted in two missing U.S. soldiers, Pvt. Byron Fouty and Spc. Alex Jimenez of the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division took over the mission from the 10th Mountain Division troops at the end of October.

"The soldiers who were captured and still missing from the 10th Mountain are now part of the Rakkasan unit, and also part of the Task Force Marne unit. And the mission I have is to exploit every avenue to try to identify where they are," Caraccilo said.

(Tim Kilbride works in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)

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