Operation Steel Curtain
Al Hajip Elfulathi
November 5, 2005 - ?
On November 5, 2005 in the western region of Al Anbar approximately 2,500 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers from Regimental Combat Team-2 along with 1,000 additional Iraqi Army Soldiers initiated Operation Steel Curtain, or Al Hajip Elfulathi in Arabic. Due to the increased combat capability of Iraqi forces in the Al Anbar province, this operation marked the first large-scale deployment of multiple battalion-sized units of Iraqi Army forces in combined operations with Coalition Forces in al Anbar during that year. Specially recruited soldiers from the Iraqi scout platoons from the al Qaim region were embedded along with US and Iraqi forces in order to identify terrorist strong points and areas containing improvised explosive devices.
As part of the larger Operation Hunter, Steel Curtain was designed to pursue the goals established by the earlier operations of Iron Fist and River Gate by asserting control and security along the Iraqi-Syrian border and attacking the insurgent networks operating in Husaybah. Iraq's border with Syrian functioned as a conduit for smuggling in foreign fighters, money and equipment used in attacking Coalition Forces.
After beginning early on November 5, 2005 the combined Iraqi and Coalition force moved through the city, encountering sporadic resistance in the form of small arms fire and improvised explosive devices. During the first day six bombs and mines were discovered and destroyed. Coalition air strikes were used nine times throughout the day on enemy strong points and on a suspected suicide car bomb.
On November 6, soldiers conducted house by house search operations in search of illegal weapons and other insurgent activity. According to Defense Department reports, every building in the city was systematically searched. Coalition troops also set up secure temporary shelter which provided food and relief supplies at a vacant housing development for the approximately 800-900 Iraqi citizens displaced by the operation. There were two separate incidents of soldiers and marines being fired on by insurgents from mosques, however they had fled the buildings before they could be neutralized or apprehended. Air strikes were utilized for an additional ten targets using precision guided munitions.
On the third day of the operation three insurgents dressed in women's clothing pulled weapons out as they neared a checkpoint manned by Iraqi Soldiers The soldiers shot and killed the attackers before they could fire. Small groups of insurgents continued to engage US and Iraqi soldiers, mainy times firing from mosques or schools to discourage Coalition counter attacks. In a classroom, the corpse of an insurgent was found rigged with a hand grenade set to detonate when the body was moved. The same classroom contained a rocket propelled grenade launcher.
By November 9, the clearing and sweeping of Husaybah had been completed. Nevertheless, raids continued, including the clearing of the town of Karabilah, located approximately two kilometers away. By November 12, Karabilah was cleared with only one small arms attack. Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers discovered 19 improvised explosive devices, three booby trapped homes, and one car bomb. 108 insurgents were reportedly captured with 36 confirmed dead in the operation. During the Husaybah phase of Steel Curtain there were no reports of civilian casualties. One US Marine was killed by enemy fire. Once Husaybah had been cleared, Iraqi units were partnered with marines from Regimental Combat Team 2 to establish a continued presence in the city.
Operation Steel Curtain began a new phase on Nov 14th, when Soldiers and Sailors from Regimental Combat Team-2 paired with Iraqi Security Forces moved in to secure the town of Ubaydi on the banks of the Eyphrates. It is located only 20 km from the border with Syria and was the subject of Operation Matador in the preceding May. As opposed to Matador, Operation Steel Curtain sought to establish a permanent presence in Ubaydi. It was believed that many of the insurgents who had been operating out of Husaybah and Karabilah had retreated to Ubaydi. Fighting broke out between soldiers and insurgents at dawn and air strikes were used on five targets as insurgents engaging Coalition forces with small arms fire. Amid sporadic heavy fighting, six mines and one booby-trap were discovered. The strength of the resistance was attributed to the fact that insurgents had nowhere else in the area to flee. Some insurgents were apprehended as they attempted to crawl away in a flock of sheep. By November 15, 150 suspected insurgents had been detained. A car bomb was also detonated by a M1A1 tank round, causing a secondary explosion strong enough to blast the car onto the roof of a nearby building. Searches also uncovered numerous weapons caches that included suicide vests and bomb-making material.
On November 16, Marines were searching residences along the outskirts of the town. When a group of Marines entered a farmhouse an explosion from a grenade or a mine killed one of the Marines. As the others attempted to retrieve his body, they were ambushed by insurgents with small arms and grenades. While 16 insurgents were killed in the ensuing gunfight, 5 Marines were killed and 11 were wounded. These casualties added to the two Marines killed during the first day in Ubaydi where one soldier died in small arms fire, and another as a result of an IED
After 17 days, Operation Steel Curtain came to a close as coalition forces and iraqi counterparts established perminant bases within the cities of Husaybah, Karabilah and Ubaydi. 10 Marines were killed during the operation and military officials reported that 139 insurgents were killed and 256 were processed for detention.