San Diego Union Tribune

November 3, 2005

On new tour, Marines to get big boost from Iraqi battalions

By Otto Kreisher

WASHINGTON – When the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force resumes responsibility for volatile Anbar province in Iraq in February, the Marines will be bolstered by 18 battalions from the new Iraqi army, plus a large number of Iraqi police and border security forces, Lt. Gen. John Sattler said.

That will be a large increase over the last time the Camp Pendleton-based force was in western Iraq, when "there was not one Iraqi battalion that would stand and fight," said Sattler, the 1st MEF commander.

Because of that change, training and mentoring those Iraqi forces will be the Marines' primary mission, rather than directly confronting the insurgents who have made Anbar one of the deadliest parts of Iraq, Sattler told reporters Tuesday.

Training those Iraqi security forces and increasing their capability to be in charge of their own units and operations are crucial tasks that must be accomplished before U.S. forces can withdraw from Iraq, the general said.

Sattler expressed confidence the Iraqis would prove capable of handling the deadly insurgency on their own, but he wouldn't predict when that would happen.

The 1st MEF is due to return to Iraq early next year and by the end of February assume responsibility for the western region from the 2nd MEF, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

A key part of the Camp Pendleton Marines' preparation for their third tour in Iraq since March 2003, Sattler said, was training the teams that would be embedded with the emerging Iraqi units. They are preparing 45 teams, each with 10 Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman, which will be responsible for an Iraqi army battalion or a similar-size unit of the border security forces that will try to stem the flow of insurgents, money and weapons from Syria and Jordan.

The "ultimate goal," he said, is to turn over areas of Anbar to the Iraqis as their forces become more capable.

Sattler predicted that by the time his force finishes its next tour in Iraq in fall 2006, there would be two Iraqi divisions, with 18 fully trained battalions in Anbar.

Two Iraqi battalions will be attached to each battalion of ground troops from the 1st Marine Division. The forces under Sattler's command also will include helicopter and fighter squadrons from the 3rd Marine Air Wing, based at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, and troops of the 1st Force Service Support Group from Camp Pendleton.

It is likely that there also will be Marines from the 2nd MEF and from the 3rd MEF, based in Hawaii and Okinawa, just as some 1st MEF units are currently serving with the Camp Lejeune command in Iraq.

Sattler said the Marines also will have Army units fighting with them. Although the emphasis on the next tour in Iraq will be on preparing the Iraqi forces to handle the fight, the Marines are training to be ready to battle the insurgents themselves, if that becomes necessary, Sattler said.

Each of his battalions is receiving training at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, focusing on urban operations and convoy missions.

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