Union Tribune

February 19, 2004

Marines send advance troops to Iraq for on-the-spot lessons

By OTTO KREISHER
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON An advance contingent of the Marine force bound for Iraq next month is there now, laying the groundwork for taking over responsibility for one of the most dangerous parts of that country, the commandant of the Marine Corps said yesterday.

The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton has several thousand troops in Iraq working with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, which the Marines will relieve, and with the Iraqi security forces there, Gen. Michael Hagee said.

The Marines are learning how to prepare ground troops and air crews for their peacekeeping role in Iraq. They're also learning how the 82nd deals with the roadside bombings that have caused most of the U.S. casualties, Hagee told reporters.

"We're probably going to be tested when we go in," Hagee said, "but we've been working very hard, both with our own forces and with the U.S. Army, to make sure that when we (take) over, there is no letup from what the 82nd is doing."

Hagee said a crucial part of Corps' preparation for duty in the troublesome Sunni Triangle is to establish relationships with the Iraqis there.

The Marines also are developing intelligence networks to make the transition as smooth as possible, the general said.

The Marines have been talking to the Army and other allies in Iraq to learn how to avoid the improvised explosive devices that have caused so many casualties, Hagee said.

And they are working with military research and industry to acquire technology to counter the roadside bombs, most of which are remotely detonated.

One of the advantages the Marines have as an infantry force, Hagee said, is that they can put a lot of "boots on the ground," noting that the 82nd Airborne says one of the ways to prevent attacks "is to have infantry around."

The 25,000 Marines being deployed to Iraq include nine battalions, each numbering about 900.

They will have their own helicopters and C-130 transport planes, mostly from the 3rd Marine Air Wing at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, Hagee said.

"We will have aircraft survivability equipment on all our aircraft," he said. "Everything our scientists and industry can come up with, we're going to equip our aircraft with."

The Marines will be able to use a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles to scan their operating area, Hagee said.