October 28th, 2006 09:12 EST
Iraqi Army making waves on Euphrates
BAGHDAD — From a distance it looks like a classic summer scene: boaters enjoying an afternoon on the river, taking an occasional dip to cool from the sun. But that’s far from the real situation occurring on the Euphrates River near Camp Habbaniyah, Iraq.
In reality, this is a new initiative to prevent improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from entering the area. The boaters and swimmers are actually soldiers in the Iraqi Army (IA), receiving small boat operator, or coxswain, training they requested from their American Military Transition Team (MiTT) counterparts.
Preventing insurgents from transporting IEDs on the Euphrates River is not the only significant aspect of this situation. Also important is the fact that the Iraqi Army identified the need to patrol the river--positive proof of the advancement of the leadership of the Iraqi Army.
“It’s a sign that the Iraqi Army is thinking forward,” said U.S. Marine Col. Juan Ayala, senior adviser of the 1st IA Division MiTT. “They’re not only thinking about what they’re doing on the ground, but they’re also thinking about more than one dimension of the counter-insurgency war.”
Ayala said that when his MiTT arrived in January 2006, the 1st IA Division realized that the insurgency was maneuvering around the area of operation not only on land, but also on the Euphrates River.
“They requested some assistance in training a team to patrol the Euphrates,” Ayala said. “They believe, and intelligence is telling them, that insurgents are transporting supplies, IED-making materials, and other forms of sustainment to support the insurgency in the Caldea, Abu Fleice, and Habbaniyah area, to include Fallujah and Ramadi.”
“What the Iraqi Army, and specifically the 1st IA Division, is trying to do is deny the insurgency that line of communication,” said Ayala, making the Euphrates River one more area where the insurgents can not travel, intimidate the farmers, or bring in IEDs and IED-making materials.
“They’re thinking about manning, equipping, and sustaining their brigades in the counter-insurgency fight which encompasses all levels and all types of maneuver, including maneuver in the water,” Ayala added.
To prepare the Iraqi Army to take their counter-insurgency fight to the water, MiTT members created a combat coxswain course, first of its kind in the post-Saddam era, which teaches basic sailor and patrolling skills needed to perform riverine operations.
A dozen Iraqi soldiers, selected for their swimming ability or prior boating experience, are receiving the initial training from their American mentors. Then, they will train their own comrades and eventually form a combat boating company.
There are three basic parts to this training. First are the tactics, techniques, and procedures of military riverine operations. Second is survivability, or ensuring they can swim with all their equipment, such as body armor and weapons. Third is to handle, maneuver, and maintain water-worthiness of their boats, which were abandoned by the old Iraqi army and refurbished by U.S. troops.
“Their boats are very basic,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Eric Torres, member of Marine Corps Reserve’s 3rd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, which is attached to the 1st IA Division MiTT. “They don’t have a lot of what we’d consider rudimentary equipment. They have eyelets that are bolted on to the fiberglass instead of cleats…so as a result they have to use knots more than we would.
“I’m teaching them not to use shackles or carabiners or anything more modern because their army might not have that later on, so I’m intentionally teaching them the hard way.”
According to Torres, these IA soldiers are mostly combat veterans from the old army, and appreciate the importance of this instruction. They believe they will use this training, whether tying knots in the dark or rescuing someone from the water, for future real-life operations.
“That’s why the guys are so enthusiastic and motivated,” said Torres. “They want to know this because it’s going to save their lives.”
Although the combat coxswain training is fundamental, its impact could be great for the 1st IA Division.
“If they interdict the Euphrates River, I think that’s one step closer to the security of their country,” Ayala said.
In the long run, when the Iraqi Army assumes full security of its country, the impact is great for their MiTT advisers too. That will be the time for U.S. forces to pull out of Iraq.
Then American troops can enjoy their own classic summer scenes, at home.