Ops with Iraqi SOF in Al-Qaim?

iraqisof-in-spear(Turns out they weren’t SOF. See the last update below)

Just ran across an intriguing photo.  Found it on a Facebook profile.  The caption reads:

“A break with Iraqi Special Forces Operation Spear OIF 3”.  It brings up some interesting things:

First, it shows Iraqi troops working alongside 3/2 in June 2005 during Op Spear.  I wasn’t aware that 3/2 was operating with Iraqi troops that early.  I thought that came later, in Aug/Sep.  So, more to learn on that score…

Second, the caption says these guys (in the chocolate chip uniforms) are “Iraqi Special Forces”, not regular troops or Iraqi National Guard (ING).  If that’s correct, I wonder what the operational relationship was.  Did they just happen to be holed up in the same house when the photo was taken?  Did Kilo Co. have some SOF element embedded with them for Operation Spear?  And if so, there would likely have been US SOF with them.  Who would that have been? (see update below).

There’s a whole parallel history of SOF operations in the Al-Qaim area, concurrent with Marine operations.  And there is actually quite a bit of publicly available info on this.  But does this photo represent a small piece of that?  I’ll be rooting around to find out more.


Update (9jan17): OK, here’s some confirmation.  Found a photo and caption in the book “Hearts and Mines: With the Marines in al-Anbar, a Story of Psychological Operations”.  Another photo showing “Iraqi Special Forces”, operating with the Marines.

Again, note the chocolate chip uniforms on the two guys on the right.

Caption reads:
U.S. Marines assigned to 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, patrol the streets with Iraqi Special Forces soldiers, while conducting offensive operations in the city of Karabila, Iraq, during Operation Spear, June 17, 2005. (USMC photo).

Update (13jan17): Looks like this was incorrect.  I’ve had a couple of 3/2 sources tell me the guys they worked with were just regular Iraqi troops, not Special Forces.  The acronym commonly used was Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), which can easily get transmuted into ‘Iraqi Special Forces’.  So, another example of guys who were on the ground setting things straight.

Why the 3/2?

Just had a conversation w one of my daughters, and mentioned this project.  First thing she asked was, “why that battalion?” She’s not the only one.  Several of the Marines I’ve been Facebooking with have asked something similar.  And I guess it might seem kind of weird, to have some stranger contact you and start asking questions.  Especially when it becomes clear how long I’ve been studying the unit, and how much I know about their operations and the campaign.  So, here’s the answer…

Clearing Karabilah during Operation Spear. June, 2005. (USMC photo)

In about 2009/2010, I was thinking about writing something (non-fictional historic account? a novel? a series of articles?) about the Iraq War, and specifically the “surge” that seemed to turn things around so dramatically. My own deployment in the spring & summer of 2007 had ingrained in me how historic the tribal “awakening” movement was, and I started digging into the whole story.

The standard history of the Sunni awakening focuses on Ramadi in 2006, and the actions of young Sheikh Sattar, Capt. Travis Patriquin and a surrounding cast of characters. It’s commonly accepted that Ramadi is where the big turn-around came, where the Sunni tribes turned against the jihadists of AQI, and joined forces with the Coalition.  BTW, the 3/2 had a role to play there being deployed in 2006/2007 and seeing lots of combat in and around Ramadi.

But there was a first awakening in 2005, in the Al-Qaim district by the Syrian border, out in the “wild west”.  It was in Al-Qaim where Sunni tribesmen first fought back against the foreign-led extremist group al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  In March of 2005, when the “Betio Bastards” took over at Al-Qaim, the Area of Operations (AOR) was in crisis.  Within weeks, they suffered their first KIA, were hit by a major attack against a key base, and started seeing bitter “red-on-red” clashes as local tribal gangs fought against AQI terrorists.

Right from the start, the Marines of 3/2 were immersed in a dangerous, highly complex environment. The battalion commander, LtCol Tim Mundy, knew he wasn’t resourced to run a classic counter-insurgency campaign, which requires more troops to secure the population. So 3/2 had to work with what they had, cover a large AO, figure out who was good & who was bad, and keep AQI at bay..

At the same time, the grunts of the battalion’s two infantry companies, India and Kilo, and the weapons company, Warpig, had to go full-on kinetic against hard-core, jihadist warriors determined to fight to the death while taking as many Americans with them as possible.  At that time in the war, Al-Qaim was one of the most violent, challenging operational environments in the country.  Officially, the Marines of 3/2 experienced 279 firefights over their 7-month deployment of (roughly 210 days).

So, that’s why…


Update (23feb17): Just posted an email exchange w Chris Ieva, Commander of Kilo Co, that gives great context, and addresses this question.

Good times at Retrans

20245565_10212849572050815_2190705307229902654_nWas chatting w some guys tonight, and a theme developed… the ‘retrans’ site, otherwise known as Khe Sahn.  Basically, it was a radio relay site, a few klicks north of 3/2’s main base, Camp Al-Qaim (see map).

It was a desolate outpost, with a few bunkers and a radio tower, placed there to establish a comms link between the Battalion Combat Ops Center (COC) at Camp Al-Qaim, and India Company at Camp Gannon up in Husaybah.

Kilo Co. squads had to rotate out there to protect it from attack.  Apparently retrans duty had its pros & cons.  It sucked, but at least the leaders left you alone.  Here’s the way Ian Norris put it (used with Ian’s permission):

Ian – We had some of the best times out at retrans. I’m not sure if anyone told you about that place.

Ajax – No, what was retrans?

Ian – It was a retransmission site so Al Qaim could talk to India Co. in Camp Gannon. We would take mortar and rocket fire and return mortar fire. But the best part was that after the first month or so the higher ups stopped going out there so basically you had a squad plus to do whatever we wanted.

Aha! Googled up a couple of photos from the place.  Doesn’t look like fun to me…

Ajax – Was it just out in the desert?

Ian – Yeah just on top of a hill. We had three machine gun bunkers, a comms bunker, and command post (CP).

Ajax – Who would go out there? Was it a Kilo responsibility? Did squads rotate out there

Ian – Right, K Co.  So we would rotate a squad with a machine gun team and a mortar team.

Another contact from Kilo Co., John Parina, told of a firefight they had out at retrans during a sandstorm (used with permission):

John Parina – The insurgents tried to make their move when we couldn’t see. Unfortunately (for them) we could see their muzzle flashes.  We were playing spades in the CP when we started taking small arms fire. There were 4 bunkers–the CP, a 240 bunker, .50 cal bunker, and a Mk19 bunker.  We all ran to our respective bunkers and started firing back. The .50 and Mk19 were in the front where we were taking fire.  The 240 dismounted and ran up to the .50 cal bunker and also started returning fire. I was on the Mk19, and took the traverse and elevation off the gun, so I could track targets faster. We returned a lot of rounds, then it quieted down, cleared up and was all over. (see update and video below…)

A third Kilo Marine, Ryan Lusby, told about spending a record-breaking stint out there. Pretty rough (again, w permission):

Ryan – I remember pulling duty out at retrans (comm site we protected), while taking mortar rounds and sniper fire.  Trying to piss off the enemy for messing my card game up.

Ajax – Hah! I was just talking to two guys about crap that went on at retrans.  No kidding… They said no one checked up on them out there so they could relax.  

Ryan – Yeah it was fun. Man, I miss it. Damn choppers always reported us for not wearing any gear and my squad was there the longest. One month, no lie.

Ajax – The rotorheads ratted on you?! Blue Falcon bastards… One month!! Good grief. Did you guys piss someone off?

Ryan – I looked like a zombie when I got back. No shower. MREs for a month. It was wild.

Update (8jan17):  I’ve found a video of a big sandstorm that swept over Al-Qaim.  This might be the storm John Parina mentions above.  Tonight another Kilo Marine, Davis Sanders, told me there was one big sandstorm during the deployment that everyone remembers. The video isn’t clear about the date of the storm footage (1st 10 minutes), and the 2nd part shows clips from Operation Spear in June of 2005.  So, not sure, but it looks like a big one…

Youtube of sandstorm and Operation Spear

Here we go here we go here we go, now!

Here’s the first blog post.  Not sure how to organize things yet, so will start by plugging in various images, youtube videos and links relating to 3/2 that I’ve collected over several years.  As I go, I’ll try to set up logically-arranged pages.

By the way, the title of this post is from the headbanger song ‘Let the bodies hit the floor’ by the group Drowning Pool.  In Iraq and Afghanistan it became kind of an unofficial anthem for grunts and soldiers, and I’m told it was popular among 3/2.


Here’s a YouTube compilation with the song as soundtrack, probably posted by a Marine.  Caution: Some intense, graphic images of combat.

3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines and the fight for Al-Qaim, Iraq