SAHL SINJAR, Iraq --
With one awkward step over the berm, the Marines of the Military Police detachment here began their first security and reconnaissance patrol in Iraq’s northern Nineweh Province Nov. 9.
The MPs with Combat Logistics Company 19, 1st Marine Logistics Group, shoulder the task of base security here, which includes presence patrols through adjacent towns and abandoned structures.
Their first mission was to clear out and secure an old, abandoned town located just a kilometer west of Camp Sinjar.
“A couple years ago, (Al Qaeda Insurgents) came through that area and forced locals out so they could use the houses over there as a safe haven to smuggle drugs, insurgents and conduct other illegal activities,” said Sgt. Michael S. Vasquez, squad leader, MP detachment.
As insurgent activity continues in Mosul, a city located East of Sinjar, Marine presence in smuggler jump-off points and safe havens serves to choke off possible enemy supply routes. The patrols also keep Marines here safe.
“As soon as we got word about how close it was, we wanted to check to see if there was any activity going on,” Vasquez said.
Marines here define activity in terms as harmless as squatting in abandoned buildings for the night, or in terms of planning and mounting assaults on nearby units. When it comes to insurgents operating within sight of camp, any “activity” is noteworthy and worth preventing.
“With it as close to this (camp) as it is, it’s important to make sure there’s no one hanging out spying on us, gathering (intelligence) on us, or putting in a sniper position and taking out Marines,” said Cpl. Christopher W. Johnston, team leader, MP detachment.
Vasquez, 26, Austin, Texas, said that not only do the patrols prevent intelligence gathering, but enable Marines to gather their own information.
“Clearing out the house will help us see if there’s any [intelligence] left behind by them, if they actually left behind any weapons, paperwork, photos of our base, any kind of intel whatsoever, anything they could leave behind that shows the insurgents have been using (the town),” Vasquez said.
One patrol isn’t enough, said Marines here.
The MPs plan to routinely patrol through it to ensure it does not again become an instrument for any insurgent group. Making random appearances in the town will keep any local insurgent groups guessing.
“See if anything’s changed, foot prints that we didn’t leave behind, or anything that was different from the last time we’d been through,” Vasquez said.
Marines made sure to leave no stone unturned during the first patrol. The MPs noted every suspicious object, booted every door and searched every room.
“We want to show a presence, show ‘em we mean business, and it’s pretty much to provide that security, to push it out, and have a secure comfort zone as far as we can,” said Johnston, 21, Sheboygan, Wis.
Establishing and maintaining an insurgent free “comfort zone” allows Marines within the camp to operate with a clear conscious. Although improving security for the camp first may be a priority, Marines here remember that it’s just one step toward improving security for the Iraqi people as well.
“If there is AQI presence, citizens will have that relief of knowing that we’re out here; that it’s possible for us to push (the insurgency) out … and we will push them out,” Johnston said.
Vasquez showed the same determination.
“It doesn’t matter how calm the area is, if there is any remnant of insurgency, we’re not going to ignore it, we’re going to let it be known throughout this area that we’re not done, and it’s not time for them to get comfortable,” said Vasquez.
Vasquez, Johnston and other Marines in MP detachment make up one part of the first Marine Air Ground Task Force outside Anbar in Iraq since 2004. They traveled to the Nineweh province to kick off Operation Defeat Al Qaeda in the North II, an effort aimed at stamping out the insurgency west of the restive city of Mosul.