RASHID, Iraq -- Before the sun rose on the first day of August, a Marine and an interpreter knocked on the door of a square, cement house overlooking the Tigris River in Rashid, on the outskirts of Baghdad. The message was simple: open the door; the Marines are here.
Marines of the 1st Force Reconnaissance Company were lined up outside the house, wearing night-vision goggles and carrying M4 rifles, which are shorter carbine versions of the standard M-16. Up on the road leading up to the house, light armored vehicles from the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion were set up, ready to provide fire support to the Force Recon Marines. Two UH-1 Hueys flew overhead, watching the house through thermal imaging systems.
No answer came. The house was breeched with Marines streaming in, searching rooms and detaining the occupants. Three of them were later confirmed to be members of a terrorist cell.
Soon, the word came that the targeted suspect wasn't among them. As the sun began to creep up over the horizon, scouts streamed toward the river from their LAVs to join the Force Recon Marines in looking for a "squirter."
The man they were looking for was a leader of a terrorist cell in northern Babil province, according to Maj. David Bellon, who organized the raid as the operations officer for Task Force Scorpion, a joint effort between the reserve LAR battalion, Force Recon, and active-duty infantry companies from the First Marine Division.
"It's a Wahabi extremist group that's working with former Ba'ath Party members," said Bellon. "It's an unholy alliance because they both want to kill Americans. There are a lot of parallels with the Taliban. There's no chance they'll ever conform to a democratic Iraq."
Bellon, who watched from above in one of the Hueys, gave an account of the raid in the Spartan combat operations center at the task force's encampment at Living Support Area Dogwood, a logistics base for the Army's 1st Armored Division.
"In the 30 seconds from knock to breech, he ran out back," he said. "He ran to the bank of the Tigris River. The bank's pretty steep, with thick vegetation. He covered himself up with weeds and mud."
While the man was running toward the river, the Marines were knocking in the door - the first time in 20 raids they've had to do so.
"We try to give them a chance to give up," said Bellon, a San Diego native. "Normally, they surrender."
In the air, the thermal imagers spotted the suspect, and a laser was pointed at him to direct the Marines on the ground, who saw it in their night-vision goggles. As they approached, the man, dressed only in a pair of boxers, dove into the water. Marines prepared to give pursuit, stripping off their combat loads to enter the water, but the helicopters, low on fuel, had to abandon the hunt for the moment.
"Three Marines dropped their gear and went him after him, but were called back," said Bellon. "There was a strong current, at night, and he wasn't worth losing a Marine for."
Meanwhile, intelligence experts began questioning the detainees.
"Inside the house, we got three confirmed terrorists and (corroborating) documents," said Bellon. "Apparently, we broke up a meeting to plan attacks on coalition forces. The people we got started to cooperate."
As dawn came, the Marines searched the banks of the river, with four of them jumping in to swim out to a sandbar, dense with vegetation, where they thought he might be hiding. The Hueys, back on station, flew low over the banks scanning for signs of the escaped terrorist. Meanwhile, nearby citizens were waking up while the Marines were patrolling. Finally, the search was called off, and the Marines headed back to base.
Despite the escape of the suspect, the Marines were satisfied with their success.
"Everyone did their job well," said Sgt. Joshua Lind, 1st Force Reconnaissance Company reconnaissance scout, from San Diego. "The last place we thought he would go was in the water. It interrupts the terrorists, because they're busy running, not planning attacks on us."
And, sitting in the COC, Bellon is getting ready to plan more raids, to pick up anyone who threatens the coalition in Iraq.
"We've got three terrorists, one on the run," said Bellon. "He escaped in his underwear in the Tigris River. He can't run forever."
"We'll catch this guy," he added.