SAHL SINJAR, Iraq --
On ground that was little more than a strip of cement surrounded by desert, a veritable camp now stands, built and manned by Marines of Task Force Ninewa ready to hunt foreign fighters and terrorists near the Syrian border.
Task Force Ninewa, the ground-combat element for Operation Defeat Al Qaeda in the North II, is built around 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (Task Force Highlander). It is comprised of Marines from 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Battalion 2nd Marine Regiment, as well as augments from ANGLICO, Explosive Ordinance Disposal, and other combat assets of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, and now controls the open areas of northern Iraq near Mosul.
“We are here to interdict foreign fighter facilitators and anyone else who is breaking the Iraqi people’s rule of law, keeping this area from becoming a place of opportunity for outsiders who wish to influence the Iraqi sovereignty,” said Lt. Col. Scott D. Leonard, commanding officer for 1st LAR Bn. “The various elements of the task force are denying infiltration routes, and working with the Iraqi Security Forces to identify any places foreign fighters may be using as safe havens,”
Bringing those various elements together and establishing the camp’s infrastructure presented a mission all in itself. But, as Marines have done throughout the Corps’ history, overcoming these types of obstacles was all in a day’s work, explained Leonard.
“We moved the entire task force from western Iraq all the way here in less than two weeks while at the same time bringing in the other units with whom we have never operated or trained, which presented some unique challenges,” said Leonard. “But, that just highlights the strength of the Marine Corps where you can take various units, mix them up and create an effective fighting force from different types of units.”
Of those units, Company B, 1st Tank Battalion is one that, like the Highlanders, is assisting in providing security to Iraq’s border and increased safety to its people, said Gunnery Sgt. Jason L. Villasana, a tank crewman with Company B.
“The logistics of getting here and preparing for our mission included some hurdles, but our presence here is a huge deterrent for those out there wanting to do crimes, either against us or the Iraqis,” said Villasana, 31 from Sabinal, Tx. “As the battalion master gunner and having trained these Marines, I am very confident that whatever arises, we will be ready to respond.”
Task Force Ninewa’s mission is something its Marines are happy to accept, a sentiment that extends to the people they are here to help, said Leonard.
“The warm response from the people is a sign that Marines are winning the war in Iraq and definitely shows that we’ve come a long way in last five years,” Leonard said. “The Marines of Task Force Ninewa are here to support the Iraqi people, their government and their rule of law. There is no better friend than us and we are concerned with their welfare and the safety of their families.”
With the Iraqi people in good hands, criminals in the area should beware of the task force’s other purpose and the men who fight from its ranks, explained Leonard.
“We will be diligent in hunting the FFFs, going everywhere that they believe they can hide, and we will deny them any opportunity to do harm to the (Iraq peoples’) interests.