IRAQ: Iraqi Security Forces, Marines capture 72 Suspected Militants

Forward Operating Base, Kalsu, Iraq — Iraqi police and national guardsmen beat back an insurgent attack on a police station just south of Baghdad on Dec. 12, fueling optimism that the fledgling security forces are growing more confident and capable even in the face of a concerted campaign of intimidation and terror. 

The early-morning assault on the Rasheed station north of Mahmudiyah by an estimated 10 militants using mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and small-arms posed the biggest test yet for the 507th ING Battalion, which has been operating alongside the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit since July. 

The policemen and soldiers immediately returned fire, holding their ground and summoning their quick-reaction force. Marines were also called to assist but were not needed, as the ING decisively repulsed the attack. Several of the attackers fled to a nearby mosque, where the ING found them and a variety of weapons and ammunition. 

In a full sweep of the area, the ING detained 34 suspected insurgents. The soldiers also discovered a car bomb across the street from the police station. Marine explosives experts were called in to defuse and dispose of the bomb. 

One ING soldier was wounded in the firefight. 

The successful defense of the Rasheed station — the third in recent weeks — represents an important psychological victory for the local ISF, who were not yet strong enough earlier this year to prevent the destruction by insurgents of police stations in other south-central cities and towns, including Yusufiyah, Lutafiyah, Haswah, Jurf as Sakhr and Musayyib. 

“This engagement is just the latest in which the Iraqi Security Forces have proven themselves in combat,” said Col. Ron Johnson, commander of the 24th MEU. “It demonstrates that a properly trained and equipped Iraqi unit can stand, fight and win.” 

While attacks have continued, the arrival of the Marines marked a turning point. The Marines and their Iraqi allies spread out across northern Babil province and southern Baghdad, establishing joint patrol bases and sending a message of unflinching resolve. 

With sustained presence and reinforcing firepower provided by the Marines, the ISF have begun to thrive. Though kidnappings and murders — including the gruesome slaying of 12 ING candidates in a mosque west of Lutafiyah in November — have led to some attrition, recruitment is on the rise. Not only are the ranks of the Iraqi police and ING swelling, their performance is improving. 

ING soldiers are increasingly taking the lead in joint U.S.-Iraqi raids, which coupled with random vehicle checkpoints have resulted in the capture and imprisonment of 537 insurgents in the area since August. 

In other action near Mahmudiyah, Marines attached to the 24th MEU rounded up 21 suspected insurgents and seized an assortment of weapons and munitions in a series of raids early on Dec. 13. Elsewhere in northern Babil province, Marines detained 17 suspects in multiple operations on Dec. 12.

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