(c) Roger Leo
Lt. Col. Norman L. Cooling
ANBAR (MAY 2006) – Lt. Col. Norman L. Cooling, 41, commander of 3-3 Marines, said, “In Afghanistan we weren’t particularly safe anywhere, but we knew we would be contested if we went certain places. We planned for that.
“Here these areas are everywhere. Simultaneously an urban patrol can be hit with small arms fire or IEDs or both and at one of our firm bases we can be taking indirect fire – mortars or rockets.
“High-intensity combat? No. But we’re most often fighting at a time and place of their choosing,” Lt. Col. Cooling said.
“The history of this area is problematic. All Anbar is a Sunni area of Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s government was their government. Many did not like him and many suffered, but the great fear sometimes is to be dominated by one of the other groups – Shia, Kurd, etc. in the government.
“In part this stems from being deathly afraid of Iran, which is Shia,” he said.
“There’s a real debate at home about whether we should have invaded Iraq three years ago. That’s counterproductive. The debate should be about what we do here now,” Lt. Col. Cooling said.
“Americans should be concerned about this area of Iraq providing al Qaeda the kind of training ground that led to 9-11, and part of Iraq breaking off and allying with the Shia theocracy in Iran.
“I really believe we should be here. I’m asking these Marines to potentially pay for these beliefs with their lives and I’m the one who has to call their Moms if something happens to them,” he said.
In Afghanistan, 3-3 Marines lost two men in one of 22 firefights during the unit’s deployment there. So far in Iraq, 12 men have been killed – nine by bombs, one by sniper fire, and two in non-battle incidents.
Kilo Co. – one of four companies that make up 3-3 – is in Haqliniyah, a city about 15 kilometers south of Haditha Dam, a flood control dam built by Czech engineers on the Euphrates in 1981. Marines conduct daily foot and mounted patrols in the city and environs, and each day are hit by IEDs.
Rarely, the Marines come under direct enemy fire, which they say they greatly prefer to the gnawing impact of bombs detonated remotely by faceless enemies.
In one of these instances, a foot patrol led by Sgt. Gayle L. Anders, 23, of New Braunsfels, Texas, spotted men carrying 155mm shells and Ak47s into a derelict building that had once been a hotel on the southern edge of Haqliniyah. As the patrol moved in, the Marines started taking small arms fire from several points in the building. They returned fire, set up a cordon around the building, and called for fire support. As the day progressed, more Marines from Kilo Co. arrived and began firing into the building. Attack helicopters and fixed-wing planes arrived and dropped an array of weapons onto the building. The south wing was leveled. One bomb went astray when it failed to acquire the airborne laser designator and hit a building – about 100 yards north of the former hotel – in which 13 Marines and eight Iraqis were sheltering.