By Meghan Vittrup
American Forces Press Service
July 2, 2007 – The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit will continue to deny insurgents the use of the less populated Lake Tharthar region as part of Operation Fard al Amin, which means safety and security, the unit's commander told reporters during a Baghdad news briefing yesterday. "There hasn't been a whole lot of coalition force efforts or coalition forces in general operating in that area. And the link between al Anbar province, the Baghdad province, as well as Salahuddin province, is pretty evident there," said Marine Corps Col. Sam Mundy. "The desert region is not inhabited with great population centers, although we have found some desert dwellings and some small villages there. So there are, in some cases, more people there than we thought, but it's largely uninhabited."
Mundy said that means it has been area where insurgents -- al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as other enemy fighters -- have been able to operate with relative freedom of movement.
The strictly American air and ground task force, consisting of around 2,100 Marines and 100 Navy corpsmen, have been in the Lake Tharthar region for only two weeks and already have discovered several caches containing improvised explosive devices as well as materials to make improvised explosive devices.
"Ultimately, we want to deny the enemy the ability to use that area as any kind of sanctuary. They've been able to operate in the Tharthar area with freedom of movement," Mundy said.
Insurgents were using the area to make and store improvised explosive devices. They also were kidnapping people to use for ransom and committing crimes.
Mundy stated that American troops in the region are working to stop insurgents from continuing to use the area as a safe haven. Troops have been searching homes and buildings, and they recently discovered a hard-to-see desert dwelling that might have been used as an illegal detention facility, Mundy said. Lake Tharthar area was once used as a safe haven and a training facility for small-arms training.
Although the insurgents are weakened, they remain persistent and are trying to get back into the area, the colonel said. The insurgents have used the location as a transit point that connects them to other nearby locations, in addition to using the area to store and retrieve explosive materials.
Mundy said the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit will continue to push insurgents out of this location and force them into other regions.
"We have succeeded, of course, in pushing them into some areas, and I think the best way to think of that is that we're squeezing them," Mundy said. "And of course in a macro sense, by squeezing them, we offer them fewer and fewer places, whether it's a sanctuary or just a regular operating area, so the good that that does, then -- it makes it easier to target them and it makes it easier to find them, and I think that's a good thing, as long as we're of course not contributing to greater violence in another area."
Although the effort in the Lake Tharthar region only has taken place over the past two weeks, troops are continuing efforts to keep insurgents out of the area and eventually turn the region over to the Iraqi forces.
"We are patiently, but persistently, present throughout that area," Mundy said. "We are conducting active patrolling; we are going out and searching all areas of the region leaving no stone unturned to uncover many of these cache sites."