Trading spaces in Ramadi

Stars & Stripes:

It had all the makings of a reality TV blockbuster: drama, violence and do-it-yourself home improvements.

Like some combat version of “This Old House” or “Trading Spaces,” U.S. Soldiers, Marines and Navy SEALS seized two houses in Ramadi’s deadliest neighborhood Tuesday and converted them into a fortified patrol base.

Amid periodic attacks by insurgent mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and snipers, U.S. troops used heavy equipment and elbow grease to install electricity, erect sand-bagged gun positions and raise concrete barriers in a sprawl of city blocks that have, until recently, served as a safe haven for insurgents.

“This is like the enemy putting a little safe house next to our chow hall,” said Capt. Michael P. McCusker, commander of Warrior Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment. “They don’t like this at all. Things will be getting very energetic here over the next few days.”

As Apache helicopters circled the dusty, bullet-pocked neighborhood and sniper teams targeted insurgent attackers, the banging of hammers and the whine of electric saws echoed throughout the seized buildings.

Troops attached to the 1st Brigade, 1st Armor Division, worked around the clock for roughly 36 hours to establish the patrol base, piling sandbags by the glow of chemical light sticks and scarfing down hasty meals of potato chips, cookies and MREs.

The base, dubbed Observation Post Grant, is one of seven such outposts troops have established in a recent campaign to neutralize insurgents in this violent, Sunni-dominant city. Troops under the command of Col. Sean MacFarland have used the positions to launch daily patrols and operations in an area once given up to insurgents.

Commanders say the outposts have allowed them to reduce the number of insurgents and the frequency of their attacks as they “compress” the enemy into the city’s center, which some officers call Ramadi’s “heart of darkness.”

...

Insurgents began lashing out at sunup, presumably once they realized U.S. troops were building an outpost in the middle of their turf. Among the buildings that OP Grant overlooks is a mosque that insurgents have used to store weapons, treat gunshot wounds and foment anti-American sentiment at Friday services.

...

When Van Wagenen’s Humvee finally wheeled into OP Grant, troops from the 40th Engineer Battalion were busy knocking out window frames with sledgehammers and preparing the openings for sandbags, air conditioners and gun ports. Other engineers pulled electrical wiring through the building, which was littered with broken glass, weapons, power tools, clothes, schoolbooks, and piles of brightly colored pillows and mattresses - traditional Iraqi living room furniture.

...

As the sun continued to rise, a rocket-propelled grenade streaked onto the compound and exploded beside a Bradley. Sporadic bursts of gunfire erupted in alleyways and streets surrounding the outpost.

By 9 a.m., roughly two hours after sunrise, U.S. snipers had killed seven insurgents.

...

Commanders had established OP Grant in the same general area where a Navy SEAL was shot and killed several weeks earlier during a running gun battle with insurgents. In recognition of the SEALs’ role in helping to tame Ramadi, commanders dubbed Tuesday’s action “Operation Vicksburg.” MacFarland said that the famous Civil War battle of the same name was a shining example of cooperation between the U.S. Army and the Navy.

“Vicksburg also cut the Confederacy in half,” MacFarland said. “And what we’re doing right now is cutting the enemy’s safe haven in half.”

...

There is much more including several combat episodes that take place during the redo of this trading spaces episode. The story gives a pretty good picture of current operations in Ramadi and is interesting because the Marines are not just in defensives positions in the old city hall which has been the scene for most recent stories on Ramadi. It is good to see something besides reactionary counter attacks. This is not as quick as Fallujah type operations, but it definitely disrupts the enemy operations and messes up his "sanctuaries."

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