Military and Police

Iraq’s Wild East: How 1st Cavalry Troopers Provided a New Hope for Maysan Province

By Christopher Castellano:

In June 2008, the troopers of the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry deployed to Kuwait as part of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. The squadron’s mission was to relieve the 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division at Convoy Support Center (CSC) Scania, approximately 180 kilometers southeast of Baghdad. The squadron was to conduct combat operations in its assigned area of responsibility and maintain security along Main Supply Route (MSR) Tampa. This route served as the primary ground method of delivery for supplies heading from Kuwait to coalition bases in and around Baghdad. The squadron arrived in Kuwait in mid-June, and after training and acclimation for two weeks, began heading north.

In early July, 1-9 CAV conducted a relief-in-place/transfer-of-authority (RIP/TOA) with 3-73 CAV and assumed responsibility for the battlespace under the command of Task Force Mountain. At the end of July, 1-9 CAV had received a change of mission operations order. The entire squadron was to deploy southeast, into Maysan Province—a large and unruly home to poverty and marshes. 2-7 CAV had deployed to the province the previous month and were establishing Forward Operating Base Garry Owen in the provincial capital of Amarah. Although they were meeting little resistance, it soon became clear that coalition forces were facing a big challenge in Maysan. Shiite fighters from special groups (SG), an offshoot of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM), were smuggling weapons from Iran into Iraq through this lawless and sparsely populated province. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and 2-7 CAV had pushed into Amarah in June but would need the assistance of additional follow-on forces to head further south and east into the province to stem the flow of lethal munitions from Iran. 1-9 CAV was given the order, and the command team began drawing up plans to move the squadron, establish a forward operating base, and stop the freedom of movement being enjoyed by the insurgents.

By August, the lead headhunter elements were moving into Maysan Province via Forward Operating Base (FOB) Garry Owen. From there, they occupied Qal at Salih airfield, an abandoned Iraqi air force base consisting of numerous hardened aircraft shelters and runways. The 1-9 command team arrived in early August, establishing the squadron’s new tactical command post (TAC) at the new Forward Operating Base Hunter. Follow-on forces arrived through August and into September and began work securing the perimeter while engineers constructed walls and repaired the aircraft shelters and runways. Two reconnaissance troops (the cavalry equivalent of a company) from 1-9 CAV occupied FOB Hunter by the end of August, and began transitioning from base security to operations in the squadron’s new battlespace. Missions through September and October consisted mostly of reconnaissance into the marshlands south and east of the FOB.

(Forward Operating Base Hunter)

Despite being an Armored Reconnaissance Squadron (ARS) in an Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), 1-9 CAV deployed to Iraq as a light unit, leaving behind its Bradleys in favor of up-armored Humvees and mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles. These vehicles were better suited for the terrain the brigade would be operating in and the enemy forces the brigade would be going up against.

Paladins from the 5th Battery, 82nd Field Artillery were positioned at Garry Owen and Hunter and carried out extensive counter-indirect fire missions throughout the course of the deployment. Air weapons team (AWT) AH-64 Apaches and AH-64D Longbows were routinely on station for sweeps of named areas of interest (NAI), route reconnaissance, and close air support for ground elements. MQ-1 Predator and RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicles also provided aerial surveillance for effective counter-indirect fire and counter-IED operations. The UAVs also proved to be extremely valuable in detecting unauthorized incursions across the Iran-Iraq border by SG insurgents and weapons smugglers.

There was sporadic enemy contact established between August and October in the 2-7/1-9 CAV AOs. A rocket attack on August 19, 2008 against FOB Garry Owen claimed the life of Sergeant First Class George Stancel, the first soldier from 4BCT to be killed in action. Further rocket attacks were launched against Garry Owen, FOB Hunter, and Combat Outpost (COP) Blackhawk in Majar al-Kibir. 107mm and 240mm rockets were the most heavily used indirect fire weapons and were unguided and often inaccurate. Enemy forces also carried out a number of small arms, improvised explosive device (IED), and explosively formed penetrator (EFP) attacks on both mounted and dismounted patrols. SG cells operating in the 1-9/2-7 CAV AO heavily favored the EFP and used this weapon effectively to inflict numerous casualties on US forces operating in Maysan Province.

By the end of the deployment in June 2009, 1-9 CAV and 2-7 CAV had successfully disrupted the special groups’ freedom of maneuver in Maysan and had systemically eliminated cells operating in Amarah, Majar al-Kibir, Qal at Salih, and the surrounding areas. The brigade assisted Iraqi security forces in providing voters with safe polling stations during the January 31st provincial elections and established positive relationships with police, government officials, tribal elders, and the local populace. Through numerous cordon and searches, traffic control points (TCPs), air assaults, waterborne operations, and aggressive patrolling, 1-9 and 2-7 had yielded significant arms caches and high value individuals (HVIs).

As the security situation in the province improved, the focus of operations began to include more projects focused on improving critical infrastructure and providing locals with much-needed assistance in healthcare, education, and utilities. This vastly improved the quality of life for Maysan’s long-suffering population and provided them with hope for a more promising future.

Christopher Castellano is an OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Army Veteran. He currently serves as a firefighter in New York City.

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