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Iraq Report: Securing the Border

10:44 AM, Sep 19, 2007 • By BILL ROGGIO
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Forward Operation Base Delta, Wasit Province:
With the surge of U.S. forces in Baghdad and the Belts aiming at both al Qaeda and Shia extremists, Multinational Forces Iraq has also launched a significant effort to curtail Iranian influence in Baghdad and the southern provinces. Since early spring, U.S. and Iraqi forces have repeatedly targeted the leadership and cells of the Special Groups and the rogue Mahdi Army. To counter the flow of Iranian weapons, including mortars and the deadly explosively formed penetrator (EFP) IEDs, and fighters trained in camps by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force, Multinational Division Baghdad has launched Operation Marne Century in Wasit province.

Multinational Forces Center assumed command over Wasit province in mid-July, and identified the region as a main supply route for the Iranian-backed Special Groups and elements of the rogue Mahdi Army. Both groups have sought to undermine the Iraqi government and have attacked civilians, as well as Iraqi and Coalition security forces in Baghdad and the south.

Wasit province has been largely quiet as the Shia extremist hold their fire to avoid drawing attention to their supply routes. Up until now, the Coalition has maintained a light footprint in Wasit.

Operation Marne Century

On September 18, elements of the 3rd Infantry Brigade pushed forward from Forward Operating Base Delta just outside of Al Kut. The Georgians established Enduring Check Point 5, a beefed up checkpoint with the capacity to be manned around the clock. This is the first of six checkpoints on the major roads leading from Iran to Baghdad, Brigadier General Jim Huggins, the deputy commanding general of Multinational Division Central, said during an interview at Battle Position Hawkes in the Arab Jabour region.

Marne Century is a joint operation carried out by the Georgian Army in conjunction with elements of the U.S. 2nd Battery of the 14th Field Artillery Regiment, U.S. Special Forces, Iraqi Police, and U.S. Police and Border Transition Teams. Coalition forces are also building up an existing border crossing point in Badrah near the Iranian border.

The cornerstone of Operation Marne Century is the 3rd Infantry Brigade of Georgian Army. Deployed to Forward Operating Base Delta in July just as the British drew down in Basra, the Georgians have been tasked with base security, convoy support, and serve as a quick reaction force. The Georgians have also taken on the mission of shutting down the Iranian ratlines snaking through Wasit province.

The U.S. supplied the 3rd Brigade with 311 up-armored Humvees in support of their mission. There are now over 2,000 Georgian troops in Wasit, one quarter of the former Soviet Republic's infantry.

A new base on the border?

The ramp up in forces in Wasit province was naturally preceded by a buildup of logistical capabilities in the region. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported "the Pentagon is preparing to build its first base for U.S. forces near the Iraqi-Iranian border." But the reports the U.S. is establishing a new base are "a stretch," said Huggins.

"The base is already there in Bahdrah," said Huggins. "We are expanding the Badrah point of entry [which] puts POET [point of entry teams] at the border 24/7, along with over 100 Georgian troops," he said. This will enable Coalition troops to live at the Badrahentry point as opposed to making the long trips from Forward Operation Bases Delta, some 40 miles away, twice a week.

At the existing Badrah checkpoint, engineers will construct a life support area--tents , a dining facility, and a morale welfare and recreation center. The Badrah crossing will be supported by six enduring checkpoints [ECPs], each of which will be manned by a large detachment of Georgian troops, Huggins explained.

Like the Bahdrah crossing point, the Enduring Check Points will be manned around the clock by a large contingent of Georgian troops, and built with their own life support areas. The Enduring Check Points have been positioned to interdict the major roads believed to be used to smuggle weapons and fighters from Iran, and allow Multinational Division Central to "have depth and flexibility" in blocking additional routes used by the smugglers. "They will try to bypass" the established checkpoints, Huggins said.

While the "Qods Force surrogates" of the Special Groups may seek alternative routes, Multinational Forces Iraq is eying the future. The desert crossings in Wasit become marshes in the spring, which funnels traffic along the main roads, where the checkpoints can more closely monitor traffic.

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