IRAQ: Anbar's desert is better but still dangerous
It's not the Wild West anymore, but Marines are still prowling the desert stretches of sprawling Anbar province in search of oil smugglers, drug smugglers and insurgents.
Oil smuggling helps finance what is left of the insurgency movement that once held the province in its grip, said Col. Patrick Malay, commander of the Camp Pendleton-based 5th Marine Regiment.
On one recent patrol, Marines of the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion detained a suspected oil smuggler and four fully-loaded oil trucks. Suspected methamphetamine smugglers have also been arrested.
And on Thursday, Marines with the 2nd LAR killed three suspected insurgents in a firefight. Seized were suicide vests, thousands of rounds of AK-47 ammunition and TNT rigged with detonation cords.
"The security in Iraq is improving," said Lt. Col. Russ Smith, "but it's still dangerous because bad people remain out there."
Even as the Marines prepare to reduce forces in Anbar, a replacement LAR battalion is getting ready to deploy from Camp Pendleton to continue patrolling the desert.
— Tony Perry, in San Diego
Photo: Marines devise a search plan during a desert patrol. Credit: Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson