IRAQ: The hunt for insurgents
On land and by air, Marines are hunting for insurgents in the barren stretches of western Iraq's Anbar province. In an area of 26,000 square miles with hundreds of miles of international borders, it's not easy.
Before they leave Camp Pendleton, Marines are getting an advanced course in tracking — taught by a big-game hunter from South Africa.
The Combat Hunter course at the School of Infantry is meant to teach Marines how to notice the slightest change in the landscape that shows a person has passed by, no easy trick in a desert where winds erase footprints in an instant.
The Marines are taught to be hyper-aware of their environment: What's there that should not be there? What isn't there that should?
The project is the brainchild of the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Conway. "If we create the mentality in our Marines of the hunter, and take on some of those skills, then we'll be able to increase our combat effectiveness," he has said.
While Iraq is the immediate focus, the course is also applicable to Afghanistan, where several thousand Marines will soon be deployed. But while the ways of the hunter may be old, the instructional methods have been updated. Each Marine, along with lectures and field work, gets a 15-minute CD: "Every Marine a Hunter."
— Tony Perry in Al Asad, Iraq
Photo: U.S. Marines break through a door inside a Fallouja home where they were battling insurgents in 2004. Credit: Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times