MARINES WELCOME THE BLACK WATCH

Capt. David Nevers http://www.usmc.mil/24meu

Forward Operating Base, Kalsu Iraq, Oct 30, 2004 - A British armored battle group of approximately 850 soldiers, led by the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch Regiment, has redeployed from Basra to an area south of Baghdad to bolster U.S. and Iraqi forces hunting down insurgents.

The move comes amid mounting efforts by coalition forces, operating in support of the interim Iraqi government, to root out anti-Iraqi forces bent on fomenting chaos and disrupting national elections in January.

The Black Watch has taken up positions in northern Babil province, where the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit has been operating since July.

Led by Lt. Col. James Cowan, the British troops are highly trained and well equipped. Reinforcing the Black Watch will be a reconnaissance unit from the Queen's Dragoon Guards, a light infantry unit from the Royal Marines, and a host of support personnel, including engineers, logisticians and medics.

The Black Watch boasts a rich heritage. Formed in the late 17th century during England's Jacobite Rebellion - a battle of succession for the British throne - the Black Watch has helped defeat some of the country's most formidable foes, including Napoleon, the German Kaiser in World War I, and Adolph Hitler.

The unit spearheaded the British thrust into Iraq during last year's invasion, fighting its way into the southeastern city of Basra in April 2003. The bulk of the British force has been conducting security and stability operations there since. After a year-long respite, the Black Watch returned to Basra this past July.

The commander of the 24th MEU welcomed the arrival of the allies to the Marines' zone.

“It's great to have the Black Watch aboard,” said Col. Ron Johnson. “They're a fine outfit with a proud history, and I look forward to fighting alongside them on behalf of freedom in Iraq.

The 2,200-strong 24th MEU, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., is composed of its command element; its ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; its aviation combat element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263; and its combat service support element, MEU Service Support Group 24.

Also assigned to the MEU are the Chicago-based 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, and a variety of U.S. Army and Navy detachments.

The beefed-up MEU has worked closely with the ISF — including the 2nd Ministry of the Interior Commando Battalion, the 507th Iraqi National Guard Battalion, elements of the Iraqi Specialized Special Forces, and the Iraqi SWAT team — to stamp out the insurgency in northern Babil and southern Baghdad.

They stepped up their joint efforts earlier this month. On Oct. 5, ISF and Marines launched their most sweeping operation to date, moving against numerous targets throughout their zone in a continuing campaign to restore security and stability to the province's nearly 1 million citizens.

In the past three months, more than 500 insurgents have been rounded up in scores of raids, cordon-and-knock searches, and citywide sweeps throughout the area's key population centers, including Lutafiyah, Mahmudiyah, Yusufiyah, Iskandariyah, Haswah and Musayyib.

With the addition of the Black Watch and the steady addition of newly trained ISF, an increasingly potent force is set to further intensify its operations .

“We're just getting warmed up,” said Johnson. “The more we and our Iraqi partners work together, the more havoc we're wreaking with the insurgents' plans. The ranks of the ISF are swelling, their confidence and capabilities are growing, and a free Iraq capable of standing on its own is slowly but surely emerging.”