TALLIL, Iraq – American military commanders have left little doubt of their annoyance with Iran’s interference in the internal security of Iraq, and much of it can be blamed on the porous border: Smugglers carrying anything from bootlegged cigarettes to bombs pour into Iraq, and its security forces often can’t stop it.
But one Fort Lewis company has the task of tightening the frontier.
Charlie Company, 38th Long Range Surveillance works with Iraqi border guards to monitor the 900-mile-long frontier. They perform dismounted patrols with the Iraqis and call in any suspicious activity.
The company is perhaps the most high-profile unit of the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, which deployed in September and has soldiers at almost 40 bases across Iraq.
In interviews at the company headquarters at Contingency Operating Base Adder outside Tallil, the long-range surveillance soldiers cited operational security concerns and remained vague about specifics about their missions and technology.
But, in an internal news story, commander Capt. Zach Corke said the company’s mission “is to collect priority intelligence requirements for the Multi-National Corps-Iraq commanding general.”
That commander, Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, has blamed much of Iraq’s instability on its eastern neighbor.
“As the tactical commander, my view is that nothing good, nothing helpful is coming from Iran,” Jacoby, the Fort Lewis commander serving as the American military’s second-in-command in Iraq, told The News Tribune on Dec. 18. “They’re meddling in the affairs of Iraq in very unhelpful ways.”
Iranians are infiltrating and funding insurgent groups, training and equipping fighters on Iranian soil before shipping them west, running front businesses inside Iraq to raise money for Shia extremist groups and trying to influence political development.
Reconnaissance missions along the border have helped slow cross-border activity, Jacoby said, but the task remains daunting.
“I won’t tell you (the border) is impermeable,” he said. “It’s tough to stop it. It’s a long, largely uninhabited border.”
Soldiers interviewed last week said the company performs their missions with counterparts from the Iraqi security forces.
“Business has actually been pretty slow (along the border) lately,” said Brown, a team leader from Utah.
And they talked about the need to start teaching the basics with the Iraqis, who don’t have surveillance technology of the same sophistication as the Americans.
“We don’t want to give away all of our technology, but you don’t want to leave them exposed,” said Spc. Chris Marshall, a forward observer from Nevada.
The company was built from nothing about a year before it deployed. Its first soldiers began arriving in August 2008. Sgt. 1st Class Michael Conner, an Oregon native serving as the operations noncommissioned officer in charge, arrived in November and found “a platoon leader, myself and eight other guys.”
But the unit built itself with a core of former Special Operations soldiers – many wear the scroll of the 75th Ranger Regiment as their combat patch – and plenty of new soldiers preparing for their first deployment. The company attended the Reconnaissance and Surveillance Leader Course at Fort Benning, Ga., in March.
The company experienced some difficulty in obtaining the newest equipment even after it returned from the training course, and it didn’t reach full staffing until two months before it deployed.
“We pretty much accomplished the impossible,” Conner said.