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Marines destroy suspected terrorist training camp
By C. Mark Brinkley | Marine Corps Times
SALMAN PAK, Iraq - Marine artillery batteries lit up the early Sunday morning darkness, pouring heavy fire to help coalition forces seal off Baghdad and capture what the U.S. military command described as a training camp for foreign terrorists.
The U.S. Central Command says that the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) now controls the 20-mile-long Salman Pak corridor to the capital city. Marines were also in the process of taking control of an airfield near the Tigris River.
Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, at the U.S. Central Command's media briefing Sunday, singled out the 1st MEF's victory at Salman Pak as one of the key developments in the day's war fighting.
Part of the glory goes to the grunts in more than five artillery units who steadily pounded the complex until about 11 p.m. when Marines supported by tanks rushed in to clear the area.
``We fired for 30 straight minutes,'' said 1st Lt. Ty Yount, 26, of Morganton, N.C., executive officer for Battery M of the 3rd Battalion of the 11th Marine Regiment. ``Either we were lethal, or there was nobody there, because 3/7 had little to no resistance,'' referring to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, the ground force that entered the camp.
The complex, located near Salman Pak about one mile east of the Tigris, was reported to be a hotbed of volunteer enemy fighters from other countries, such as Sudan and Egypt. Brooks said that the 1st MEF's raid on the complex was ordered after coalition forces learned of it from captured foreign fighters. ``We believe that this camp had been used to train these foreign fighters in terror tactics. It is now destroyed,'' he said.
Brooks said he did not know whether any of the reported foreign fighters were connected to known terrorist organizations. However, he said that information gleaned from foreign fighters before the raid left no doubt that the site was used for training terrorists.
``The nature of the work being done by some of those people that we captured, their inferences to the type of training they received, all these things give us the impression that there was terrorist training that was conducted at Salman Pak,'' he said.
``We did also find some other things there,'' he continued. ``We found some tanks and destroyed them. We found some armored personnel carriers and destroyed them, in small numbers,'' he said. `` We destroyed some buildings that were used for command and control, and some other buildings that were used for morale and welfare. We destroyed the complex.
``All of that, when you roll it together - their reports, where they're from, why they might be here - tell us that there's still a linkage, clearly, between this regime and terrorism as something we want to make sure we break.''
About 90 minutes after the grunts in the 3/7 batteries started raining artillery on the terrorist complex, they began their speed shifts, rotating the guns to provide cover fire for Marine units attempting to take Rasheed Airfield, about half a mile west of the Tigris. Infantry units from 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines - call sign ``Darkside'' - quickly moved in as the huge rounds took out airplanes and helicopters parked on the flight line.
Battle damage reports indicated that at least 25 enemy troops were killed in the initial attack, which produced a huge fireball in the air. The remaining troops were fleeing, ``only to be mowed down by tanks,'' one Marine said.