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Marines storm mock town

April 29, 2002|By CYNTHIA L. GARZA, Special to this newspaper

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (MNS) — The 10-minute mission takes the Marines on a right-to-left sweep through the mock town.

Tanks thunder in and the Marines disperse into the buildings, move up to and across rooftops on a low elbows-and-knees crawl. They fast-rope down from hovering helicopters and disappear behind the facades of the already half-blown-away buildings.

As urban centers in the developing world continue to sprawl, training to fight in that environment is crucial, officials said.

The Marines at Camp Lejeune train for this type of urban warfare in a mock town set up to stage the pseudo-war. Historically recalled for their beach sweep into Iwo Jima during World War II, the Marines are eager to move away from the image of units storming ashore. The Marines' long history as an amphibious force has slowly eroded.

"Training is important now because chemical-biological and city fighting are the most probable threats we'll face in the future," said Maj. Guillermo Canedo, a Marine Corps public affairs officer at the Pentagon.

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Recent missions assigned to the Marines illustrate the need for versatile training including city fighting. The Marines call it Military Operations on Urban Terrain, or MOUT.

The October 3, 1993, peace-keeping mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, as depicted in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down," emphasized the challenges soldiers face during a mission on urban terrain. Eighteen American soldiers were killed and more than 70 were wounded in 15 hours of fierce fighting. More than 500 Somalis were killed, many of whom were civilians.

Fighting in a city where distinguishing between the enemy and noncombatants poses a new challenge in warfare.

"Marines deploy all over the world," said Canedo. ‘‘Eighty percent of the world's population lives in cities found along the littorals. It's very likely that a Marine will find himself in one of those cities before too long.''

At Camp Lejeune the Marines try to make the training as close to the real thing as possible. The corps also participates in joint and combined exercises all over the world on an annual basis, in various climates.

Canedo said the Marines recognize the limitations of training in a mock city but that the training is still useful.

‘‘The benefits of the MOUT facility, our own little combat town, is that we own it,'' he said. ‘‘We can train there any time, 365 days a year, without having to worry about receiving noise complaints, protests, etc.''

Occasionally, the Marines train in a live city, with the cooperation of the local community. One such exercise, called Harbor Shield, currently is taking place at the port of Charleston, S.C. An exercise in urban warfare was conducted recently in North Little Rock, Ark.

In an unrelated incident last February near Fort Bragg, N.C., an Army Green Beret in training was killed and another wounded by a deputy sheriff in what appeared to be a misunderstanding during an off-post training exercise.

Canedo said fighting house-to-house in an urban terrain is complicated and difficult. It takes a lot of people, time, supplies and equipment.

‘‘City fighting is very dangerous. Your foe can be just around the corner or in the other room,'' he said. ‘‘Your visibility and movement are restricted. You have to contend with a civilian population, which may be helpful or hostile.''

According to the Department of Defense Almanac, the total armed forces strength was 1.4 million as of September 2001. The Marines comprised 12.5 percent of the total force. With 172,935 active forces, it remains the smallest of the four combat services. The Army made up the largest block of force, with 34.7 percent.

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