AN NAJAF, Iraq -- The silence of the night was shattered as gunfire rang throughout the Old City district of Najaf.
"Move! Hurry up!" called a silhouette in a hushed voice, as one by one, dark figures merged into the shadows and began dispersing down the street, starting their 600-meter patrol. Their mission once they reached the objective was to find, kill or capture as many enemy insurgents as possible, in an effort to help Iraqi security forces restore law and order to the holy city.
The Raiders of Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), were ready to answer recent attacks on local police and MEU forces by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia that began Aug. 5.
"Every unit in Najaf has been engaged at one point or another by a (Muqtada Militia) ambush or sniper fire," recounts 1st Lt. Christopher Smith, platoon commander, 1st Platoon, Co. A, BLT 1/4, 11th MEU (SOC). "We are helping to stabilize Najaf."
During the company's first dismounted offensive in the old city in mid-August, the Raiders gathered intelligence and took control of key buildings that were being occupied by al-Sadr's forces as strongholds to mount attacks. Continuous small arms, rocket propelled grenades and mortar fire sounded throughout the day as the Marines held their newly acquired ground and pushed back the militia.
Snipers from both sides exchanged fire from windows high above the city's streets.
"This was the first time here that I've known of snipers hunting snipers," said Captain Robert B. Sotire, company commander, Co. A, BLT 1/4, 11th MEU (SOC). "Our counter-snipers did an excellent job. We took out their snipers with precision fire and fire support."
Morale remained high throughout the 18-hour operation.
"I was here during the war, and I am proud to come back for follow up operations to keep Iraq stable," said Cpl. Nathaniel Kulokowski, squad leader, 2nd Squad, 1st platoon, Co. A, BLT 1/4, 11th MEU (SOC). "My Marines are a special group. They are highly motivated. Everyone is excited to be here."
By 6 p.m. that evening, the Raiders of Alpha Company had successfully completed their mission and a battalion from the Army's 1st Cavalry Division arrived to replace them with their armored vehicles.
"It was nice to be able to give the Army the dismounted support they needed," said Sotire.
When asked what kind of message the raid sent to the insurgents, there was no hesitation.
"We're coming for them," warned Sotire.