Iraqi army and Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers uncovered more than 1,100 81 mm high-explosive mortar rounds yesterday at a cache near Route Tampa, the main highway leading into Baghdad, officials said
Troops from 3rd Battalion, 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division and Troop B, 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment "Wolverines," 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), made the discovery during Operation Wolverine Alesia near Yusufiyah, just 10 miles southwest of the capital, officials said.
Acting on a tip from a local resident, the troops conducted a search of the area, which resulted in the largest cache find in 2nd "Commando" Brigade's history. In all, 1,129 mortar rounds were uncovered.
The cache, which was buried in the dirt, was larger than expected.
"These mortars rounds are in the configuration to use as improvised explosive devices," Army Lt. Col. Mark Suich, the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment's commander, said. "The mortar rounds in this state cannot be used for indirect fire; they are fabricated and stored to be used against the coalition and sectarian enemies as IEDs."
Suich said the seizure of so many munitions can only hurt terrorist operations. "We put a significant reduction in the enemy's ability to emplace (roadside bombs) in this area today," he said. "We are pretty sure that these are affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq."
The area around Yusufiyah has long been identified as an al-Qaeda and former regime safe haven where attacks against Baghdad and coalition and Iraqi security forces originated.
"This is what we refer to as a weapons supermarket-type cache," Maj. Mark Aitken, the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment's executive officer. "The terrorists place a large cache of weapons in one place to draw from. They then pre-position what they draw in many other smaller caches around the countryside."
During the operation, Iraqi soldies detained four people for suspicious activity near the cache.
At a second cache site located nearby, Troop C, 1-89th found 120 mm mortar rounds, 81 mm mortar rounds, medium machine guns, rounds of machine gun ammunition, rifle scopes, fragmentation hand grenades, pounds of homemade explosives, boxes of 5.56 mm rifle ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade projectiles.
"Today we took over 1,100 IEDs off of the streets of Baghdad," said Army Maj. Web Wright, spokesman for the commando brigade. "Not only did we take these weapons off of the streets, 3-4-6 IA is fully integrated into this operation. Last night, they found three caches and were actively involved in finding these two."
The mortar rounds were destroyed during a controlled detonation by the explosive ordnance disposal detachment, creating a blast that could be heard for more than 20 miles.
The four suspects detained are being held for questioning.
A day earlier, the same Iraqi and coalition forces discovered two weapons caches two miles north of Yusufiyah, as part of the same operation.
The first cache included 81 mm mortar rounds, 120 mm artillery round, 57 mm anti-aircraft rounds, a high-explosive tank round, an improvised rocket-propelled grenade round made from industrial metal tubing, an armor-piercing RPG round, rounds of AK-47 assault rifle ammunition and a 60 mm mortar tube. Four prefabricated projectile canisters also were discovered.
At the second cache site, 300 yards away, Iraqi troops found 60 mm mortar rounds, sticks of dynamite, AK-47s, a case of AK-47 ammunition, 107 mm rockets, RPG rockets, shotgun shells and a medium machine gun.
Operation Wolverine Alesia is an ongoing joint operation designed to deny terrorist sanctuary along Route Tampa, the military designation for Iraqi Highway One, leading into Baghdad from the south.