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Thursday, April 22

Marines score sizable arms cache

By Gidget Fuentes | Marine Corps Times

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Something about the mirror in the bathroom just didn't sit right with Pfc. Luis Landeros.

Measuring 4 feet by 3 feet, the decorative mirror was larger than the Marines were used to seeing in Iraqi bathrooms, especially in a modest home tucked in the back of a shop in Fallujah's industrial wasteland.

What's more, the mirror hung crookedly from one screw. Landeros removed the mirror and found a metal panel secured with a heavy-duty lock.

Landeros and several other Marines with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, cut the lock.

Bingo.

"We saw a room full of (rocket propelled grenade) launchers, potato mash grenades, we saw a couple of mortar rounds and tubes," said Landeros, 23, of Yuma, Ariz. "It was a pretty stacked room."

The weapons in the room were found last week along with another big batch in a building across the street and they are among the largest caches the battalion has found so far as they continue searching this troubled city. The battalion, from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., is one of three Marine infantry battalions battling Iraqi insurgent forces here. The discovery of the arms depot offers a window into how well armed the enemy is.

"I was just happy that we got that stuff off the street," Landeros said. "It saved a lot of lives, I think, just taking that out."

The Marines unit has spent three weeks checking and clearing hundreds of auto shops, small convenience stores, storage rooms and warehouses in a vast zone along the city's eastern edge.

"The industrial sector of Fallujah was a key supply point and a cache area for terrorists and anti-coalition forces," said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, the battalion commander.

Nearly every day, his men doing clearing operations within the battalion's infantry companies find assorted rifles, rocket launchers, mortar tubes and lots of ammunition. And at each new cache, the Marines are surprised by the quantity and types of weapons they find.

In some cases, the Marines have found improvised explosives, cell phones, explosives-laden "suicide" belts, rifle scopes and night-vision equipment, as well as terrorist videos, CDs, manuals and materials that mention al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

Battalion leaders recently displayed some of the more unusual weaponry the unit has collected. As he stepped over the piles of rifles and eased his way through stacked cases of ammunition, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dave Bednarcik was impressed by what he saw.

Snapping away with a digital camera, the battalion's weapons expert recorded the unit's finds. A mortar base plate and tube, tripods, several metal cases containing new night vision goggles. A black suicide belt. A trio of olive knit masks.

"Very crude indeed," he said, looking over one unusual looking rifle. "Crude, ingenious."

An MP-44 submachine gun caught his eye.

"That sucker is German, a piece of history."

He looked over an M-79 grenade as something stole his attention.

"That's a freaking 105 millimeter recoilless rifle there," said Bednarcik, 36, of Temecula, Calif., as he pointed to a nearby pile.

The sources of such weaponry aren't clear, although he said that some may have come from supply points kept by the former regime.

Even Byrne, the battalion commander, is impressed by what his unit has collected so far.

"We have found an amazing amount of stuff," he said. "It's sobering, really."