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VMU-2 ScanEagle Birds-Eye View Stops Illegal Oil Siphoning

Eleven tankers are photographed by a Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 ScanEagle as they rally together after siphoning oil on a remote highway in Iraq. With the help of VMU-2, the suspects were taken into custody by 1st Battalion, 4th Marines.
by Sgt. Anthony Guas
2nd Marine Aircraft Wing
Al Asad, Iraq (AFNS) Jul 12, 2007
In the Marine Corps reconnaissance is an important part of any mission, knowing the enemy and the situation before making a move is essential. Sometimes that reconnaissance is also used to stop illegal activities. Recently the Marines of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 observed an oil tanker near a remote northern highway siphoning oil from a pipeline.

"ScanEagle 1 was tasked to do a route scan by 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, when they observed a lone oil tanker siphoning from the pipeline," said Maj. Keith M. Chirico, VMU-2 ScanEagle officer-in-charge. "Their initial observation and subsequent surveillance was the catalyst for finding 11 total tankers and indirectly highlighting the smuggling operations to all other units in the area of operations."

After noticing the illegal activity, VMU contacted 1st Bn., 4th Marines and were directed to continue surveillance of the tanker.

"Following them later lead us to a rendezvous point with 10 more oil tankers," said 1st Lt. Thomas Culberson, the mission commander/officer-in-charge for VMU-2 Det B located in Al Qaim. "Maj Chirico's team was in the air to our North and began to gain awareness on the situation. The 11 tankers proceeded west toward the Syrian border and began to break up into two groups. We continued observation of the lead group of seven tankers, while Maj. Chirico's team established visual of the trail group four remaining tankers."

VMU lead the Marines on the ground to the vehicles, which were captured and taken into custody, preventing the suspects from selling the oil on the black market.

"We think it was extremely important to stop the vehicles," said Culberson. "Oil has been smuggled out of Iraq, and sold on the black market in neighboring countries. It was important to keep that oil in the country to be used by the Iraqi people and out of the hands of individuals that use the profits from black market sales to fund the effort against us. By making that stop, we hope that it forces them to alter their plans and think twice about the decisions they make."

The VMU Marines believe that by spotting and assisting the Marines on the ground, they showcased the advantages in having the ScanEagle, in addition to being an important factor in deterring criminal actions in the Al Anbar province.

"I think this 'significant find' highlights the enormous amount of illegal activity that goes on in Iraq, and certainly validates the importance of maintaining responsive Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in direct support of ground forces as they battle the insurgency," said Chirico. "Stopping these illegal oil shipments from reaching the black market immediately affects the insurgent's ability to fund their hostile activities."

Most important the VMU Marines believe that by stopping the oil siphoning, they are directly affecting the establishment of the Iraqi government and economy.

"Preventing the stolen oil from being sold on the local black market or leaving the country puts the valuable resources back in the hands of law-abiding Iraqis, holding their costs down and minimizing the burden of rationing scarce petroleum products," said Chirico. "It is always very rewarding being part of the solution. Being able to support ground operations as a combat multiplier with persistent real-time video surveillance is very effective and frees up the ground forces to focus on security and assisting the Iraqi people as they rebuild."

At the end of the day, the VMU Marines were happy to safely and proficiently help the Marines on the ground.

"We are pleased with the way everything transpired," said Culberson. "The information we provided allowed the command to devise a plan that ended without loss of life and the recovery of a valuable resource that could've wound up on the black market. It was a great team effort and we were glad to be a part of it."

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