Operation Matador (Slayer)
Operation Matador (Slayer)
"Foreign fighters" the aim, the locals the target. I think the Pentagon has no clue about the insurgency, but they sure do like to blow shit up. From this report in today's Le Monde, we learn that locals are putting up determined resistance as US Marines conduct search-and-destroy missions targeting hamlet after hamlet along the Eurphates River.
Unexpected resistance along Euphrates River
Clashes which opposed the US forces and Sunni guerrillas in the Jazeera Desert in west Iraq close to the Syrian border surprised observers by their violence. Operation Matador, the largest US operation since Phantom Fury against Fallujah in November 2004, includes more than 1,000 troops and was launched after US forces met with determined initial resistance from rebels.
The Jazeera Desert remained for a time terra incognita. Following dispatches received from the front over the last four days, US High Command in Baghdad has re-baptized the area The Wild West. They suspect that guerrilla forces have logistical bases in the area, which they believe is also an entry point for foreign Jihad fighters from Syria. They were also apparently surprised by level of training among the insurgents in this arid and desolate province. Although US forces believed in the beginning that they were up against men linked to Jordanian radical Islamist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, they have now expanded their offensive.
Combat reporting is barely able to trickle in from the Wild West through filters. US High Command has only authorized two reporters from the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune to be embedded with Marine units in the area. Col. Stephen Davis, commander of the Second Marine Combat Regiment and cited by the two newspapers, says, The insurgents are not boys who get $50 to place roadside bombs. They are professional combatants who are trained and well-armed.
Marines began to notice that there were rebel positions on the southern bank of the Euphrates, despite intelligence reports saying they were only on the northern bank. Then they observed that from these positions guerrillas were able to hit them with precise mortar fire day or night which is not commonplace among the insurgency. We originally planned to conduct a hit-and-run commando operation. Instead, we are giving battle, says one US military officer by phone. We had the impression that the rebels were waiting for us.
Operation Matador began Saturday 7 May in al-Qaïm but US forces were obliged to postpone crossing the Euphrates by one day due to rebel attacks. Their base at Camp Gannon near al-Qaïm and one of their convoys sustained a direct mortar hit from guerrillas. During patrols sent out to destroy mortar launchers in the villages of Obeidi and Karabilah, Marines had to fight house-to-house combat. One of them was killed when a rebel fired through the floor from the basement. Two other Marines were wounded by a rebel who tossed a grenade at them out a window. US Command reports that three more Marines were killed and the Los Angeles Times says 20 others were wounded. On Sunday, US forces--which claim to have killed a hundred insurgents--deployed warplanes, combat helicopters, artillery, tanks and a thousand troops and were able to cross the Euphrates only on Monday at dawn. The operation continues.
Matador aims to “eliminate insurgents and foreign fighters” from a border area which the US military claims is a route for infiltration and a sanctuary for “Jihadists.” After taking control of Fallujah, the headquarters for Sunni Islamists rebels from April to November 2004, guerrilla leaders vanished. But now there are increasing signs of high-intensity operations in three locations, says US intelligence: The capital, Baghdad, the northern city of Mosul and along the Syrian frontier, once viewed as a transit zone and now considered a bastion of foreign Jihad fighters.
In al-Anbar Province, which extends from the outskirts of Baghdad to the Syrian border, 15 US soldiers have been killed since Monday. The newly-appointed provincial governor, Nawaf Al-Raja Al-Mahalwi, was kidnapped Tuesday 10 May. His captors demand the end to the US operation. It is suspected that the kidnapping was in response to an announced bounty by Baghdad on the head of Imam Abdallah Al-Janabi, a Sunni Islamist leader from Fallujah on the run since November.
The recrudescence of rebel military operations and bombings has been more than evident over the last few weeks, following the installation by Washington and Baghdad of the first elected Iraqi government in its history after three months of haggling.