Camp Gannon Revisited
Two new accounts of the al Qaeda assault on Camp Gannon in Husaybah appear in USA Today and the Washington Post. By both accounts, Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Butler is due to receive some medals for his heroism in the fight. He repeatedly exposing himself to fire, and destroyed two of the suicide vehicles - a dump truck and a fire truck - while under fire from about thirty dismounted terrorists. Corporal Anthony Fink and First Sgt. Don Brazeal also acted bravely when destroying an enemy position, possibly killing up to 11 terrorists.
Marines responded to the attack by deploying their "Rapid Reaction" force and calling in air assets; "The unit summoned F-18 fighter jets and Cobra helicopter gunships; the Cobras fired machine guns and Hellfire missiles at what an after-action report described as vehicles transporting weapons." Al Qaeda cannot maintain the initiative against such flexibility and firepower, and were forced to break contact, suffering heavy casualties while failing to achieve their objective. It is no wonder the communiqués issued by al Qaeda provided little details on the assault, as there is very little to tout.
According to the Washington Post, "19 insurgents were killed and 15 were wounded during 24 hours of fighting." The size of the assault force is estimated between 40 to 100 fighters (the high number likely representing the support teams), putting the casualty figures at anywhere from 34 to 85%. These are stunningly high numbers.
Al Qaeda devoted significant resources to this assault, and the massing of force at the company level requires time, training, effort and material. The fire truck used in the assault was known to have been missing for months; this vehicle was husbanded for a significant attack. These resources were sacrificed as Camp Gannon has strategic significance to the insurgency.
Pamela Hess, the UPI Pentagon Correspondent, provides an excellent account of the importance of Camp Gannon. This base is coveted by the insurgents as it sits on the vital border crossing:
The region is a historic smuggling route that goes back hundreds of years. More recently, it is believed to be the mouth of a "rat line" -- the entry point for weapons, cash and insurgent fighters who travel in and out of Syria to regroup and fight in the interior of Iraq
Ms. Hess' account echoes Wretchard's insightful post The River War from last November, and the crossing at Husaybah appears to be the headwaters of the insurgency at the Iraqi border. The Husaybah crossing is a vital chokepoint for the insurgency, hence the violent attacks directed at Camp Gannon. Intelligence experts maintain the assault on Fallujah last November was an important step in gaining an advantage over the insurgency and exposing al Qaeda and other terrorist groups:
"The 'intel' windfall from Fallujah painted a very good picture of the interconnections from Husaybah into the Mosul-Baghdad area. Once we could focus our troop strength... Hit-Haditha-Rawah corridor, we were able to overcome the enemy advantage of being able to hide amongst the populace or in remote desert hideaways," the [Marine] official said... "We were in pursuit mode ... the enemy was forced to move. To move he has to communicate. If he is moving and communicating, we can find him. The more we find, the more information we get from detainee interrogation. The more information we get from interrogation, the more they have to move. The more they have to move, the more they have to communicate.....etc."
Forcing the insurgents and terrorists to abandon the base of Fallujah and relocate has yielded results, as we have seen numerous times in the past with the up tick in Qaeda and Baathists members captured since this operation. The indispensable Counterterrorism Blog reports Iraqi Security Forces have captured two more al Qaeda members, both senior lieutenants of Zarqawi:
Security forces captured another so-called Tanzim Qa`idat al-Jihad Fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn (QJBR) Amir [commander]. Hamza Ali Ahmed al-Widmizyar, also known as Abu Majid was captured in a raid in Ramadi in early April. Abu Majid facilitated communications, weapons and money for al-Zarqawi. Abu Majid was also directly associated with Hiwa Gopali and Umar Baziyani, both of whom were trusted al-Zarqawi lieutenants captured by Security Forces in 2004. Abu Majid has met personally with al-Zarqawi at least on five separate occasions. Salman Aref Abdulkadir Khwamurad al-Zardowe, a.k.a. Abu Sharif, who was, also, captured in the raid, confirmed Abu Majid's position and connections within the al-Zarqawi network. Abu Sharif confessed his involvement in terrorist activity for over three years to include making and detonating improvised explosive devices. Both Abu Majid and Abu Sharif have provided information to Security Forces that will likely lead to more significant arrests of al-Zarqawi associated terrorists in Mosul, Ramadi, and Kirkuk.
Viewing Fallujah as a failure or an insignificant battle that only led to the dispersal of the insurgency is shortsighted at best. The occupation of Fallujah closed down a major sanctuary, allowed for successful elections, provided intelligence on enemy operations, forced al Qaeda to go on the run and expose their communication lines, and compelled them to fight in impossible battles such as Abu Ghraib and Camp Gannon.
Bizblogger reviews the 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing and asks some hard questions about the involvement of foreign terrorists.