The Marines are methodically pushing westward, conducting detailed searches in the towns along the Euphrates. The Marines are driving the insurgents and terrorists towards the blocking force of the Marines in the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Regiment in Qaim and the platoon(s) providing over watch along the ridge overlooking Rabit. Col. Bob Chase reports the local population is proving helpful; "We are getting a lot of information from the locals in the area and a very positive reception. They are giving up locations of where these people are hiding out, and each one drives another operation."
The Washington Post details the fierce fighting in Ubaydi. Three Marines are reported to have been killed in combat and many more were wounded. The report indicates that elements from the Marine's 3rd Battalion, 2nd Regiment and the 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment engaged in vicious house-to-house combat, and was surprised at the armaments and skills of the enemy. The weapons caches are reminiscent of what was found in Fallujah:
According to Hurley and others who recounted the fighting that followed, Lima Company's Marines searched each house they passed. They turned up weapons cache after weapons cache: bombs made to be dropped from airplanes, a bicycle with a seat made of explosives and an antenna for remote-control triggering, a vest rigged with explosives, a car rigged with bombs, mortar tubes, rocket launchers with new backpacks full of rockets, artillery shells.
The costly equipment, as well as body armor later recovered from the bodies of dead insurgents, suggested that the fighters were foreigners, the military said. Though the level of foreigners' involvement in the insurgency has been disputed for nearly two years, Muslim men have come to Iraq from neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia and from as far away as Chechnya and Indonesia to fight the United States and its allies.
Col. Stephen Davis states the bulk of the fighters captured or killed in Operation Matador are foreign, not local Iraqi inhabitants:
"I've always been skeptical of the amount of foreign fighters said to be out here That skepticism is removed as of this operation."
Davis said his assessment was based on the examination of dead insurgents as well as the interrogations of captured fighters. Some, he said, wore white clothes favored by Yemeni or Saudi men, contrasted with the colorful garb favored by local Iraqis. One dead man wore a beard trimmed in a manner common to Saudi Arabia, compared to the Saddam Hussein-style mustaches seen among Iraqis.
During interrogations, many prisoners speak with foreign accents or use foreign phrases, said an interpreter who asked not to be identified. And some prisoners "just flat out admit" that they were from other countries, Davis said, without identifying the countries.
According to the Marines, the fighters also are employing different tactics - they are better equipped and better trained than the Iraqis the Marines have fought since arriving in Anbar province in February. "We mostly deal with Iraqis," Davis said. "These are different."
Evan Kohlmann documents the influx of foreign terrorists into Iraq (he estimates about 10,000 foreign jihadis are in country), and states Iraq has become an "engine for international terrorism", much like Chechnya and Kashmir, as fighters are entering Iraq and gaining experience in jihad. Mr. Kohlmann also states the likelihood of al Qaeda winning in Iraq is low, but warns that the real danger is these fighters escaping Iraq. They should be prevented from leaving so they do not carry their skills to their home countries and continue the jihad.
The estimate of the numbers of jihadis that passed through al Qaeda's training camps in the 1990's ranges upwards to a hundred thousand fighters. While Mr. Kohlmann is correct that Iraq provides al Qaeda the opportunity to hone their skills, Iraq also provides the American military the opportunity to engage al Qaeda in close combat, something that can not be done in Kashmir or Chechnya, or in the remote areas of Southeast and Central Asia. These hard core jihadis must be arrested or killed to defeat al Qaeda, and we are seeing this occur in Operation Matador.
The map previously used in this post has been removed, as the site was encountering bandwidth problems linking to this. Also, Chester and I felt the information was inaccurate based on recent news stories.
Wretchard follows up with further spot on thoughts on Evan Kohlmann's post about Iraq as an "engine for international terrorism".
Jack Kelly notes the death of one of our heros by a suicide bomber near Haditha. We must always remember the soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen and Coastguardsmen who fight daily for a better world.