Intensity


The media reports from Matador have been confused at best during the course of the operation. Initial reports indicated combat occurred only north of the Euphrates River, while later accounts indicated the push occurred both north and south of the river, driving east to west. At no point was this anomaly explained and there were no serious attempts by the media outlets to explain the overall nature and scale of the operation.

Several accounts, such as this one from ABC News, contradict themselves by reporting the "U.S. Assault Intensifies at Syria Border" (the title of the article) while claiming the US forces "met little resistance" (two paragraphs into the ABC News article):

American forces have met little resistance since the first two days of Operation Matador, aimed at clearing a region believed to be a haven for foreign fighters slipping over the border from Syria, the military said in a statement Friday. American intelligence indicates the insurgents are either in hiding or have fled the region, U.S. Capt. Jeffrey Pool said in the statement.

So which is it? Has the fighting "intensified" or have the Marines "met little resistance" ? How can it be both? As there are few embedded reports in Matador, the answer can be both. The embeds are only reporting what they are witnessing, and it is possible these embeds are not accompanying units heavily engaged in combat.

Wretchard uses an Associated Press account from Syrian observers just across the border from Qaim, and rightly concludes Matador is still being fought with ferocity:

The fighting has been going on for five days. A number of reports have suggested that the Marines have hit an empty sack and that the insurgents had escaped prior to the assault, leaving only those who chose martyrdom to stand and fight. The duration and intensity of the combat suggests otherwise. The Syrian townsfolk report US heavy weapons use (fixed wing, helicopter gunships and probably artillery) and return fire. This type of fire is significant, because heavy weapons are typically used against entrenched enemy fighters. Fixed-wing ordnance is often used to attack positions that cannot be harmed by helicopter missiles because the targets are too strongly built. The fact that many fires are delivered by night is also suggestive, because it recalls Marine tactics in Fallujah, when US forces exploited their superior night vision and surveillance capabilities to maneuver while the enemy was blinded. That in turn implies that the level of enemy resistance is such that individual positions have to be reduced by maneuver and destruction. Reports of return fire from enemy fighters imply they have prepared positions or ammunition caches because it is hard to keep shooting if they only started out with the ammunition in their personal bandoliers. The balance of probability is a significant number of enemy combatants have been caught up in Matador; that the area itself is liberally supplied with defensive positions and the enemy is fighting to the death.

Wretchard's conclusion is very insightful, but it is not based on rocket science. It is a very simple and sound conclusion reached with an understanding of military affairs and history, and careful culling of the available news accounts available to all journalists.

The media has a serious problem with covering military actions of this nature. There is a basic lack of understanding of military affairs within the journalistic community. This often leads to a misunderstanding of how operations are conducted and disjointed reporting of the battles.

The articles written from the embed accounts only give a small portion of the overall picture. These first hand accounts are very important, but they are single trees within the forest. There is no effort made by the editors and producers of the print and television media to draw together the disparate reports and attempt to gain a larger understanding of the scale, pace, tempo and importance of the operation.

During Matador, Wretchard, Chester, Donald Sensing, Joe Katzman, a host of other bloggers and I attempted to do exactly what the media cannot - provide a comprehensive briefing based on sound logic and experience. No doubt some of the information and conclusions presented in the various maps and analyses are inaccurate as we were dealing with incomplete information. However it is highly likely our conclusions are more accurate and complete than those presented by the traditional media. Our conclusions were based on an understanding of military history, basic tactics and strategy, map reading skills, the careful observation of the situation in Iraq over a long period of time, and in some cases prior military service. I strongly believe this gives us an advantage the traditional media sorely lacks when covering events such as Fallujah and Matador.


Also See:

Trey Jackson has the video of Oliver North's report from the field which includes footage from the battles.

Joe Katzman offers the complete roundup of the reports from Matador.



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READER COMMENTS: "Intensity"

Posted by Marlin at May 13, 2005 2:36 PM ET:

Thanks for the post. I've been a little surprised that there were not any focused reports from the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times or Washington Post embedded reporters in this morning's editions. Do you think the Coalition Forces may have asked them not to release articles or do you think that there was just nothing to report?

Posted by Andy (Fort Worth, TX) at May 13, 2005 2:37 PM ET:

Another clue to the ferocity of the fight is the large numbers of enemy with superior equipment, training and tactics. We have read about them in each Matador report.

These men would not have been in place if this was not a key area for them.

It does seem that enemy spies (at least in some instances like Ubaydi) had advanced knowledge of the operation.

We really need better reporting on this operation. There is a nice report from Oliver North here: http://www.gopusa.com/commentary/onorth/2005/on_05131.shtml

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 13, 2005 2:39 PM ET:

Hi Marlin,

That is difficult to say. The AP report cited by Wretchard indicates there is news worth reporting. It is possible the DoD has asked for them to hold off on releasing, particularly if there are casualties. My best guess is that these reporters had nothing to report from the units they are attached to.

Posted by TCO at May 14, 2005 11:15 AM ET:

Olly does that annoying thing of not even asking the interviewee a question and giving lots of analysis himself. I guess TV news has to be like this. But the good thing about blogs is that we have time for both analysis and nitty gritty facts and details.

Posted by Tim at May 14, 2005 12:45 PM ET:

Yes, even if the Pentagon is asking the media to hold off on some details, their reports are hardly even competent.

Posted by Bill Roggio at May 14, 2005 5:19 PM ET:

Tim,

I think you can get a general feeling for what is going on by compiling the various accounts, as I explained in this post.

Posted by Ray Gardner at May 15, 2005 12:30 AM ET:

I've come across news reports out of Turkey about Syria building up their military along the border but haven't looked into far enough to speculate if it is connected with the events of Matador.

If there is a connection, it would make sense for the Syrians to post a significant force, not as a physical deterrent per se, but to simply act as a picket of sorts. That way, any recon teams or aviation elements straying across the border would be more easily detected. This would allow the Syrians to cry "international incident" and perhaps buy the terrorists in Qaim some time to flee and/or regroup.