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.
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.