The fallout of Operation Matador rains down in Northwestern Iraq along Mosul – Tal Afar axis, another ratline that most be severed in order to defeat the foreign support for the insurgency. After completing operations in the area on May 10, further efforts are made to uproot terrorists and interdict fighters fleeing from Qaim. Joint American and Iraqi units made 18 arrests from May 12 -13 during cordon and search operations in Mosul and Tal Afar, and 21 more were arrested in Mosul on May 15. Today, heavy fighting has been reported in Mosul:
U.S. troops and militants clashed in this northern city on Tuesday, with heavy exchanges of machine gun fire being heard, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.
U.S. forces were seen advancing into the eastern neighborhood of Dhubbat, a known insurgent stronghold in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Heavy machine gun exchanges were taking place in the area between militants and U.S. forces, said the AP reporter who witnessed the clashes from the rooftop of a nearby home. American helicopters were also seen circling overhead.
There is some confusion over the impact of the operation, as an American spokesman states no casualties were found. An Iraqi police commander in Mosul later stated the enemy took heavy casualties and were terrorists from Qaim:
Lt. Gen. Ahmad Mohammed Khalaf, commander of Mosul’s police forces, told a press conference later that U.S. aircraft destroyed two homes where the militants were holed up, killing 20.
He said U.S. soldiers fought 80 militants who had fled to Mosul from Qaim, a town near the Syrian border that was the scene of a recent weeklong American military operation aimed at destroying supporters of Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The arrival of fighters from the Qaim region tells us several things:
· Operation Matador has been successful in dislodging significant elements of al Qaeda from the region and disrupting their operations and supply lines.
· The local tribes in the Qaim region, with the assistance of US forces, have likely gained the upper hand against the foreign terrorists and have the capability to deny them the space to operate freely.
· Al Qaeda does not have the confidence to remain in the Qaim region in force; by fleeing they no longer view the area secure enough for basing their operation. Those on the run are subject to exposure to Coalition, as they are vulnerable while on the move and establishing new contacts.
· US forces are in pursuit mode, and are waiting for fighters to enter Mosul, as the recent arrests and operations suggest. As areas to the east along the Euphrates River and in the Sunni Triangle are under constant watch and often under attack, these areas are not secure enough for al Qaeda to establish bases. The Coalition has secured the Shiite areas to the Southeast and the Kurdish areas in the North. The Tal Afar – Mosul axis in the northwest is one of the few areas left for al Qaeda to run to.
Stars & Stripes discusses the efforts of the 1/25 Styker Brigade to patrol insurgent crossing points along the Tigris river in Northern Iraq. Only recently have the border patrols begun and there are no boat units to navigate the river (serious mistakes in my estimation, but ones that can and are being rectified).
Based on the past progression of military operations in Iraq, the attention being paid to securing the river crossing points and increased activities in Mosul, the Mosul – Tal Afar axis access will likely be the focus of a campaign to uproot al Qaeda’s infrastructure in the near future.