US Marines and accompanying Iraqi troops return to the Qusaybah/Qaim region on the Syrian border, and launch Operation Spear in the city of Karabilah. This region is the main hub of the southern ratline from Syria, which has been inaccurately compared to the Ho Chi Minh Trail of the Vietnam War. Spear explains the reports of US troops massing on the Syrian border. Via CENTCOM:
Approximately 1,000 Marines and Sailors from Regimental Combat Team-2, 2nd Marine Division and Iraqi Security Force soldiers are conducting combat operations in northwestern Al Anbar Province.
Operation Spear (Romhe) began in the early morning hours aimed at rooting out terrorists, foreign fighters and disrupting terrorist support systems in and around Karabilah. Marines engaged terrorists in Karabilah on June 11, using precision air strikes.
Elements from 1st Tank Battalion and 2nd and 4th Assault Amphibian Battalions are participating in the operation along with Coalition aircraft.
Spear appears to be of the same size as Operation New Market and Matador, which were conducted in the same region. It remains to be seen if Spear will resemble the search & destroy mission profile of Matador which covered a wide area, or the cordon & search profile of New Market. Good bets are on the latter. (See this post for background on clear & hold vs. search & destroy.)
As the press release notes, Karabilah, was the subject of recent airstrikes in which 40 terrorists were killed. The effective air strikes in Karabilah followed by a quick operation tells us the following:
* There is solid, actionable intelligence in the region.
* As the US and Iraqi force presence in the region is minimal, the likelihood is the intelligence was derived from local sources (Iraqis).
* Anbar has been a base of operations for Zarqawi, and it cannot be ruled out that the current operation may be related to the hunt. Zarqawi has been thought to have been injured and received medical treatment in the region. New Market and Matador were executed to assist in the hunt for Zarqawi as well as to strike at terrorists.
The pace of operations in Anbar is also telling. This is the fourth such operation to be executed in the past two months (including the operations in Mosul). It is clear we now have the capacity to assemble battalion sized strike forces in the Anbar province when needed. The missing piece of the puzzle is the Iraqi forces to hold the areas after they have been cleared.
The operations in Anbar must also be looked at from a political perspective as well. The coalition struck a serious (but not fatal) blow to al Qaeda with the capture of Abu Talha. The terrorists continue to lose their appeal with the Iraqi people. The Iraqi Assembly has successfully completed negotiations with the Sunnis to participate in creating the Constitution, generously ceding 15 seats on the committee to a party that boycotted the elections. Negotiations with Sunni groups at the national level and the local level (particularly in Anbar) are accelerating, as the government attempts to offer the Sunnis an option to end the violence and participate in the government. The Iraqi Army is making the long, uphill climb towards becoming an effective fighting force, and is increasing its participation in combat operations against the insurgency.
The insurgency continues to be isolated politically and geographically. The pace and tempo of operations in Anbar are likely to increase this summer and during the fall in the lead up to the next round of Iraqi elections in order to come closer to achieving the goal of defeating the insurgency.