Enter Operation River Gate
The Anbar Campaign intensifies and Zarqawi's "Islamic Republic of Haditha" is in jeopardy. The Coalition - including Iraqi Army units - have launched Operation Bawwabatu Annaher (River Gate) and are taking the fight to Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana. This operation is being conducted in conjunction with Operation Iron Fist in the Qaim region, and Operation Hiba (Mountaineers) in Ramadi (which we discussed last night).
Approximately 2,500 Marines, Soldiers and Sailors from Regimental Combat Team - 2 and Iraqi Security Force soldiers are participating in the operation, making it the largest operation in the Al Anbar province this year.
The operation's goal is to deny Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) the ability to operate in the three Euphrates River Valley cities and to free the local citizens from the insurgents' campaign of murder and intimidation of innocent women, children and men.
Haditha is an important crossroads for AQI's smuggling activities from the Syrian border. Once in Haditha, smugglers can go north to Mosul or continue on to Ar Ramadi, Fallujah or Baghdad. The city is home to approximately 75,000 Iraqis, a vital hydro-electric power plant, and 28 schools.
Coalition and Iraqi Forces located in western Al Anbar province have seen a recent increase of AQI violence in Haditha. Last Spring, insurgents attacked Haditha General Hospital, the largest in western Al Anbar, with a suicide car bomb, destroying more than half of the building with the explosion and ensuing fire. Insurgents also established fortified firing positions inside the hospital and used patients and staff as human shields as they attacked Marines from the hospital and later retreated from the Marine counterattack.
The fighting will likely be tough. Two Marines and one soldier have been killed in combat outside Haqlaniyah.
The Coalition has increased the scope and tempo of operations along the Euphrates River. Operation River Gate is very likely a subordinate operation to Operation Hunter, as is Iron Fist and Mountaineers. The scope and timing of the operations indicates the Coalition has planned well in advance, and husbanded its forces to conduct the strikes. The Coalition is conducting multi-battalion operations from Qaim to Haiditha to Ramdi - over a distance of over almost one two miles along the Euphrates.
In a press release related to Operation Iron Fist, Captain Jeffery Pool took the media to task for not understanding the scope of the operation.
I have seen an article or two about how clearing operations are 'ineffective'. My answer to that claim is that during the recent Operations of Sword in Hit and Southern Fire in Amiriyah and Ferris, Marines and Iraqi Security Forces established a joint permanent presence in those cities. These cities are added to Fallujah and Ramadi that have a substantial ISF presence.
Note how Captain Pool compares Iron Fist in terms of successful clear and hold operations, not in terms of previous search and destroy operations in the Qaim region such as Matador or Spear. He is telling us that the ultimate goal of Iron Fist will be to hold the terrain in the Qaim region. No doubt the same holds true for Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana.
Notes: I am receiving press reports from the II MEF directly, hence the lack of links. I will update the map with Haqlaniyah and Barwana later this morning.