The battle on the Syrian Border has a new twist. While prior operations in Qaim, Husaybah, Sadah and other towns on the western run of the Euphrates River have been comprised of U.S. Marines, the latest operation, Steel Curtain, is made up of a joint force of 2,500 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers with Regimental Combat Team-2, 1,000 Iraqi Army soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, and scouts from the newly created Desert Protection Force. This is the largest operation in Anbar province since Dawn in Fallujah in November of 2004.
Steel Curtain is directed at the town of Husaybah, and the objectives are to “restore security along the Iraqi-Syrian border and destroy the Al Qaeda in Iraq terrorist network” on the Syrian border. Steel Curtain is a subordinate operation to Hunter, whose objective is to bolster the U.S. and Iraqi presence in the western Anbar region from Qaim to Haditha and deny al Qaeda in Iraq the ability to establish safe havens in the region. Operation Hunter likely began with Operation Sword in the city of Hit, which was followed by the establishment of a forward operating base in Rawah; Quick Strike, a search & destroy mission in Haditha, a series of raids and airstrikes against al Qaeda and insurgent forces along the length of the Euphrates River Valley, then the clear and hold operations of Iron Fist in Sa’dah and River Gate in Haditha, Haqliniya and Barwana.
The press release details the growth of the Iraqi Army in Anbar over the course of the past six months:
Since early summer, the combat capabilities of the Iraqi forces have grown in Al Anbar province. Iraqi Security Forces now include almost two full infantry divisions of Iraqi Army soldiers. During the past six months, two division headquarters have formed in the province, four brigade headquarters and ten infantry battalions have deployed to the Al Anbar to join the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq led insurgency. Operation Steel Curtain marks the first large-scale employment of multiple battalion-sized units of Iraqi Army forces in combined operations with Coalition Forces in the last year.
In a recent interview, Maj.Gen. Richard A. Huck, the commanding general of the 2d Marine Division discussed Operation Hunter and the importance of involving the Iraqi Security forces in the fight.
“The Marines and Soldiers assigned to the 2nd Marine Division understand that we won’t be the ones who win this counter-insurgency, it will be the Iraqi soldiers… We do this by partnering our battalions with Iraqi battalions. This is the way we’re going to win. By partnering with Iraqi Security Forces we are gaining a lot of insights previously denied to us… We could walk down the same street ten times and not notice anything out of place, but an Iraqi soldier will notice something his first time on the street. It is not uncommon for them to stop a patrol and say ‘those men over there have Syrian accents’ or ‘that graffiti is anti-government propaganda’. Having the ISF out with us is truly a force multiplier.”
Two battalions of Iraqi Army, along with the local scouts of the Desert Protection Force and two plus battalions of Marines are now operating right on the Syrian Border. al Qaeda’s leadership and networks have been experiencing frightening attrition rates in the region without a strong presence in the area. Now, al Qaeda’s ability to run its networks across the Syrian border in the Qaim region has just gotten a whole lot tougher.