Air Assault in the Triangle of Death
The 101st strikes and establishes a battle position in Sadr-Yusufiyah
The region known as the "Triangle of Death," delimited by the towns of Yusufiyah, Iskandariyah and Mahmudiyah has long been a haven of the insurgency, as it sits on the Coalition supply line directly south of Baghdad. Saddam's ethnic cleansing program of pushing Sunni loyalists into this traditionally Shiite region has set the conditions for an entrenched insurgency, and Coalition forces have long been trying to pacify the Triangle of Death. After the fall of Fallujah in November of 2004, Coalition and Iraqi forces believed Zarqawi based a significant portion of his network in the region, and an assault was launched to disrupt al Qaeda in the Triangle of Death.
The Triangle of Death is currently the area of responsibility of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne, along with a brigade of about 2,500 Iraqi soldiers. The Stars & Stripes' Andrew Tilqhman is currently embeded in Mahmudiyah with the 101st Airborne, and reports a major air assault in the Triangle occurred late last week. Two battalions, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 502nd Infantry Regiment, conducted the operation. The decision to move in by air was made to avoid the threat from roadside bombs. Resistance was moderate, with small arms and mortar/artillery exchanges encountered.
The 101st will set up a Forward Operating Base in the town of Sadr-Yusufiyah and establish a permanent presence to patrol the region. Although it is not mentioned, Iraqi Army units will accompany the soldiers from the 101st at Yusufiyah. This tactic has been highly successful, particularly in the smaller cities and towns. The establishment of the patrol base is the major difference between operations in 2004 and today.
The day prior to the operation, Mr. Tilqhman published an article critical of the Iraqi Army units operating in the Triangle of Death. Their equipment is in poor condition, and their tactics and discipline leave much to be desired. It is likely this is an Army unit at 'Level 3' - a unit at the lowest level of operational capabilities yet are in the field conducting combat operations.
The Iraqi Army units are directly partnered with U.S. units to allow them time to develop into a competent fighting force. Not all units of the Iraqi Army are at the same level of readiness, and the Iraqi Army in the Triangle of Death appears to be one of the units with plenty of room for improvement. They'll have every opportunity to prove themselves in the dangerous Triangle.