Major offensive in al Qaeda’s so-called capital of the Islamic State of Iraq
The Diyala Campaign is underway. As part of major offensive operations throughout the belts regions of Baghdad, Iraqi and U.S. forces have launched a large scale operation in the city of Baqubah the provincial capital of Diyala. Dubbed Operation Arrowhead Ripper, the offensive is massive. This is a division sized operation of “approximately 10,000 Soldiers, with a full complement of attack helicopters, close air support, Strykers and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.” Over 30 al Qaeda operatives have been killed since the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division kicked off the operation with a “quick-strike nighttime air assault.”
Elements of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, and the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, are operating in Baqubah along with the 2nd Brigade of the 5th Iraqi Army Division. American forces are in the lead of the assault, with the Iraqi Army in support. The 2-5 Iraqi Army Brigade killed four al Qaeda after receiving sniper fire, and captured 2 others.
The New York Times, which incorrectly reported the operation as consisting of 2,000 U.S. troops, reported that the western portion of the city of Baqubah as been sealed off with ground and air units as troops pursue the 300 to 500 Qaeda believed to be operating in the area.
The 1920 Revolution Brigades, which turned on al Qaeda in Diyala and cleared the city of Buhriz with U.S. assistance, is actively working along side Iraqi Army units in Baqubah “The Iraqi forces were joined by some members of the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade, a Sunni Arab group with units that have recently repudiated a longstanding alliance with Al Qaeda, and witnesses said the two groups were welcomed by the residents,” note the Times.
Back in May, we noted Diyala has become the main hub of al Qaeda’s operations. Al Qaeda in Iraq made Baqubah he capital of its rump Islamic State of Iraq last year. Since the inception of the Baghdad Security Plan in mid-February, the security situation, which was deteriorating after U.S. forces pulled back last fall, has markedly worsened. Al Qaeda has prepared fighting positions, supply bases, IED traps, bomb rigged buildings, and training camps in the province.
Over 2,000 hardened al Qaeda fighters fled Baghdad and are operating in Diyala. An American intelligence official and a U.S. military officer informed us that al Qaeda is operating along the lines of Hezbollah’s military structure in Lebanon. Al Qaeda attacks in the region proved this, as a series of assaults along the Iranian border and elsewhere in the province bore the hallmark of a well led, well trained fighting unit.
The fighting in Diyala will be hard. Al Qaeda is organized in small military units with infantry, mortars, anti-tank and anti-aircraft teams, as well as suicide and IED cells and the accompanying logistical nodes. Al Qaeda has been conducting a terror campaign to remove tribal leaders and others who oppose them, while waging a campaign of intimidation designed to cow the local population.
The Diyala Campaign has been a long time coming. The 10,000 U.S. troops and supporting Iraqi units won’t sit pat in Baqubah but will reach out to strike at other al Qaeda bases in the troubled province. These areas include Khalis, Muqdadiyah and a host of small towns up and down the Diyala River Valley and along the Iranian border where al Qaeda has established bases, training camps and logistical nodes.