US and Iraqi Security Forces are maintaining the pressure on al Qaeda in Iraq’s network nationwide. October netted the highest number of senior terror leaders since the surge went into full effect in mid-June. While Iraqi and US forces have degraded al Qaeda’s network inside Baghdad and in the Belts, the terror group is attempting to regroup in the north and east.
The daily raids conduct by Task Force 88, the hunter-killer teams assigned to dismantle al Qaeda’s network in Iraq, have resulted in significant losses for the terror network. Forty-five senior al Qaeda in Iraq operatives were killed or captured during the month of October, said Colonel Donald Bacon, the Chief of Strategy and Plans, Strategic Communications at Multinational Forces Iraq, in an interview on November 13. Among those captured or killed include:
• 6 emirs at the city level or higher in the AQI leadership structure, including the leader of Diyala province.
• 6 geographical or functional cell leaders
• 14 foreign terrorists facilitators.
• 3 car bomb cell leaders.
• 6 logistical support emirs.
• 8 media/propaganda operatives.
The numbers of senior al Qaeda operatives killed or captured have steadily increased since the surge kicked off in mid-June, with 19 senior al Qaeda killed or captured in July, 25 in August, and 29 in September.
Multinational Forces Iraq may be closing in on al Qaeda’s top tier of leadership. Two of the cell leaders captured were members of Abu Ayyub al Masri’s personal bodyguard. Al Masri is the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.
“Draw your own conclusions” about the significance of these captures, Bacon said when discussing the detention of al Masri’s bodyguards. “We think we’re squeezing them having success,” in closing in on al Masri. In September, US forces captured Ali Fayyad Abuyd Ali, al Masri’s father-in-law who was a senior advisor to senior al Qaeda in Iraq leaders, including al Masri.
While Multinational Forces Iraq and the Iraqi Security Forces have had success against al Qaeda’s network, the terror group has not been defeated. “Al Qaeda in Iraq has been hurt, but still has capabilities,” said Bacon. “Al Qaeda has been weakened in Baghdad and the Belts, but is not defeated.” Al Qaeda in Iraq is still “capable of conducting strikes but at a much reduced level.”
Al Qaeda is believed to be reorganizing in the northern and eastern regions in Iraq. “They are migrating to Mosul, the Hamrin mountains, Diyala to the east,” said Bacon. “Ninewa province and Hamrin mountains” are the “two main areas” where al Qaeda is thought to be regrouping to continue its campaign.
The Hamrin Mountains span Diyala, Salahadin, and Tamin provinces in the north. Multinational Forces Iraq and Iraqi Security Forces launched Operation Iron Hammer in the northern provinces of Ninewa, Tamin, Salahadin, and Diyala on November 5.