“We are glad the Americans are here.”
The Marines’ drive westward in Operation Matador appears to be almost complete. Solomon Moore, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, describes the tragic death of Marines from Lima Company of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment (3/25) whose amphibious vehicle was struck by either a landmine or IED. Several Marines perished in the ensuing fire.
Elements of the 3/25 Marines are engaged in the town of Abu Hardan, a town south of the Euphrates River and directly east of Qaim on the Syrian border. These units started from the west near Ubaydi, and this indicates operations are rapidly proceeding westward towards the Syrian border while the Marines are methodically going town to town hunting the insurgents. The push is occurring both north and south of the Euphrates River in an attempt to drive the fleeing terrorists towards the blocking forces in Qaim south of the river and Rabit north.
Mr. Moore reports there is little activity from the enemy with Kilo company of the 3/2 and Lima of the 3/25. As the reporting is fragmented and there are few reporters embedded with the units engaged in Matador, we are not getting the full picture of where the heavy fighting is occurring. The likely areas of engagement may be occurring (or have already occurred) with the blocking forces in Qaim, Rabit, and the suspected screening forces in the deserts north and south of the Euphrates River. Wretchard suspects the operation is in mop up mode, with units conducting dangerous and time consuming house-to-house searches. The advance of the 3/25 Marines to Abu Hardan likely confirms this (and remember the reports are on a time delay for operational security reasons).
Mr. Moore’s article confirms what we already know about the Iraqi people’s general view of the terrorists. Their penchant for using the local’s homes as firebases and their utter disregard for the lives of the inhabitants upsets the villagers:
“Our house is beside the river. Some people we didn’t know came and entered our house and shot from the house. And then the Americans shot at us,” said Hassan Rashash, a retired local government official who was sitting against the wall.
He was exasperated. “We cannot go, this is our home. We fight them. We argue. We tell them, ‘We have women. We have children.’ But we cannot force them to go. What can we do?” he complained.
“You know this is the main road. From here the terrorists come from Syria, and they can go all the way to Mosul,” said Mohammed Salah Sulayman, a retired professor who was also being detained. “The terrorists, they move into our houses in the night. We can’t do anything. Most of these people here came to my house because they can’t go to their own homes.”
Other residents also described, in halting English, how foreign fighters intimidated the community.
“Most people here are like me,” Rashash said. “You can’t love these people who come in your house, in your garden. Who would want this? We are glad the Americans are here.”
It seems operations to root out al Qaeda from the remote regions of Iraq is winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, just not in the way al Qaeda hopes for or the media portrays.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.