Click this link to see the map of the area of operations. This map highlights (in pink) the towns where fighting was reported and was shamelessly copied from Belmont Club.
Operation Matador is being carried out by three companies of Marines with an attached armored company, making it an armored battalion (Chester has more on the Marine units). This battalion will be supported by Air Force, Army and Marine aviation units consisting of Cobra and Apache helicopters, C-130 Spectre gunships, fighter-bombers such as F-18s and F-16s, and a host of unmanned aerial vehicles such as the new ScanEagle man-portable drones. A Marine battalion is already positioned in Qaim (Qusaybah on the map) and a recon platoon has been deployed to Rabit to act as a blocking force for fighters that may flee to the Syrian border.
The area of operations appears to be within a narrow corridor along the banks of the Euphrates River, surrounded by desert to the north and south, and the Syrian border to the west. According to reports from the Los Angeles Times, the Marine battalion crossed the Euphrates River from the south to strike in the town of Ubaydi and are prepared to sweep west, driving the terrorists towards the Syrian border and the American blocking force positioned in al Qaim (south of the Euphrates) and Rabit (north of the Euphrates).
There may be some confusion in the reporting, however. New indicates the entire battalion has moved across the river, but the Guardian reports heavy resistance was encountered in “villages on the southern side of the Euphrates.” The Marines would need to be south of the river to engage them in the towns of Karibilah, Jaramil, Khutaylah, Balujah and Ushsh, unless this “heavy resistance” is really in the form of harassing mortar, rocket and sniper fire. As these towns sit along the main road to Syria, it is likely the Marines are pressing west to drive the enemy towards Qaim. Reports indicate intelligence believed the insurgents were positioned north of the river, so elements may have moved back south across the Euphrates to engage the enemy.
According to the New York Times, the operation has been in the planning stage for some time, but the impetus for action came from local intelligence and information gleaned from the arrest of Zarqawi’s lieutenants; “American officials said that the offensive had been a long time coming but that it was spurred by a fresh batch of intelligence gleaned from Iraqis who live in the area as well as interrogations of newly captured aides to Mr. Zarqawi, the most wanted terrorist in Iraq.” Cascading effects from the arrests of terrorists are seen in Iraq as well.
Col. Stephen Davis states; “The insurgents we’re fighting today are not the guys getting $50 to put [a roadside bomb] on the side of the road These are the professional fighters who have come from all over the Middle East. These are people who have received training and are very well-armed.” The insurgents are fighting to the death from bunkers, basements and other concealed positions that do not provide for easy escape. Similar tactics were used by dead-enders in Fallujah, and similar results – the enemy’s defeat – will occur during Operation Matador, dealing yet another blow to al Qaeda’s jihad in Iraq.
Donald Sensing reports that Operation Matador may help assist with fracturing the fragile Islamists – Baathists alliance.
Blackfive (with a new and sharply designed site) has video and images of Iraqi and Coalition forces discovering an IED as well as other equipment netted in raids.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.