The Coalition continues to conduct targeted strikes on al Qaeda in the Qaim region along the Syrian border. A safe house in the town of Al ‘Ushsh, which is about two miles from Qaim, was destroyed. Abu Nasir, who according to CENTCOM was believed to be “a senior al Qaeda in Iraq foreign fighter facilitator and the alleged new al Qaeda in Iraq Emir of Karabilah” was among an estimated twenty terrorists killed in the attack.
Abu Nasir’s tenure as al Qaeda Emir of the Qaim region was short-lived. He follows in the footsteps of Abu Ali, who was confirmed killed during a targeted airstrike in Haditha on September 18. Command in the Qaim region, like that in the Mosul region, is becoming a difficult job to retain.
Coalition intelligence in western Anbar appears to be improving, as senior al Qaeda leaders and large cells have been the targets of numerous successful operations. Col. Stephen Davis, the commander of the Marines Regimental Combat Team 2 states that the recent push along the Euphrates is the direct result of intelligence gains; “The buildup is driven by the fact that intelligence pulls us where the threat is We always go where the intel drives us.”
Whether the operations in and around Qaim are beginning to achieve the desired result of disrupting al Qaeda’s organization as has been done in northern Iraq in the Tal Afar-Qaim region remains to be seen. As the terrorist’s area of operations shrink, they are likely to congregate in the areas where they are most comfortable, and attack from these areas. A greater density of terrorists means a greater pool of talent to draw from, so there is very likely much additional work to be done to whittle down al Qaeda’s command structure in Anbar.
The congregation of terrorists into smaller areas has both positive and negative outcomes. The positives are the density of terrorists operating in a compact area tends to poison the local population, opens doors for new intelligence leads, and allows for easier targeting of terrorists en masse. Coalition strikes in Qaim or operations in Mosul are perfect examples of this. The negatives are the volume of attacks increases, and Iraqi government and Coalition are seen as ineffective in establishing law and order both locally and internationally.
As al Qaeda finds it more difficult to operate in northern Iraq, and has pretty much conceded that they cannot conduct successful attacks in the Kurdish and Shiite regions on a consistent basis, their area of effective operations is shrinking. The map of the density of attacks clearly shows the insurgency has centered its operations to the north and east of Baghdad, along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, with Baghdad being the ultimate target. The Coalition is working to shut down the Tigris and Euphrates ratlines, as the recent operation in Tal Afar and operations in Qaim and along the Euphrates demonstrates.
The attacks on Baghdad, while having no real military value, are achieving the desired political and propaganda effects of feeding the Western media’s passion for gory headlines that project failure in Iraq. It should be noted that Coalition successes in targeting al Qaeda leadership and operatives rarely, if ever, leads in the headlines, while al Qaeda successes get top billing. Today is no different – the headline At Least 25 Are Killed in Day of Violence Across Iraq [New York Times] sells, while al Qaeda Commander and 20 Terrorists Killed in Raid does not exist, unless you happened to stumble upon this site.
Map compliments of CENTCOM.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.