Operation Restoring Rights in Tal Afar

The battle of Tal Afar intensifies. Operation Restoring Rights is easily the largest since Fallujah, based on both the size of the assault force – five to six battalions, about 5,000 U.S. and Iraqi infantry – and the scope of the objective. Tal Afar is a city of over 150,000, ranking it just behind Fallujah in size. In the past three days of fighting, over 200 insurgents have been killed, with minor casualties to the coalition forces (two American and four Iraqi troops lightly wounded). The terrorist casualty count easily outstrips that encountered during the fighting last May in Operation Matador.

Yet Tal Afar is unlike Fallujah, according to Khasro Goran, the deputy governor of Nineveh province; “The whole city is not under the control of the insurgents, its only some pockets.” The estimate is that by the time of the current offensive, the Coalition reduce the insurgent presence to less than fifty percent.

A partial Coalition presence allows for some degree of local intelligence. The operation in Tal Afar has been well planned in advance. The preparation includes:

· Berms were constructed to ring the city starting in July.

· Checkpoints on roadways leading to Tal Afar were established weeks prior.

· Two battalions of Iraqi troops from the 3rd Division were moved to the region at the end of August, some by airlift.

· Concertina wire (razor wire, the modern day equivalent of barbed wire) and other obstacles have been assembled around insurgent dominated Sarai neighborhood.

· A camp was established to screen citizens and identify insurgents.

There is a clear purpose. The offensive is not designed to merely clear the city of insurgents, but also to defeat them. Col. H.R. McMaster, commander of the Army’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, is explicit about the desire to surround the insurgents and force them to fight and not flee; “The idea is to trap them in Sarai or force them toward our checkpoints to the south. We don’t want them to slip out.”

As seen elsewhere throughout Iraq, the terrorists continue to use mosques at fighting positions. The high number of dead insurgent indicates the initial cordon was successful, although it is possible the enemy chose to stand ground and fight. The difficult parts of the operation will be conducting the urban assault, particularly on the Sarai district as it appears to be the insurgent’s holdout, and maintaining a tight cordon around the city to prevent the enemy from escaping. (Note: the BBC has a decent primer presentation on urban warfare).

The intriguing question will not answered after the battle ends. Will the Coalition remain in Tal Afar in force? If the occupation of Hit, Ramadi and Fallujah are any indicators, the answer will be yes. This will tell us if progress is being made with Iraq’s Army, and if future operations will be conducted with the same goals: to kill or capture the enemy in town and to deny them the opportunity to reestablish a base of operations.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

19 Comments

  • Justin Capone says:

    Sand Berms are a good idea. I have thought for some time that the US should seal off the Syrian boarder using large Sand Berms. Or, just mine the damn thing to the hilt.
    Bill,
    Do you have any idea what is going on with al-Qaim?
    Personally, I think the only way the Iraqi Army will have a good future is if the Sunnis vote in December and we get a more secular Shia government run by someone like Allawi. Harkim and Jaafari seem to have no use for the Iraqi Army and see their militias as all important. I think they fear the Army.

  • vucommodore says:

    We should definitely remain there. We better have learned our lesson from last time that the insurgents come back when we leave. There needs to be permanent America presence in Qaim, Tal Afar, Fallujah and Ramadi. According to my understanding, Fallujah is the only one of those cities that has a significant American presence. I want to hear Bill’s take on what’s going on in Qaim too. I wonder who the Washington Post’s sources are.

  • Rookie says:

    one year ago…
    //www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0912-03.htm
    Will Army be allowed to finish the job properly this time?

  • vucommodore says:

    Rookie:
    I’m a liberal but I agree with you. If you’re going to fight a war, fight a war. Don’t tie a hand behind your back and think you’re going to win. Finish the job!

  • hamidreza says:

    My rosy take about Qaim is that every time the Islamists take over Qaim and start beheading and comandeering its hospital, mosques and institutions, they create more enemies within the traditional tribes, and even among the Baathists. This will play to the hand of the US forces, and will create a pro-government citizenry which will not hesitate to identify the safe houses, ready for guided bombing a la Afghanistan.
    When Fallujah was liberated, Mosul was overrun by the Islamists as a diversionary and face saving tactic. The assault on Qaim is not unrelated to the Tal Afar cordon, search and control Restoring Rights operation. The Islamists have lost their northern rat line to Syria, and they badly need the Eurphrates rat line back. They also need to come up with a victory somewhere, so they can keep the reactionary western leftists on their side. They also need to punish Sunni Iraqis that are helping the central government. Qaim fits the bill the best.
    The Coalition will probably take this opportunity to get closer to the indigenious tribes and with their help identify the terrorist safe houses and send 50 (sexually repressed and deprived) Islamist adolescents at a time, each to their beloved 72 virgins embanked on rivers of honey and wine, as a gesture of great magnanimity and human compassion. A win-win for all concerned.

  • hamidreza says:

    vucommodore, you may be interested in Harry’s Place, a blog where “liberal hawks” discuss the need to win in Iraq and see that the democratization project succeed. The greatest lament there is directed at the reactionary left who have forsaken human rights for the Iraqis, just so that they can take a cheap shot at the US, and at those self-proclaimed “progressives” who have anti-historically sided with the extreme right wing Islamofascists. //hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/
    Although I do not agree with Workers Liberty – //www.workersliberty.org/node/view/4004
    it is interesting to know that there are Marxists that support the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US.

  • hamidreza says:

    Bill, the BBC primer on urban warfare appears to actually be trying to teach interested parties on how to conduct urban warfare. Take a closer look at the flash presentation.
    It tells the reader where to place sandbags and netting inside a building to defend it. It shows how to fortify the walls so that the army cannot “mousehole” the building and get in.
    In one slide, it says in order to attack tanks, go to the roof and shoot RPGs at the top of the tank where “the armor is weakest”.
    This BBC primer is an educational primer all right. But it appears to have been designed to teach and motivate an audience of European Islamists who are harboring dreams of joining the “resistance” in Iraq.

  • Rookie says:

    OT again…
    “Liberal” ? What is the meaning of this today? An admirer of kim jong il or ahmadinejad, or a hater of Bush? Or latter becoming former (enemy of my enemy..) ?
    I was a member of Communist Youth under Ceausescu regime in Romania – nothing I choosed, it was mandatory for every young kid with an intellect above a sheep… not that at the time I was feeling that communism is bad… I hated Ceausescu not the politics. I realized it later what was the problem.
    Since then I saw also islamic states, and the similarities are scary…
    As democracy and communism are incompatible, so islamic religion and democracy are incompatible. Christian religion become compatible centuries ago, under the pressure of reforms.
    As long as Iraqis/Arabs are muslims and don’t demand religious reform, hence obey the ruling of a few mullahs, and indulge themselves in bloody anniversaries of their profets, democracy will be just an empty word, not impossible to implement but doomed to crumble in front of the first green flag.
    US has a chance now to cut the number of fanatics down coming from all over the world and maybe plant an ideea in the minds of people there that things can go other ways, too.
    My hopes are not running high… sorry about the rant… it’s last time I’ll go OT…

  • Rookie says:

    “U.S. Marine jets Tuesday attacked two bridges across the Euphrates River near the Syrian border to prevent insurgents from using them to move foreign fighters and munitions into major cities, the U.S. command said”
    //news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20050906/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq
    Yup, this is the way; I read somewhere before an unbelievable report that syrians were supporting in fact US operation in one particular moment (2004…) denying terrorists to seek refuge over the border. Hard to believe, but again sadat is in love with his throne… There is the case now?

  • vucommodore says:

    Rookie:
    “liberal” and communist are too very different things. Islamic religion and democracy are incompatible?? I don’t know about that. Look at Turkey.
    Here’s the definition of “liberal” from the dictionary:
    liberal
    adjective
    1. Not narrow or conservative in thought, expression, or conduct: broad, broad-minded, open-minded, progressive, tolerant. See attitude/good attitude/bad attitude/neutral attitude, wide/narrow.
    2. Favoring civil liberties and social progress: liberalistic, progressive. See politics.

  • vucommodore says:

    Rookie:
    Most “liberals” today do hate President Bush. I’m not a big fan either. I think he passes the buck too much and is not the strong leader in the War on Terror that everyone thinks.

  • leaddog2 says:

    vucommodore,
    As usual, you are TOTALLY FULL of B.S. I am sick and tired of your whining, you cowardly punk.
    I am a Marine. I have seen too many of your ignorant rants for the last year. You reveal your TOTAL IGNORANCE of the military (particularly Marines) every time you write. Why don’t you go back to college, read some history and shut up…. forever?

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    Justin,
    According to the Jihadi mouthpiece Jihadunspun, the “Cross worshippers” have set up four encampments surrounding al-Qaim.

  • vucommodore says:

    leaddog:
    What did I say about the military in particular that was incorrect? I concede that you definitely know more about the military than me. If I was incorrect about something, I won’t make the comment again. What wasn’t right?
    Read some history? Well, you know more about the military but I would be willing to bet that I know more about history.

  • M says:

    An interesting tactic used by the insurgents to overcome mining the border is to send pack mules laden with equipment through the field.
    Leaddog2- No matter how wrong or full of BS others may be, to not listen to them and try to understand what they say is to violate Sun Tzu’s idea of knowing your enemy or in this case understanding your adversary. A very big problem in US politics. Everyone is talking and blaming and no one is listening and solving problems.

  • Media Lies says:

    Over 200 terrorists killed….

    ….and not one coalition death. I’d say that’s a success, wouldn’t you? But the media is too focused on New Orleans and congratulating themselves for their retu…

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