Coalition forces continue to battle with insurgents in an effort to secure Ramadi. Over the past two weeks several incidents of fighting have been reported. John Carlson, a reported embedded with 224th Engineer Battalion of the Iowa National Guard writes “It’s noon Monday in Ramadi as I write this (4 a.m. in Iowa) and there’s been a big battle underway in the city. You can hear the machine gun fire from Camp Ramadi.” The evidence points to low level clashes, however.
Mr. Carlson describes an IED (improvised explosive device) hunter patrol manned by the engineers of the 224th. The soldiers use a vehicle called a Buffalo – which is specifically designed to find and root out roadside bombs and underground mines. It has been so effective that jihadis have immortalized it with graffiti imploring others to “Kill the Claw” – the long arm of the Buffalo that digs for IEDs.
The patrol of the 224th digs up several IEDs until the claw is put out off commission. The accompanying Marines and other patrols in the area report several firefights with insurgents. The Guardian reports an Iraqi Army patrol was attacked, and fought back. Effectively.
In Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, insurgents attacked an Iraqi army patrol, setting one vehicle on fire and sparking a gunbattle. Gunmen in black hoods were seen carrying machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in Ramadi’s streets, and Iraqi civilians gathered around the two burning Iraqi army pickup trucks. Some civilians celebrated the destruction by carrying around Iraqi military helmets and a military uniform taken from the wreckage.
But the insurgents appeared to have taken the worst of the fight. Seven gunmen were killed, said Capt. Jeffrey Pool, a U.S. military spokesman. No casualties were reported among the Iraqi troops.
The Iraqi Army is now in Ramadi, likely in battalion strength. Ramadi also possesses a police force, and while it is beleaguered, it will be bolstered by the arrival of reinforcements. The Iraqi Security Forces are coupled with a battalion of Marines, the 500 soldiers of the 224th engineer battalion and various attached Army units. Three Thousand Iraqi troops – most likely the Iraqi 7th Division which is being trained to operate in Anbar – sit directly east in Habbaniyah.
Compare the situation today to a year ago, when Fallujah, the gateway to Baghdad which lies east of Ramadi, was the headquarters of jihad – Zarqawi’s Islamic Republic. Much of the Sunni Triangle was described as a no-go zone and there was fear of a Shiite uprising. Today the jihadis are forced to declare their Islamic republics further west – in backwater farming towns and border outposts such as Haditha, Qaim, and formerly Sada. Operation Hunter, of which Operation Iron Fist is but a part, is designed to push the Coalition’s control of Anbar all the way to the Syrian border.
The clashes in Ramadi are due to Operation Hiba (Mountaineers). From the press release:
Iraqi Security Forces and 2nd Brigade Combat Team Soldiers, Airmen and Marines began a cordon and search operation today in and around Ar Ramadi’s southern district of Tammin.
The purpose of Operation Hiba (Mountaineers), which consists of 400 ISF soldiers and 500 U.S. service members, is to disrupt insurgents in southern Ramadi who are transporting weapons and munitions into the city. Additionally, ISF and Coalition Forces will establish an Entry Control Point at the Railroad Bridge in order to restrict the insurgents’ freedom of movement.
Aviation assets, as well as M1A1 Main Battle Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles are taking part in the operation.
Coalition Forces are conducting combined operations with Iraqi Security Forces throughout the Ramadi area. The level of ISF participation in today’s operation is indicative of the growing proficiency of new Iraqi Army units.
The Iraqi Security Forces are indeed pushing westward (see Operation River Gate as well) and are setting up shop in the cities along the Euphrates.