The town of Karabilah, home to the tribe supportive al Qaeda in Iraq, is now the focus of Operation Steel Curtain. Coalition forces moved in Karabilah yesterday afternoon, and the enemy’s response is described as “limited resistance in the form of sporadic small arms fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).”
Steel Curtain began over the weekend in Husaybah, which sits directly on the Syrian border, when a combined Coalition force of 2,500 U.S. Marines, sailors and soldiers of Regimental Combat Team – 2 struck from the west and drove eastward through the city to the outskirts of Karabilah. Operations continue in Husaybah, in the form of patrols and targeted raids as the brunt of the force moves eastward. Two more al Qaeda leaders in the area were confirmed killed during air strikes just prior to the commencement of Steel Curtain; Asadallah, “a senior al Qaeda in Iraq terrorist leader and foreign fighter facilitator in the Husaybah area”, and Abu Zahra, “a close associate of the current al Qaeda in Iraq Emir of Husaybah.”
While Iraq’s defense minister reported fighters fled from Husaybah to Syria at the beginning of the operation, military intelligence “indicates some insurgents might have abandoned Husaybah once Iraqi Army soldiers and U.S. Forces began clearing the city and fled into Karabilah.” The Army Times noted two days ago the “insurgents are now squeezed into Karabilah, especially a triangle-shaped part of town ominously nicknamed the Shark Fin.” If true, these terrorists are now sitting in a box, hemmed in by the Euphrates River to the north, RCT-2’s assault force to the west, the Marines in the hills outside of Sa’dah to the east, and undoubtedly a screening force to the desert in the south.
Marines stationed to the west in Sa’dah are acting as the anvil to the strike force’s hammer. Members of the Desert Protection Force may be working with the screening force in the south to identify desert trails and likely escape routes.
Like Husaybah, Coalition forces will establish a permanent presence in the town to prevent al Qaeda from filtering back into the city and reestablishing control as has happened in the past. It is now possible to maintain forces in these towns as the Iraqi Security Forces are increasing their capabilities to allow them to operate in western Iraq.