Consolidating Success in Western Anbar

Operations Lion and Minotaur are a continuation of a successful counterinsurgency plan

Marines with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment sweeps farmland during Operation Lion in Baghdadi, Iraq, March 2, 2006. More than 80 weapons caches were discovered – a total of more than 62 tons of munitions and weapons – as well as the capture of 65 suspected insurgents. Two insurgents, one Iraqi soldier, and two U.S. servicemembers were killed during the operation. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Adam C. Schnell)

Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to press counterinsurgency operations in western Anbar province. The two latest operations, Minotaur and Line, take place in the Triad and Jubba regions respectively. Operation Minotaur was a sweep of the sparsely populated region south of Haqlaniyah conducted by the Marines of Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment and Iraqi Army soldiers from the 1st Division. Operation Lion was another sweep around Khan Al Baghdadi, conducted by Iraqi Army soldiers and elements from Regimental Combat Team – 7. Lion netted over 80 weapons caches and 65 suspected insurgents.

The difference in ‘success’ in the two operations (weapons caches found, enemy killed/captured) is likely attributed to the presence or lack thereof of Iraqi and Coalition forces in the respective region. The Marines of the 3/1 are near by in Haqlaniyah and make frequent patrols of the surrounding region. The town of Khan Al Baghdadi was identified by Colonel Stephen Davis as one of three towns in western Anbar where he would like to see a greater presence of Iraqi troops (with Anah and Rutbah being the others).

General John Abazaid, the CENTCOM commander, has recently stated Anbar has seen a down surge in violence, but wisely cautions this can be a temporary respite in insurgent attacks. In an Associated Press article on the situation in Anbar, the success is attributed to Civil Military Affairs operations, cooperation with local Sunni tribal leaders and a disgust of al Qaeda’s tactics among the local population. Curiously, one other item is attributed to the change in atmosphere in Anbar: the reduction of offensive operations:

One is an apparent slowdown in U.S. Marine offensives that coincided with the arrival of land forces commander Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli. Chiarelli has said he favors a “hearts and minds” approach that involves less combat.

His predecessor, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, oversaw a harsh U.S. counterinsurgency campaign that included regular bombings of Anbar towns along the Syrian border.

An interpreter with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment talks with locals after finding a weapons cache in their yard during Operation Lion in Baghdadi.(Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Adam C. Schnell)

This assessment could not be more wrong. The yearlong operations in Anbar – or the Anbar Campaign – which culminated in Steel Curtain and Rivergate, set the stage for today’s success. Prior to the series of ‘clear and hold’ operations which established a permanent presence in the various cities and towns along the Western Euphrates River, the Iraqi Army was absent from the region and U.S. forces were garrisoned in few areas – Camp Gannon in Husaybah, at the Haditha Dam, Ramadi, and at Camp Al Qaim and Al Asad Air Base, both which lie miles south of the river in the middle of the desert.

The various towns and cities were contested grounds – al Qaeda and the insurgency could not hold the ground for any realistic amount of time, and Coalition forces did not have the manpower to maintain the required presence needed to restore order. The Anbar Campaign reduced al Qaeda and insurgency’s bases of operations in preparation for the final assault and garrisoning of the cities. Until the towns were cleared, they could not be held, and the towns couldn’t be held until the right mix of forces were available to hold them. That mix required Iraqi troops who understand the culture and have the trust and respect of the Iraqi people.

The insurgency wasn’t strong in Western Anbar because of “a harsh U.S. counterinsurgency campaign that included regular bombings of Anbar towns.” The insurgency was strong because they were never cleared from western Iraq until General Vines and General Casey directed their attention to western Anbar and committed the resources to the fight. Today’s counterinsurgency operations, both of the military and Civil Affairs nature, are a direct result of last year’s efforts to secure the region.

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

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  • TallDave says:

    Well, they wouldn’t be the press if they didn’t get in their little antiwar digs.
    “See, all those military goons had to do was stop bombing the poor, defenseless people of Anbar.”

  • Yeshooroon says:

    “More than 80 weapons caches were discovered – a total of more than 62 tons of munitions and weapons – as well as the capture of 65 suspected insurgents.”
    62 Tons! Geesh!
    These soldiers are doing a fantastic job!
    The meetings in the Sunni homeland and around Kirkuk seem very significant. With less and less territory each week for AQ vermin to scurry around in the progress looks good.
    Excellent point Bill on the operations prior.

  • GK says:

    The discovery of a big weapons cache is a far more valuable development than news that we killed 3 terrorists.
    Because, a cache of that size is not only no longer in the hands of insurgents and terrorists, but now WE can use those munitions. A double benefit.

  • Mike E says:

    Although bad reporting has been going on for three years now I am still amazed by how inaccurate the AP, Reuters, AFP, CNN etc have been on Iraq. The only question left in my mind is, is it due to journalistic incompetence, an anti US, anti-military bias or a bit of both. We are lucky that in this era we have the internet and bloggers like Bill Roggio and Michael Yon to count on for the un-varnished truth.

  • Enigma says:

    “Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side,” — Rumsfeld
    Bias or incompetence? Draw your own conclusion.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    “Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side,” — Rumsfeld”
    I think the parallels are in the reactions of various people on an airplane flying thru turbulance.
    The pilot says everything is fine. Some of the seasoned travellers continue their naps, some tense a little bit…then their are the novice travelers that start screaming “We are all gonna die”
    The quote that makes the 6 o’clock news is the traveler screaming “We are all gonna die”.
    The very nature of “Scoop Journalism” is that it ignores the seasoned traveler that slept thru the turbulance as an “Uninformed idiot” and the pilot as a “Company Shill”.

  • skipsailing says:

    Jeeze, can the AP writer be any more wrong? It seems that this is a throwback to one of the earlier agenda items: fighting terror only leads to terror.
    A hearts and minds approach might well work more effectively now that we’ve killed or driven out all the insurgents that had neither.
    My goodness.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    The Anbar campaign has definitely been one of Iraq’s bright points the last six months or so. It’s one place where I must say things have actually exceeded my expectations. I frankly expected much higher levels of resistance. AQ’s support amoung much of the population seemed to be fairly brittle. I might warn that the present US security arrangements might be equally brittle if any weakness is shown by the US and IA. The locals do tend to support whoever has the upper hand. It also helped that AQ is absolutely ruthless and arbitrary. AQ quickly wore out their welcome, alienating much of the local populous.
    I have some hopes that efforts along the Tigris north of Baghdad might do as well. The larger sizes of the cities might make thing a bit more difficult.
    It appears that urban Baghdad is the center of the next phase of AQ efforts. I wonder to what extent AQ will pull assets out of the provinces and concentrate specifically on the fight to destabilize the Baghdad suburbs.

  • Neo,
    “It appears that urban Baghdad is the center of the next phase of AQ efforts. I wonder to what extent AQ will pull assets out of the provinces and concentrate specifically on the fight to destabilize the Baghdad suburbs.”
    I’ve noticed a pattern that AQ has been operating in the fringes between AOR’s. As the ISF takes control of the centers…the fringes disappear.
    Hawija is a fringe, the area between AbuGraib and Fallujah, the Area between Bagdhad and Hilla, the area between Baghdad and Baquoba.
    AQIZ isn’t stupid.

  • Rubin says:

    off topic, tid bit intel,
    Sunday, March 05, 2006
    Still Going
    [snip] …..
    One of my fav soldiers told me today how he was distracted by a phone call right when the biggest explosion took place of which he ever was a witness. Otherwise, I would have a film of it! It was a cache of rockets that the Demolition squad was disposing of that my friend’s group had found.
    But here is the interesting part. In his group is a Russian-American. Some of the missiles were Russian-made. When asked to tell what was written on them, the Russian translated the word as a term that could mean “chemical”

  • Salt Lick says:

    I think the parallels are in the reactions of various people on an airplane flying thru turbulance.
    Brilliant comparison, Soldier’s Dad. And it’s one I’m going to use over and over in discussing this issue.

  • Mike says:

    I always love hearing what the thundering third is up to. Thanks for the update Bill.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    Soldiers Dad
    “AQIZ isn’t stupid.”

  • Mike Rentner says:

    Thanks for the analysis, Bill. As usual, you have it down just right.

  • Tim Solan says:

    An update on Bill’s post “Air Assault in the Triangle of Death” (Operation Glory Light).
    Here is the MNF press release:

  • Enigma says:

    Your speculation IS baseless because we KNOW [wink] that a secular Arab leader like Assad would NEVER [wink, wink] associate with Islamists like AQIZ.

  • Tim Solan says:

    Looks like yet another blow to AQIZ and the Iraqi insurgency, with capture of terror leader.

  • Dan says:

    I have the greatest respect for the miltary in Iraq. I also hate to see the loss of life and severe wounds that they suffer.
    It’s been a civil war for some time now, and though we are winning some battles as you descibe, we’re still losing the war. In fact, I believe it is a war that is not to be won. I have seen no convincing long term plan for disengaging our troops from the ultimately unteneable position they will find themselves in.
    Let’s lean a little more heavily on the administration that brought us this waste of valuable human resources and national treasure to bring it to a timely end.

  • Dan,
    And then what?
    To change, or even influence, the minds of the majority of commenters to this site and Bill himself, you will need to make a much more comprehensive effort in presenting the research, analysis and estimations on the future that has you arriving at your conclusions.
    Otherwise, sorry to say, you are just pissing in the wind.

  • hamidreza says:

    Al-Qaeda escaping to Iran, their sponsor?
    “A local tribal leader and Iraq’s Defense Ministry have said followers of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, have begun fleeing Anbar province and Ramadi, its capital, to cities and mountain ranges near the Iranian border. The moves by al-Jadaan’s men and Iraqi army units against al-Qaida forced many of the foreign fighters to flee to central and eastern areas of Iraq — some to the mountains near Iran — that have large Sunni populations, al-Jadaan said.
    “We are against the killing of civilians for sectarian or ethnic reasons. That’s why we are shedding the blood of Muslim extremists, especially al-Qaida,” said Abul-Rahman Mansheed, a top Sunni politician in Hawija. ”

  • Mike E says:

    How is the liberation of 25 million people, the birth of Middle East Democracy and the end of Saddams WMD programes a waste.

  • Dan,
    “I have seen no convincing long term plan for disengaging our troops”
    I think this week saw 2 more bases turned over th the Iraqis. I think the total turned over is now in the neighborhood of 40, from an initial total of 116.

  • Mike E says:

    Dan, I think you have missed the 250,000 strong Iraqi Police and Army that have been established and are taking over security in increasingly large areas of Iraq.

  • cjr says:

    Soldier’s Dad, Bill:
    Every Thursday morning on the Pentegon Channel, Gen Lynch gives an excellent press briefing. You can download the video if you miss the live webcast. He started doing this about a month ago. This really is a “must watch”.
    The most valuable part is that he presents a lot of statistics. This is one of the VERY few places where you can get authoritative statisical data, on a regular basis, compiled in a consistant manner, which allow you to do reliable trending. Here is a sampling from the 3/9 briefing:
    -ISF that own their own battlespace: 2 divsions, 13 brigades, 49 battalions.
    -Total number of attacks country wide: 555
    -Breakdown of attacks per provinces given.
    -Total number of company size operations conducted previous week = 461. Of these:
    Independent ISF ops: 34%
    Joint Coalition/ISF ops: 43%
    Independent Coalition ops: 23%
    (This is the first week that “Independent ISF operations” exceeded “Independent Coalition operations”. I think this is a significant milestone)
    -45% of IED as discovered before they are can be detonated.
    -Number of ISF troops trained= 240,000.
    -Statistics on sectarian violance: number of mosques damaged, civilian casualties……
    -Etc Etc Etc.

  • gm says:

    It’s been a civil war for some time now, and though we are winning some battles as you descibe, we’re still losing the war. In fact, I believe it is a war that is not to be won.
    You haven’t been reading here long enough. Keep coming and reading and you will come to realize that it is a war that is being won because the long term plan adopts the classic measures to combat insurrection. Keep coming!

  • dan says:

    I’m curious, as I read this site’s postings, as to the seemingly common inability of your posters to get their heads much above the combat horizon and look at the long term strategic as well as geopolitical and religious issues that will ultimately decide Iraq’s fate. It appears that all the talk here is simply on the tactical and operational level. Please correct me if I am in error about this, but I don’t see much vision going into this except “fight harder” or “use better tactics” or “we won a battle”. This was a civil war before we even got to Iraq, and has been a civil war since Muslims started to quarrel about Mohameds succesor. A Bin Laden seems to pop up about every 150 years or so in the Muslim world. That last that comes to mind was the self declared Mahdi, that raised an army of fanatic Muslims that ultimately gave India Gordon a drubbing at Khartoum in the 1880’s(if only he had had air support!). What makes us think that we can impact that sort of history by a military incursion?
    From here on out I suspect that we will all need to give a lot of thought to how much longer we want our troops to be “lead catchers” from just about every side in this conflict. I don’t mean the term to be cruel, but rather descriptive.
    Strangely, no one has addressed my question about the wastage of our personnel and national treasure in regard to this war. Is it really worth it? I say that we’ve condemned the 25,000,000 we were supposed to liberate to a brand new kind of hell. Regardless of good intentions.
    As for those of you still stuck in WMD’s, what am I supposed to draw from the comment that that four barrels of stuff “could” be chemicals,or might have meant “medical or chemical”and the like. There were no WMD’s of any possible significance to be found. So, we focus on these marginal finds to prove the point?. Sure, they might of sneaked them out of the country like Timmerman says, but even in that unlikely event the point remains that they were not in Iraq for whatever reason.
    I also do not believe that the turning over of bases is a good indicator to apply to a convincing withdrawal plan, although in other circumstances it might be. They simply would not survive without our cover.
    Shawn, if you have any estimates, analysis or research, as you point out, about any of this, let me see it.
    And Mike, what 250,000 police and troops? Are these combat ready? No, very few are. Did you include or exclude the first 100,000(approx.) police who deserted with their weapons to turn them on us.
    It takes more than an army to create democracy if the field is not fertile. The Muslim world is going to have to get sick and tired of it’s own radicals before the issue of democracy will begin to have much more meaning beyond a purple finger. they will be fighting long after we leave. I suspect that eventually,Iraq will end up as a balkanized set of states (Kurd, Shiia, and Sunni)that will be easily managed by the great powers as they shoot at themselves.
    Additonally, and I expect those of you who are not of this ilk to excuse yourselves, there is a strong aroma on this site of those who simply get off on war, combat and explosives. For those people: Grow up! This is serious business with serious human stakes at risk. This is not a war voyuers site to provide you with latest technical data pornography. I disagree with much of what this site says, only because it’s too limited in scope. But, that does not diminish my respect for our troops in combat one bit or the sincere patrons of this site.

  • Tim Solan says:

    Dan you state:
    “Strangely, no one has addressed my question about the wastage of our personnel and national treasure in regard to this war. Is it really worth it? I say that we’ve condemned the 25,000,000 we were supposed to liberate to a brand new kind of hell. Regardless of good intentions.”

  • Dan says:

    Tim – That was a wonderful reply. Thank you. Even though we disagree I see your point. Can you give me an accurate figure for the number of Iraqi troops that are actually,truly, really, fully functional for combat?
    For those of us who have served as enlisted or in the officer corp, we all know to well that our current political leadership has failed us and the mission is moving ground under our feet. We also know not to trust the Pentagon. Sure, there are certain individuals that hold our trust in the Pentagon and in the senior officer corp, but Rumsfeld and company have not treated our troops well or told the truth when it was important. I actually had a few dinners with him and others in D.C. in 1968 while I was an intern. Very smart guy, but a very inflexable guy too. This is ultimately a war of corporatism, spheres of influence,and projecting force to keep safe our diminishing oil supplies. It’s been covered as a war to transplant democracy to the middle east, which might be a desirable if it happens. But honestly, our current administration only sees democracy in terms of capitalism. They are using our troops to line their pockets in the most cynical way. We now know that democracy and capitalism do not necessarily go hand in hand. Witness China as an example.
    As for my comments about war voyeurs and how they use this site to get their technical pornography. They are certainly not over the top. The individuals who are of this ilk are disrespectful thrill seekers who seem to live through the the soldiers and officers doing the actual fighting. And,they can be intellectually detached from the real costs in life and limb. Much easier than being there. I sincerely hope that this site will lean on these people to treat the site with respect it deserves.
    I will keep reading this site to better inform myself as you suggest. I have never been welcomed to a site like I was with this one, even with my very different views.
    I am suspicious of the propaganda we get about the war, as you can probably tell and, am harsh on those who just suck it up uncritically.
    Can anyone point me to elements of this site that deal with propaganda and it’s impact on the war?
    Respectfully – Dan

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Let me weigh in briefly. I have the kids, the wife’s outta town so I only get a few minutes.
    I discuss the tactical & operational issues because I feel they are covered incorrectly by the media. When the small pieces of the puzzle are improperly discussed, the big picture is ruined. I do take the time to talk about the war in the greater context. But the daily tactical/operational information I provide allows me to discuss the bigger picture with some degree of “authority”, for lack of a better word.
    The media was dead wrong about how operations progressed in Anbar province. I provided an alternate report on the military operations in Anbar, and without tooting my own horn, it has been correct. Col Davis, the commander of RCT-2, and his staff agrees. I’ve also done this with splits in the insurgency, al-Qaeda and the Sunnis (started discussing in Nov 2004) and the development of the Iraqi Army (started this sometime in the spring of 2005). I believe my analysis and reporting has withstood the testof time. Your mileage may vary.
    Concerning the eview of officers and enlisted who server, I could not disagree with you more. If you know this already, then I apologize. I embedded in Anbar province from Nov-Dec of 2005, witnessed the election and walked the street of Iraq daily. The Marines and soldiers I spoke to, to a man, support the mission, and know we are fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. They know because they run up against them regularly. Military officers and enlisted often comment at this site.
    I have yet to detect any ‘pornographic’ bloodlust of war here. Perhaps you should be more specific lest you make a smear without supporting evidence.
    Let me be clear I welcome arguments from both sides of the fence, jsut as long as the commenters are respectful. There naturally will be some tensions and flairups at times, but I do my best to keep the commenters civil, and will not hesitate to ban those who violate the comments policy – from either side. You are welcome here.
    The majority of the facts you seek are at this site, including numbers on the Iraqi Army, etc. I suggest you utilize the search bar. The format for multiple keyword searches is:
    ‘keyword1 AND ‘keyword2’ AND …
    Be sure to capitalize the ‘AND’.
    As far as propaganda on the war, al-Qaeda has mastered using our media to spread theirs, and our media is automatically distrustful of any information coming from troops on the ground. While embedded, I have heard stories from ou military about reporters that are frankly shameful.
    Best of luck.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    The guys at the MNF-Iraq website have managed to finally get all the briefing slides up in pdf form at. This week the transcript and the briefing slides were posted within 24 hours.
    I’m patiently awaiting the new ISF battlespace map. Turning over a couple of FOB’s is good news, but without a map I can’t form a picture in my mind.

  • Tim Solan says:

    I do not have a precise figure for you at this time.
    As Bill has mentioned, Coalition officials have four levels of readiness for Iraqi Security Forces as described below.
    You are asking about level 1, fully 100% independent. If my memory is correct I have heard from zero to 3 battalions. Anybody can correct me if I’m wrong. Notwithstanding, I believe significant progress is being made in training the Iraqi forces. And yes more work is still needed.
    • Level 1 is the highest rating, where units are fully independent in all aspects. This includes being able to plan and conduct operations without coalition support. It also means the units sustain themselves through their own systems, handle all maintenance and have every piece of equipment needed to perform any mission.
    • Level 2 means units that are “in the lead” in the counterinsurgency effort. The units plan and execute their own operations, but they do require coalition support. This support is typically logistics, close-air support, indirect fire, medical evacuation and so on.
    • Level 3 indicates units fighting alongside coalition units. An Iraqi company will be embedded with a coalition battalion. The company gets support from the coalition and operates with the battalion.
    • Level 4 indicates units just forming.
    From Soldier’s Dad link below, Major General Rick Lynch in the 3/9/2006 briefing states:
    “We conducted 461 operations across Iraq — company level and above — of which 34 percent of those operations were Iraqi security force independent operations. Think about that. More than one-third of the operations were planned, resourced and executed by the Iraqi security forces. And then if you add the combined operations — the coalition force and Iraqi security force combined operations — that’s 77 percent of all the operations across Iraq. So you can see the level of capability that the Iraqi security force has moved to. Today, 240,000 members of the Iraqi security force trained and equipped; two divisions, 13 brigades, 49 battalions control battlespace here in Iraq. So great progress in training and equipping the Iraqi security force.”

  • Neo-andertal says:

    “I’m curious, as I read this site’s postings, as to the seemingly common inability of your posters to get their heads much above the combat horizon and look at the long term strategic as well as geopolitical and religious issues that will ultimately decide Iraq’s fate.”

  • Bill Roggio says:

    When it comes to this war & politics, nothing is simple. I have seen every aspect of this war distorted politically. From the question of is al-Qaeda in Iraq to WMD to ‘uparmored humvees’ to the development of the Iraqi Army to the series of operations in western Iraq. I witnessed first hand how reporters drag their agendas to the combat zone, and fear losing their “objectivity” if they embed with U.S. troops. If you are looking for a discussion from me about “our political leadership’s competence” to prosecute the war, you won’t get it. I leave the politics out it, and give me view of what is happening, and leave it for you to decide how things are going on the ground.
    I’ll be the first to tell you the administration made mistakes in the execution of the war, but I believe errors are inherent in any human enterprise, particularly one so chaotic as war. That doesn’t excuse any errors made, it is just a realitiy of the situation. I view these errors as tactical and not strategic errors – meaning they are mistakes that can be & as a whole have been corrected.
    A good example is the trainign of the Iraqi Army. We went about it wrong the first time – built an army on a National Guard model to defend the borders and provide for local security. This made the units easy prey to intimidation. Once this was recognized (Fallujah I/Sadr in March of 2004) we reorganized the Army into a federal force to fight the insurgency. The changeover in implementing this program took about three months. That is astonishing in any bureaucratic organization.
    We are building an Army from scratch, in a military culture that placed no value in NCOs or the concept of a professional army. Less than 2 years later, about 1/2 the army is at ‘level 2’ with another 2/5 plus (rough guess) in the fight (level 3). The Iraqi Army has yet to come close to hitting its stride.
    Concerning the political aspects of Iraq, my opinion is it is far too oversimplified, and Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are viewed as three unified individual blocks. This is far from the truth, the situation if far more complex than that, as the vote for Jaafari demonstrates. Sistani is misunderstood as an Islamist paw of Iran. This is also false. The fact is Sistani abhors Sadr. That Iraqi politicians continue to haggle over political power indicates they see value in the government. This is obviously a good thing.

  • Dan says:

    Many thanks to Bill, and to you neo andertal. I will take your advice in the spirit it was given. It is, to say the least, difficult to trust most sources of information, especially the mainstream media and the not so mainstream media. I often find that trying to run down factual information requires 4,5, and even more research trackings to just get an approximation of the facts. What I like about this site is that you civil and not defensive about your positons most of the time, and that I can get as close a bead on what is happening on the ground in Iraq as possible.
    Respectfully – Dan


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