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