Multinational Forces Iraq and Iraqi Security Forces have launched a major offensive operation in Iraq’s northern provinces on September 5. Called Operation Lightning Hammer II, the offensive is aimed at al Qaeda’s network in Salahadin, Ninewa, Diyala, and Kirkuk provinces.
Operation Lightning Hammer II is a corps-sized operation, consisting of over 14,000 Iraqi Security Forces and 12,000 US troops. “Attack helicopters, close-air support, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Stryker Vehicles and tanks compliment the combined effort,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported.
The latest operation follows August’s Operation Lightning Hammer that focused on al Qaeda’s presence in the Diyala River Valley north of the provincial capital Baqubah Baqubah itself was cleared of al Qaeda during Operation Arrowhead Ripper, which was launched in June. The Baghdad Security Plan and Phantom Thunder and Phantom Strike operations — which focused on al Qaeda and the Shia extremist cells in the Baghdad Belts — have pushed al Qaeda operations into regions in Ninewa, Kirkuk, Salahadin, and Diyala provinces. This rolling series of operations is designed to keep al Qaeda off balance, prevent the terrorists from reorganizing safe havens in new regions, and expanding the security perimeter beyond Baghdad.
Al Qaeda in Iraq and allied terror groups such as Ansar al Sunnah have pressed Iraqi Security Forces in the North since major combat operations began after the last “surge” brigade hit the ground running in June. Only one US combat brigade is operating in Ninewa, Iraq’s second most populous province, and a single battalion is operating in Mosul, the second largest city. Two of the best Iraqi Army Divisions, the 2nd and 3rd, operate in Ninewa province.
Al Qaeda has attempted to destroy the confidence of the Iraqi Army and police with attacks on civilians and security forces in Kirkuk, Mosul, Tal Afar, and other cities and towns. The largest suicide bombings during the course of the war occurred in four rural Yazidi villages; upwards of 500 civilians were killed in the attacks last month.
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