Coalition forces have launched a major air offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq in the southern Arab Jabour region, Brigadier General Jim Huggins, the deputy commander for Multinational Division Center, told The Long War Journal in an exclusive interview Sunday. US bombers targeted “more than 30” al Qaeda in Iraq positions in the region southeast of the capital of Baghdad.
US Air Force B-1 bombers and Marine and Navy F-18 fighter-bombers dropped 35 bombs with a total weight of 19,000 pounds. The “specific targets” included al Qaeda in Iraq “save houses, deep buried IEDs [improvised explosive devices], and weapons caches,” said Huggins. The intelligence-driven strikes were based on information provided by the Concerned Local Citizens, the local security forces fighting al Qaeda in Iraq in the region.
Today’s strikes follow a similar raid launched on Jan. 10. The US Air Force struck 47 of 50 identified targets during pinpoint strikes in Arab Jabour. General Mustafa, the leader of a Concerned Local Citizens group in the Arab Jabour claimed 21 al Qaeda operatives were killed during the Jan. 10 raids, including Walid Khudair, the leader of al Qaeda in the southern belts of Baghdad. A follow-up strike was launched on Jan. 16, hitting 17 targets.
Operation Marne Thunderbolt, launched on Jan. 8 as a subordinate operation to Phantom Phoenix, is targeting al Qaeda in Iraq’s infrastructure and safe havens in the Arab Jabour region. “Al Qaeda in Iraq is the enemy here,” said Huggins. “There are no sectarian fault lines to deal with,” Huggins said, noting that the Mahdi Army or the Iranian-backed Special Groups do not have a significant presence in the region. “We are in relentless pursuit of the enemy,” said Huggins. “We don’t give them a chance to regroup and get their balance.”
The battle space for Marne Thunderbolt extends about 12 miles south of Patrol Base Hawkes to just north of Suwayrah on the border between Baghdad and Wasit provinces. The operation is targeting al Qaeda in Iraq’s infrastructure along the snaking Tigris River. “Al Qaeda is organized in small cells of four to five members,” said Huggins. “They are not a substantial force but wreak havoc” wherever they operate.
Deep buried improvised explosive devices are the main threat in the region. Al Qaeda in Iraq has seeded the roadways with these bombs. Deep buried IEDs can blow the turret off an Abrams main battle tank. The airstrikes are designed to neutralize the IED threat, while infantry forces move in behind to seize terrain and form the Concerned Local Citizens groups to provide for security.
There are currently three US infantry battalions operating in the Arab Jabour region. The 5th Battalion of the 7th Infantry Regiment became the third after it was redeployed recently from Ramadi in Anbar province to support Marne Thunderbolt.
An Iraqi infantry battalion is also operating in the Arab Jabour region. The Iraqi battalion, which had been depleted due to heavy fighting during the summer of 2007 was recently “reinforced,” said Huggins. A new Iraqi battalion will be repositioned from elsewhere to add combat power. “We’re on the cusp of seeing a new Iraqi battalion moved in,” said Huggins. Major General Rick Lynch, the commander of Multinational Division Central, said seven Iraqi Army battalions were needed in the Arab Jabour region. The Iraqi Army leadership has promised to send a full brigade (three battalions) to the region after it has been formed, Lynch told The Long War Journal on Jan. 15.
Three new patrol bases have been built since Patrol Base Hawkes was built in Arab Jabour. Patrol Base Stone has been built in Harijeb, Patrol Base Dolby was built in Adwaniyah, and Patrol Base Meade was established in southern Arab Jabour. From these patrol bases, US forces provide local security in conjunction with the Concerned Local Citizens and launch raids and offensives against al Qaeda in Iraq.
Video footage of Arab Jabour airstrike courtesy of Multinational Division Central:
For more information on the Arab Jabour Region, read Bill Roggio’s embedded reports from the region in September 2007: Arab Jabour: “This is al Qaeda Country” and An interview with the “Lion of Arab Jabour.”
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