Juan Cole, writing for Salon, damns Operation Arrowhead Ripper from afar
Earlier this week Sen. Richard Lugar, the senior Republican from Indiana, dismissed the U.S. "surge" in Iraq as unlikely to succeed. He condemned any illusions about staying the course. "We have overestimated what the military can achieve, we have set goals that are unrealistic, and we have inadequately factored in the broader regional consequences of our actions," Lugar said from the Senate floor.
His alarm has been illustrated by the difficulties the U.S. and Iraqi militaries faced in the recent offensive operation dubbed "Operation Arrowhead Ripper," aimed at subduing Baquba (pop. 300,000), the restive capital of Diyala province, located 31 miles northeast of Baghdad. American generals admitted that 80 percent of the guerrilla leadership there had slipped away, and that the Iraqi army lacked the equipment and training to hold areas taken in difficult hand-to-hand fighting.
On 19 June American forces sealed off Baqubah and began attacking targets within the city. The immediate goal of Arrowhead Ripper was to free Baqubah of al Qaeda, by trapping and killing its members, but according to American officers here, public remarks by senior military officials may have flushed many AQI leaders before the attack. Despite this frustrating and significant setback, progress toward the end-state goal of Arrowhead Ripper—turning over Baqubah to Iraqi government control—appears to be working, at least in terms of the removal of the current AQI leadership and its quasi-government. There are conflicting signals about how many of the AQI leadership escaped before Arrowhead Ripper launched. This weekend’s capture of a possible high-value target in Baqubah indicates that not all AQI leaders successfully fled the city before the attack.
Media reports indicating that many top leaders escaped before Arrowhead Ripper began appear to be mostly true. But other information suggests some AQI leaders are trapped just down the road from where I write. In addition to the seven men who were caught trying to escape while dressed as women, there is information that some AQI leaders remain trapped in a constricting cordon.
For security reasons, the Iraqi Army (IA) was not included in the initial planning of Arrowhead Ripper, yet with each succeeding day the IA has taken a larger role in the unfolding attack. The Fifth Iraqi Army Division is considered an increasingly competent group of fighters, and from the limited scope of 5th IA that I personally witnessed, that judgment seems correct. The 5th is committed to battle. Whereas the Iraqi Army is coming into the fight, and playing increasingly critical roles, the local police force is less impressive.
And the Military itself reports
Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) teamed with Task Force Lightning units, Thursday, to clear Baqouba and surrounding areas as Operation Arrowhead Ripper continued.
“We are shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqi Security Forces in this fight,” said Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, deputy commanding general, operations, and commander of Operation Arrowhead Ripper. “Specifically the 5th Iraqi Army Division led by Maj. Gen. Saleem Kariem Ali Alotbei, along with the provincial director of police, Maj. Gen. Ganim, have provided the Iraqi security forces to the fight.
The weeks ahead are absolutely key in not only holding and retaining the ground that is cleared in partnership with Coalition Forces (CF), but also in building trust and confidence with the citizens of Diyala.”
In support of the operation, attack helicopters from 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Squadron, 82nd Attack Reconnaissance Battalion provided assistance to Iraqi and Coalition ground forces, killing at least 13 al-Qaida operatives and destroying an al Qaeda compound during the second day of the operation.
“Over the last three days, the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade has provided Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition infantry
brigade combat teams, attack, scout and transportation helicopters. These assets give Coalition and Iraqi ground forces the added support they need to eliminate or contain al Qaeda during operation Arrowhead Ripper in Baqouba,” said Lt. Col. Gregory Baker, deputy commanding officer, 25th CAB.
In a separate engagement, CF soldiers discovered an empty school complex rigged with explosives in Baqouba, the capital city of Diyala province, Thursday, during Operation Arrowhead Ripper.
Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment discovered the booby-trapped school complex. An investigation of the area determined the school and surrounding buildings had been abandoned.
CF had to destroy the school due to risk to the community. CF were unable to disable the explosives because of instability. Ground forces effectively coordinated a precisions guided munitions strike and successfully destroyed the school-borne IED.
There were no civilian injuries or deaths as a result of this action.
“Jointly with ISF, and the citizens of Baqouba, we are beginning to root out al- Qaida operatives and safely neutralize their traps,” said Bednarek.
As Arrowhead Ripper continued through June 21, at least 51 al Qaeda operatives have been killed, with 20 al Qaeda operatives detained, seven weapons caches discovered, 21 improvised explosive devices destroyed and nine booby-trapped structures destroyed.
It is clear that some al Qaida leaders have bugged out. But they've always been cowards. And all that means is that they know they would be killed or captured. Some clearly were trapped and were killed or captured.
But while it is fun to kill al Qaida, the point of the operation is to clear the city and hold it so that they can't return. Then push aid in to build up the area. That's how counter-insurgency works.
It is true that there are Iraqi Army units that performs better than others. Good performers are very good. Bad performers need improvement either by changing the leadership, increased training, or both. But that is just a matter of time. Time that some are being very stingy with for reasons that have nothing to do with Iraq.
And the weak point in Iraq has always been the police. But that too is a matter of time and intention.
It is quite true that Iraq's political class has got to want to serve the people of Iraq for this to ultimately succeed. The jury is still out on whether they have that will. It's pretty clear that many in our political class do not have that will.
What is most clear is that Mr Cole is part of the effort to discredit every success in the hope that by spreading enough doom and gloom, their grim assessments will ultimately turn out to be right. Notice they don't talk about Anbar Province anymore; it no longer fits the script. The fact that what happened in Anbar could very well happen in Diyala and the Baghdad "belts" is very upsetting to the defeatists. It is imperative for them to stop the drive for success before that can occur.
Perhaps Mr Cole should join Mr Yon in Baqouba and do some real reporting.
But reporting isn't really his job, now is it.