June 22, 2007

Arrowhead Ripper: Surrender or Die

So Michael Yon entitles his latest post from the front lines of Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Baquba, which to date, has killed 51 members of al Qaeda and led to the capture of 20 more as of yesterday, June 21.

Source:Explosion in Baquba on June 12, 2007. Photo by Michael Yon.

Yon reports that the larger media organizations are finally showing up, but are having communications problems that make reporting on the battle difficult (I cleaned up the hanging HTML tag in Mike's post; I hope you don't mind):

Alexandra Zavis from Los Angeles Times is down in the heat of the battle bringing home information. Michael Gordon from New York Times is still slugging it out, and his portions are accurate in the co-authored story, "Heavy Fighting as US Troops Squeeze Insurgents in Iraqi City." (Long title.)

CNN has joined the fight. AP came but will stay only a few days. Joe Klein from TIME was here on the 21st and his story posted the same day and was accurate. We rode together in a Stryker. Like magic, Joeís story was out before I got back to base. Joe took a helicopter out and filed from elsewhere. Iím having comms problems here which is greatly slowing the flow. My Thuraya satellite phone and RBGAN satellite dish are not working for hours each day. The AP reporter is having the same problems. The signal degradation is caused by a special sort of RF interference. Moving our antennas around wonít work. We simply get cut off for long periods.

If these communications problems sounds familiar, it should: Yon and other journalists have faced these issues for years:

Valuable stories about our soldiers and the battle are being lost and will never be filed because reporters, after a long day of being on the battlefield, cannot make a simple phone call, or file a story. Why be here? Itís pretty dangerous, and insurance is expensive. I had to skip a mission this morning because I cannot make communications, and am down to filing stories on the fly again without time for editing. There is no other way to keep the flow open, and if you are reading this, itís only after Iíve wasted hours trying to upload it. Hours I could have been with our soldiers, telling about their days in one of the most important battles of this war.

Frankly, the military has had since 2003 to work on these issues, but setting up communications for reporters has always seemed to be an afterthought, if thought of at all. In a war where media access and coverage driving public opinion is as important to success as combat and humanitarian operations on the ground, there is simply no good excuse for this.

I suspect that a lot of the interference reporters are encountering with their comms are directly the result of ECM jamming to keep al Qaeda from communicating, but as U.S. military comms work, they should be able to dedicate one line or frequency for media reporting. Hopefully, the PAO will get these problems resolved, ASAP.

Otherwise, while Yon is very impressed with U.S. forces and the level of access he and other reporters have been afforded to cover the battle. He is far less impressed with local Iraqi military commanders, who have a tendency to act like state officials in Louisiana:

Iíve seen them in meeting after meeting, over the past few days, finding ways to be underachievers. The Iraqi commanders have dozens of large trucks and have only to drive to our base to collect the supplies and distribute those supplies to the people displaced in the battle. Our troops are fully engaged in combat, yet the Iraqi leaders were not able to carry that load without LTC Johnson supplying the initiative. The Kurds would have had this fixed yesterday. The Iraqi commanders in Mosul would have fixed this. The local Iraqi command climate is disappointing by comparison.

As for his impressions of how our soldiers are performing in Baquba, I'll send you over to Mike's site to read the rest.

As noted above by Yon above, reporters are finally flooding into Baquba to cover Operation Arrowhead Ripper, but communications problems seem to be limiting the information getting out.

One story that did get out, from Reuters reporter Alister Bull, highlights the depravity of the enemy we are fighting:

Bednarek said U.S. forces were making some grisly discoveries as they scoured Baquba. He said residents led soldiers to a house in the western part of the city that appeared to have been used to hold, torment and kill hostages. Soldiers destroyed it.

"When you walk into a room and you see blood trails, you see saws, you see drills, knives, in addition to weapons, that is not normal," Bednarek said.

That soldiers uncovered an al Qaeda torture house is unsurprising; soldiers in another part of Operation Phantom Thunder, in a sub-operation called Operation Commando Eagle, captured an al Qaeda torture manual on CD when they captured several terrorists yesterday. We've seen these before.

Like yesterdays' account from Joe Klein of TIME, Bull reports that members of the insurgent 1920s Revolutionary Brigades are helping U.S. forces route al Qaeda.

Source:Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, move down a neighborhood street during Operation Arrowhead Ripper, June 19, 2007, in Baqouba, Iraq. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Armando Monroig.

This sounds familiar.

MNC-I release an account this morning that may provide anecdotal evidence that al Qaeda in Baquba was truly surprised by the swiftness and effectiveness of how quickly American forces were able to cordon off Baquba and trap them inside, as al Qaeda fighters desperately attempted to use an ambulance to escape:

Coalition Forces intercepted an ambulance carrying seven suspected al-Qaida operatives attempting to circumvent security elements operating in Baqouba, June 19. Local doctors called the Diyala Provincial Joint Coordination Center and reported five children injured near Khatoon, a neighborhood in southwest Baqouba, Iraq. The PJCC dispatched an ambulance to that location.

Later, the ambulance was seen heading north on a road northwest of New Baqouba when it bypassed the road that led to the hospital.

The ambulance was stopped by alert Soldiers from 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, from Fort Lewis, Wash., who are conducting missions in the area as part of Operation Arrowhead Ripper.

Soldiers checked the ambulance and found a driver and six men, who appeared to be in their 20s and 30s, two of which were injured. There were no children in the ambulance.

CF provided medical treatment to the wounded men and detained all seven.

If this sounds familiar, Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists have frequently used ambulances and even media vehicles to transport men and munitions in their ever-present conflict with Israeli forces.

Another MNC-I release states that U.S. attack helicopters have killed at least 13 al Qaeda terrorists and leveled their compound, and found a Baquba school rigged with explosives:

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.

The release concludes:

As Arrowhead Ripper continued through June 21, at least 51 al-Qaida operatives have been killed, with 20 al-Qaida operatives detained, seven weapons caches discovered, 21 improvised explosive devices destroyed and nine booby-trapped structures destroyed.

Hopefully we'll be able to update this developing story as more media are able to file reports.

Update: A.J. Strata has his own roundup posted here.

Update: A short email from Mike Yon:

They are in trouble here, Bob. Operation Arrowhead Ripper is going very well. This is a problem for Al Qaeda here.

Based on what Yon has said both in his emails to me and Glenn, and probably others, and what he has said in his posts from Baquba stating his near unfettered access to the Operation Arrowhead Ripper tactical operations center (TOC) for U.S. and Iraqi forces, he is obviously privy to information that shows al Qaeda in Baquba has every appearance of having been successfully surrounded and cut-off.

Yon noted in his latest post that he and other journalists cannot send out reports via cell phone or satellite, indicating that the military is probably jamming non-military electronic transmissions in the area (I'm sure al Qaeda already knows that their phones don't work, or I wouldn't post it).

This means that al Qaeda, which typically carries cell and/or sat phones for communications, is hampered from cummunicating position-to-position within Baquba, and is probably cut off to external cells in surrounding towns and villages as well. It also probably means that their long-standing tactic of using cell phones to rig command-detonated IEDS has been either eliminated, or at least severely hampered.

It seems that U.S. forces may have learned from Fallujah and other operations where the weaknesses in their earlier cordon operations have been, and have closed those gaps in Baquba.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at June 22, 2007 09:06 AM

Torture houses were also found in Fallujah when the US went in. You'd think the anti-war Left might worry just a tiny bit that these sorts of people might be encouraged if we beat a retreat.

Posted by: Jeff Kouba at June 22, 2007 12:03 PM

Actually, its pretty shocking that Time even ran that Klein piece.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at June 23, 2007 09:20 AM