Sunday, July 08, 2007

Perspective: 10 days after 'Ripper', al-Qaeda fighters return

Above: U.S. and Iraqi soldiers during the major offensive code named 'Arrowhead Ripper' in Diyala province in June. 10,000 soldiers took part in an operation to 'rid' Diyala of insurgents linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq.

A Sunni sheikh was on the phone. Sixty Al Qaeda fighters had returned to a nearby village Friday. Could the Iraqi Army commander in Diyala Province please send help?

The militants had been chased out just 10 days ago by Iraqi forces, who were backed by American air cover. At the same time, the US-led operation "Arrowhead Ripper" was under way to reclaim the nearby provincial capital of Baquba.

But Col. Ali Mahmoud's 750 soldiers were tied up, struggling to secure one of the country's main north-south highways (at night, militants plant roadside bombs; in the morning, soldiers clear them). He told the sheikh he didn't have the manpower or equipment to return to the village.

Colonel Mahmoud's dilemma is one of the key challenges facing US and Iraqi forces in Diyala. Without more men, weapons, and vehicles, Iraqi forces are a long way from holding the areas cleared so far, such as the western section of Baquba where Al Qaeda had been entrenched, says everyone from Gen. Mick Bednarek, commander of the Diyala operation involving 10,000 US troops, to the average US soldier.

To even get back to the village of Sufayet, where the sheikh says some 60 fighters believed to be part of the Islamic State in Iraq – an Al Qaeda-linked umbrella group – are now hunkered down, his men would have to wait for US mine-clearing vehicles and tanks to lead the way as the roads to the village have been rigged with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). His US advisers tell him that's impossible now since US forces and equipment are tied up elsewhere in the province.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor