The Battle of the Belts have begun and as Michael Yon stated in his latest dispatch, this is the largest operation since the end of major combat four years ago:
This campaign is actually a series of carefully orchestrated battalion and brigade sized battles. Collectively, it is probably the largest battle since "major hostilities" ended more than four years ago. Even the media here on the ground do not seem to have sensed its scale.[…]In the short time since Petraeus took charge here, Anbar Province – "Anbar the Impossible" – seems to have made a remarkable turnaround. I just spent about a month out there and saw no combat. I have never gone that long in Iraq without seeing combat. Clearly, some areas of Anbar remain dangerous – there is fighting in Fallujah today – but there is also something in Anbar today that hasn’t been seen in recent memory: possibilities.There are also larger realities lurking up on the Turkish borders, but the reality today is that the patient called Iraq will die and become a home for Al Qaeda if we leave now.
But now the AQ cancer is spreading into Diyala Province, straight along the Diyala River into Baghdad and other places. "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" (AQM) apparently now a subgroup of ISI (the Islamic State of Iraq), has staked Baquba as the capital of their Caliphate. Whatever the nom de jour of their nom de guerre, Baquba has been claimed for their capital.
The WaPo reports on it here:
U.S. troops backed by helicopters and Bradley Fighting Vehicles launched a major offensive Tuesday to clear the Sunni extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq from its new stronghold in Diyala Province north of the capital, the U.S. military said in a statement.[…]The Diyala offensive involves about 10,000 U.S. soldiers, making it one of the largest military operations since the Iraq war began more than four years ago. The operation, code-named Arrowhead Ripper, is focused in the area around Baqouba, the capital of Diyala, a mixed Shiite-Sunni area that in recent months has become one of the most violent regions in Iraq.
The offensive began under cover of darkness "with a quick-strike nighttime air assault" by the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, the military statement said. "By daylight, attack helicopters and ground forces had engaged and killed 22 anti-Iraqi forces in and around Baqouba," it said.
There were no reports of U.S. casualties.
The statement said that the operation was "a large scale effort to eliminate al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists operating in Baqouba and its surrounding areas."
And Michael Yon gives us even more details about the strategy:
The enemy will try to herd us into their traps, and likely many of us will be killed before it ends. Already, they have been blowing up bridges, apparently to restrict our movements. Entire buildings are rigged with explosives. They have rockets, mortars, and bombs hidden in places they know we are likely to cross, or places we might seek cover. They will use human shields and force people to drive bombs at us. They will use cameras and make it look like we are ravaging the city and that they are defeating us. By the time you read this, we will be inside Baquba, and we will be killing them. No secrets are spilling here.
Our jets will drop bombs and we will use rockets. Helicopters will cover us, and medevac our wounded and killed. By the time you read this, our artillery will be firing, and our tanks moving in. And Humvees. And Strykers. And other vehicles. Our people will capture key terrain and cutoff escape routes. The idea this time is not to chase al Qaeda out, but to trap and kill them head-on, or in ambushes, or while they sleep. When they are wounded, they will be unable to go to hospitals without being captured, and so their wounds will fester and they will die painfully sometimes. It will be horrible for al Qaeda. Horror and terrorism is what they sow, and tonight they will reap their harvest. They will get no rest. They can only fight and die, or run and try to get away. Nobody is asking for surrender, but if they surrender, they will be taken.
We will go in on foot and fight from house to house if needed. We will shoot rockets into their hiding spaces, and our snipers will shoot them in their heads and chests. This is where all that talk of cancer and big ideas of what should be or could be done will smash head on against the searing reality of combat.
Just a few days ago Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker gave a briefing in which General Petraeus described how over the past four months they have been setting the stage for this day both logistically and intelligence wise.
"We have been doing what we might call shaping operations in a lot of these different areas [in the belts], feeling the edges, conducting intelligence gathering, putting in special operators."
meanwhile over the past few months Democrats such as Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have done what they can to undermine the success of The Surge by calling it a failure before it even started. Of course they have their political careers invested in Iraq turning into a failure so this should not come as a surprise. Disgusting yes, surprising no.
But finally Bill Roggio describes what will come out of this surge, the excising of a cancer to enable the country to fix itself politically:
The operations in the Baghdad belts and greater Diyala come as U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to establish the Joint Security Stations and Combat Outposts inside Baghdad, and clear and hold the neighborhoods. At last count, forty percent of Baghdad is now considered secure. Major, mass casualty suicide attacks inside the capital have been few and far between the past several weeks, while mortar attacks, IED strikes and small scale bombings and shootings are still a major threat.
Securing the belts will allow the Iraqi and Coalition forces to continue to secure Baghdad, and reduce al Qaeda and the insurgency’s access to weapons caches, bases of operations and support from outside the city. The next step is a political solution: resolution on key issues such as reconciliation, corruption, oil laws and adjusting the constitution must follow. These are contentious issues within the Iraqi government. But the security environment must be established to provide the political space needed to address these issues.
Lots of mistakes were made up to this point, as Michael details in his post, but just as Lincoln chose the wrong man to lead his army, General George McLennan, so too did Bush chose the wrong people to prop Iraq up after the end of major combat. Lincoln fixed that with Grant, it appears Bush has fixed it with Petraeus….better late then never.
Unless your a Democrat poltician. In which case the whole thing is lost already.