A rare sight over Iraq, Air Force F-16’s and B-1 bombers:
U.S. warplanes unleashed one of the most intense airstrikes of the Iraq war Thursday, dropping 40,000 pounds of explosives in a thunderous 10-minute onslaught on suspected al-Qaida in Iraq safe havens in Sunni farmlands south of Baghdad.
The mighty barrage-recalling the Pentagon’s “shock and awe” raids during the 2003 invasion-appeared to mark a significant escalation in a countrywide offensive launched this week to try to cripple remaining insurgent strongholds.
But it also fits into the endgame strategy of last year’s U.S. troop buildup, which seeks to regain control of Baghdad and surrounding areas as a buffer zone for the capital. U.S. commanders are now attempting to subdue the last insurgent footholds around Baghdad before the Pentagon faces a possible reduction in troop strength.
Some of the additional 30,000 troops have been pulled out and the remainder are expected to depart by June, military officials have told The Associated Press. With insurgents still holding pockets south of the capital in the north-including areas around the key northern city of Mosul-the military apparently wants to take the remaining four months or so to use the expanded military muscle against al- Qaida.
We’re not talking about a run of the mill strike here folks. 40,000 pounds of explosives were dropped over a 10 minute period. Which tells us that while al-Qaeda is definitely on the run, the military isn’t just letting them recoup. We know our intelligence has gotten better since almost everyone hates AQ in Iraq now which would lead me to believe we killed lots of them in this strike. Which also begs the question, what the hell was al-Qaeda thinking bunching up like that?
Michael Goldfarb may have the answer:
While I haven’t had the time to ping my comrades out in theater, I’m tentatively drawing the following conclusions here. Al Qaeda is running out of places to hide. That means what’s left of the group can’t spread out like they used to, and are forced to gather in what few sanctuaries they have left. That makes them easy to target and eliminate, which brings us to yesterday’s operation.
Air ops are often a precursor to ground ops, and AQI is still very much a presence in the fertile crescent, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some serious Diyala-style bug hunts in the near future.
(The movie above is NOT footage from the latest offensive. Just something for your viewing pleasure.)