September 20, 2005

Tal Afar


From the Department of Defense: Commander Describes Routing Foreign Fighters From Tal Afar.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2005 -- The commander of coalition troops in Iraq today described "an extremely successful tactical operation" in which U.S. and Iraqi troops all but cleared Tal Afar, Iraq, of foreign fighters.

Tal Afar is one of two major transit zones for foreign fighters coming into Iraq, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said from Baghdad today. The other route is through the Euphrates River Valley, farther south.

U.S. troops from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and Iraqi forces from the 3rd Iraqi Army Division have been working for two months to plan and prepare for an operation to "restore Iraqi control to Tal Afar," Casey said.

Since Sept. 10, this combined force has been engaged in an operation to clear a roughly 600-by-800-meter section in the center of Tal Afar that foreign fighters had set up as a sanctuary.

The combined force killed about 150 insurgents and captured roughly 350 more. Casey said officials estimate this accounted for about 75 percent to 80 percent of the foreign fighters and other insurgents they believed were in the city. "It looked like a pretty tough fight," he said.

Strong support from the Iraqi government made the soldiers' mission significantly easier, Casey said. In the days leading up to the military assault, Iraqi government representatives spent time in Tal Afar and brokered an agreement with local leaders from all local ethnic groups: Shiia, Sunni and Turkoman.

"The other piece of this that sometimes gets lost is the Iraqi government was very much involved in setting the conditions for success," he said.

Casey explained that local sheiks signed statements saying basically: "We've had enough. We ask for the military to come in and clean the terrorists and foreign fighters out of Tal Afar."

This led to support for the mission from the city's civilian population. "That had a huge impact on what we had to deal with with respect to the population of that city," Casey said.

About 20,000 civilians left Tal Afar before the fighting began. The Iraqi and coalition force was prepared with humanitarian assistance, but many of those who fled went to stay with friends or relatives elsewhere, Casey said. The Iraqi government also provided $50 million to compensate civilians whose property was damaged and to fund rebuilding damaged areas.

The mission was intended to allow Iraqi civilians to participate in the upcoming constitutional referendum Oct. 15.

Military photos from the operations in Tal Afar here, here, here, here, and here.

From Strategy Page: Why It's Getting Harder to be a Bad Guy.

The U.S./Iraqi offensive in Tal Afar has been more effective than anticipated, and terrorists are abandoning the area. It is unclear as to whether the dispersal of terrorist forces, who seem mostly to be local Sunni Arab tribal fighters and al Qaeda "Foreigners", is a planned response in the event of defeat or a spontaneous development. Whichever the case, the insurgents have abandoned large stocks of arms as well as some important infrastructure, including bomb factories and underground installations. The damage to al Qaeda was serious enough to elicit a public announcement from the terrorist organization, where it announced a new wave of suicide bombings, as revenge for the success of the Tal Afar, and related, operations. Apparently it was a case of "use it or lose it," with al Qaeda fearing that the continuing operations along the Syrian border and in western Iraq, would lead to more bomb workshops, and completed car bombs, being captured.

UPDATE I -- Sept. 21: In today's Wall Street Journal, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani addresses the foreign fighter issue among others: We Need American Troops.

American forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the democratically elected government of Iraq, and with the backing of a United Nations Security Council resolution. Your soldiers are in my country because of your commitment to democracy. Moreover, during my visit to Washington, Mr. Bush reaffirmed the United States' complete support for the Iraqi political process toward sustainable democracy, and for the fight to defeat fascist and jihadist terrorism in Iraq. ...

Above all, American forces provide Iraq with a much-needed deterrence capability. In the past, Iraq sought an illusory security through the follies of aggression, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Today, our external security comes from our alliance with the United States. Our neighbors can thereby be assured that we will settle all of our differences with them peacefully.

Sadly, some of our neighbors have chosen not to understand this. They seem either unwilling or unable to shut off the pipeline of terrorists crossing into Iraq. And in addition to what is at least passive support for the terrorists, some of them are providing financial and material support to them, too. They must desist from this behavior now.

While the problem of some of our neighbors supporting terrorism is bad enough, we can only imagine what our neighbors might have done if American troops had not been present. Most likely, Iraq would have been transformed into a regional battlefield with disastrous consequences for Middle Eastern and global security.

Despite the fact that Bush has, unfortunately, often defined the Iraq war in altruistic terms, it should not be Iraq's need that fundamentally determines whether or not our troops are there. After all, many countries "need" our troops for various reasons, but that doesn't mean we should send them. Our troops should be used only to protect America's national security interests, and the only basic reason for staying in Iraq should be to fight America's enemies, in this case, Islamic and Baathist terrorists and their state sponsors, two of which border Iraq. It remains to be seen how we will deal with Iran and Syria. But considering that both countries are fighting a proxy war with the U.S. in Iraq, I don't see how settling "our differences with them peacefully," as Talabani assures them, can even be an option. Whether Iraq itself becomes a "sustainable democracy" or a theocracy is another problem altogether.

UPDATE II -- Sept. 23: Bill Roggio has an excellent overview of recent Iraq operations in a Flash presentation (via Dr. Sanity).

Posted by Forkum at September 20, 2005 05:08 PM