24 august, 2006

Liberating Anah

Pressen bringer masser af pessimistiske historier fra Irak - og at der er grund til det skal der da ikke lægges skjul på. Shiiterne har været undertrykt af de sunnitiske arabere i hundredevis af år, og fandt sig roligt i 3 års kontinuerlige fra al Qaeda og Saddams gamle bødler, så nu er der mange gamle regnskaber, der skal gøres op.

Alligevel er der også gode nyheder, der bare ikke når gennem medierne. Her er en af dem, fra Army Times. Når du har læst den, så spekuler på om det ikke netop er etableringen af fremskudte baser som den danske i Musa Qala i Afghanistan, der gør at kampene der er blusset op:

ANAH, Iraq — insurgents had freely waged a two-year reign of terror on this sleepy, affluent Sunni city of 30,000. They blew up the police station and chased out the nascent police force. They murdered the chairman of the city council and cowed the local populace.

Members of Jama’at Al Tawid Al Jihad, known as the JTJ or Group of Monotheism and Jihad — a branch of al-Qaida in Iraq — settled in. This city in central Anbar province came to serve as a convenient sanctuary and way station for fighters going southeast to the real action in Ramadi, Fallujah and Baghdad.

But about 20 kilometers outside Anah, a Stryker squadron commander determined it was time to end the insurgents’ grip on Anah.

Lt. Col. Mark Freitag, commander of the 4th Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, installed a Stryker infantry company in a combat outpost just outside Anah in late March. The grunts of Apache Company, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, attached to Task Force 4-14, took aggressive action against the insurgents, whose leaders made a move to regain the initiative: They dispatched a shadowy commander named Abu Hamza to take charge of the insurgency in Anah. …

It soon became clear that if Albertus was to have any chance of reversing trends in Anah, he needed to position forces closer to the action. Freitag ordered the establishment of Combat Outpost Anah beside a major intersection just north of the city. ….

COP Anah had an immediate impact. Roadside bomb attacks in the area went from six in March, which claimed one U.S. life, to none in April. ….

Apache further reduced the insurgents’ freedom of movement April 22 by installing a small force of eight Americans and 20 Iraqis in an old veterinary clinic that became Battle Position Reyanah, which threatened JTJ elements operating out of the village. Meanwhile, Albertus began to receive a new stream of technical intelligence from COP Rawah that enabled closer tracking of insurgent suspects.

Insurgents were plotting frantically. They realized their comfort zone in Anah was vanishing — and they were determined to fight. ….

Six days later, a Saudi would-be JTJ suicide car bomber drove an orange-and-white taxi, a Chevrolet Caprice, out of a compound in Anah’s industrial area. Packed with four propane tanks rigged to explode, the Caprice was probably headed for Battle Position Reyanah. ....

After a brief standoff in the open countryside, Albertus raised his M4 and cracked off three warning shots. The taxi lurched forward and U.S. forces riddled it with a hail of .50-caliber bullets that detonated two propane tanks in an orange fireball.

The destruction of the car bomb with no friendly or civilian casualties marked a turning point in more ways than one. “This was a complete change to the [JTJ] tactics in Anah,” Albertus said. “This was a safe haven for them.”

The fact that al-Qaida in Iraq tried to employ such a high-yield weapon showed “how important and how critical controlling Anah was” to them, said Capt. Tom Hart, 4-14’s fire support officer. But the car bomber’s spectacular failure demonstrated that the JTJ no longer enjoyed freedom of maneuver in Anah. That was a turning point for both sides.

The incident gave locals more confidence to pass information to U.S. troops.This reporting was the first time Apache learned the JTJ had stood up a new cell in Anah. The organization was named for its leader, about whom Apache knew nothing but his name: Abu Hamza. ….

TF 4-14 estimated that 98 percent of the population gave either active or passive support to the insurgents, with much of the passive support resulting from intimidation rather than any feelings of true allegiance with the insurgency.

“It’s not that easy to answer the question about how many are in their heart of hearts sympathetic to us versus the [insurgents],” said Capt. Rob Dapice, Albertus’ fire support officer. “What’s more relevant is who they believe is more capable. That’s what determines how they act.” ….

Previously, JTJ had neither need nor inclination to bring violence to Anah. But Apache’s presence and intelligence-driven ability to get inside JTJ’s decision cycle forced the insurgents to confront coalition forces in the previously uncontested town.

But bringing violence into Anah made the insurgents less popular with the local Iraqis. Meanwhile, Apache’s almost constant presence gave Albertus and his men the opportunity to engage the locals. “You cannot replace getting down and talking to the people,” he said. ….

By early June, the team had entered into a very fruitful relationship with a teenage male Anah resident whose ambition was to join the police.

“He was just sick and tired of what’s going on in the town and he was willing to help us,” Albertus said.

The young man provided information about an Abu Hamza bomb-making cell. A June 2 raid led to the detention of cell leader Ahmed Abdul Jalil, as well as Saddam Shoban, a financier. Human intelligence confirmed this cell was responsible for multiple roadside bomb attacks.

“Tactical questioning” of Ahmed and Shoban at Ahmed’s house led Apache to the homes of other cell members. By the end of the night, they had detained a dozen of Abu Hamza’s men.

“This is where the targeting process at company level really starts to come together,” Albertus said. “We’ve got a source that’s very reliable; a humint team that’s executing on a daily basis, gathering information; we’ve got platoons out there gathering information on a daily basis we’ve got an S-2 shop that we’re now completely tied in with. Now we’ve got actionable targets that we’re able to conduct [close target reconnaissance] on, conduct these precision raids.” ….

Meanwhile, Apache was working on a sophisticated plan to eliminate the rest of Abu Hamza’s roadside bomb cell. The first stage was to uproot the trees that provided cover to insurgents trying to plant bombs along the main thoroughfare in the city. That pushed Abu Hamza to an intersection at the edge of town, which was right where Apache wanted him.

On the night of June 1, Apache teams began monitoring the intersection.

About 6 a.m. on June 3, Staff Sgt. Joshua Lothspiech, leader of 3rd Squad, 1st Platoon,saw a black sedan stop at the intersection. Five men emerged and immediately started to place a roadside bomb.

“They were very, very well rehearsed,” Albertus said. “Everyone knew their job.”
On Lothspiech’s command, Spc. Christopher Schof opened fire with his M240B machine gun. The insurgents tried to get back in the car.

“That’s just a coffin for them,” Albertus said.

Three were killed immediately, but two escaped, one limping from a gunshot wound. An examination of the car revealed that it was wired for use as a suicide car bomb. ….

But Abu Hamza had one big attack left. On June 28, a dump truck packed with explosives, ball bearings and keys drove out of Reyanah and headed toward Apache’s battle position just north of the village.

Apache received an intel report that an attack was imminent. Soldiers at BP Reyanah were ordered into “full battle rattle.” Four climbed onto the roof, immediately drawing small-arms fire from buildings on the northern edge of the village.

The dump truck turned left from the road into the serpentine driveway leading to the battle position. The four Apache soldiers on the roof met it with a hail of bullets, but it kept chugging forward in low gear, plowing through triple-strand concertina wire and Hesco barriers as the troops swapped out magazine after magazine.

The driver slumped over in his blood-spattered cab, but still the truck continued to lurch forward. However, instead of driving through the compound’s metal gate, as the driver intended, the vehicle pushed halfway through the cinder block wall, coming to rest against a Leyland truck before exploding in an enormous fireball that engulfed the battle position and threw the Leyland truck into the building.

Two Iraqi soldiers were had been killed and seven were wounded.

Apache had just enough time to vector an AV-8B Harrier over the battle position for the aircraft to film the explosion. (video her) ….

Apache hit back July 1, raiding a car wash they had identified as an Abu Hamza car bomb factory and meeting place. They detained Abu Qusay, an insurgent facilitator. Intelligence tips told Apache of Abu Hamza’s increasing frustration “at how deep we were able to get into [his] decision cycle,” Albertus said.

Pressure intensifies

In late June, the first batch of Iraqi police returned from Jordan, and things got worse for Abu Hamza. Immediately, two policemen from Anah approached the humint team leader and offered up a treasure trove of intelligence on the insurgent structure in Anah. ….

For the first time, Apache was able to draw up a “wiring diagram” of the insurgent structure in Anah. After talking with the humint team leader, Albertus said he “decided to go after the big guys first.” ….

The stage was set for Apache to drive a stake through the heart of Abu Hamza’s group. In the early hours of July 8, the company conducted four nearly simultaneous cordon and searches, each aimed at securing a different Abu Hamza figure. ….

Each Apache element secured its objective less than two minutes after arrival, taking care to enter each compound silently, so as not to alert neighbors. By daybreak, Apache troops had detained 14 suspects, including four of Abu Hamza’s top aides, without firing a round. The detainees included four of Abu Hamza’s top aides: Marwan Hashim Abdulhadi, deputy commander; Firas Abdullah Mohammed, Abu Hamza’s new number three; Jamil Muhaysan, aka Abu Muthir, the third-ranking JTJ leader in Anbar; and Rafa’a Muhammed Noori, another senior JTJ leader in Anbar.

Marwan Hashim Abdulhadi, had been watching TV and drinking tea with his sister and his brother’s wife when Apache’s 1st Platoon entered the house.

A search of the home turned up a chilling video of small children re-enacting a hostage beheading, as well as videos of anti-coalition sermons being delivered in mosques all over Anah. The humint team went to work immediately, questioning the suspects in their own homes.

In such situations, some suspects don’t realize how much trouble they’re in, and think they can avoid detention by giving up information, the team leader said. For others, the shock of seeing U.S. troops burst into their home breaks down their resistance. The highest-ranking JTJ detainee was the most talkative. “Marwan dimed out the rest of his cell,” the humint team leader said.

The Apache troops went about their business so stealthily that by the time they left the following morning, “no one knew we were there,” Albertus said.

Apache troops later learned that Abu Hamza tried calling his leaders that morning and couldn’t figure out why no one was answering their phones. ….

His organization collapsing around him, Abu Hamza lashed out. A spate of four murders rocked Anah as the insurgent leader assassinated those he wrongly assumed were providing intelligence to Apache.

On July 13, he sent a suicide car bomber against the Iraqi army checkpoint on the road to Rawah. The bomb exploded, wounding 12 but killing none but the driver. It was Abu Hamza’s last throw of the dice. ….

In the three months it took Apache to take down the Abu Hamza group, the company fired live rounds only three times: when engaging the two suicide vehicle bombers, and when ambushing the roadside bomb cell. “It’s been more of a police action than combat,” the humint team leader said.

Abu Hamza himself vanished, withdrawn by the JTJ and replaced with another leader in charge of a new cell. But this group was composed mostly of outsiders, with few of the local ties that enabled Abu Hamza’s men to remain hidden for so long. The JTJ’s grip on the collective psyche of Anah had “absolutely” been broken, the humint team leader said.

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