W. Thomas Smith, Jr.:
In an isolated region of the Iraqi backcountry, said to be "the worst place in the world," thousands of Coalition troops are systematically wresting control of weapons caches and staging areas from insurgent forces falling back from recent defeats in Fallujah and elsewhere in the Sunni Triangle.
The operation, code-named "Plymouth Rock" (because it was launched Thanksgiving week), began last Tuesday when Coalition forces struck enemy forces in the town of Jabella, some 50 miles south of Baghdad. The strike was followed by a series of precision raids — conducted by a 5,000-man combined force of U.S. Marines, members of the famed British Black Watch regiment, and Iraqi soldiers — aimed at cleaning out a region of southern Baghdad and northern Babil Province known as the Triangle of Death. The triangle — its three points connecting at Fallujah, Baghdad, and then south to Najaf — is located just below the Sunni Triangle where the Coalition has focused much of its efforts over the past several months.
"This is not a Fallujah-like mass assault, marked by determined resistance and heavy fighting," Capt. David Nevers, spokesman for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24th MEU), tells NRO. "The environment here south of Baghdad is very different, requiring a different approach. Our operations are surgical rather than sweeping in nature, more precision than mass."
In the Triangle of Death, Coalition raids have been characterized by collecting and processing intelligence on a specific enemy stronghold, planning a raid, then attacking that stronghold with a modicum of surprise by units trained to fight both as shock-troops and room-clearing commandos. In nearly all cases, large numbers of insurgents have been killed or captured, weapons caches seized, and new intelligence gleaned which serves planners for the next raid on the next town.
Col. Ron Johnson, commander of the 24th MEU, tells NRO that the operations have been seamless and effective. "We can tell by the reaction of the enemy," he says. "We can tell by the increase in their activity, for example the fever pitch at which they're laying IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. We're starting to suffocate them, and they're panicking. We have a large target list, and we're going to continue to stay after them."
"If the insurgents thought they were going to catch a break after their pummeling in Fallujah, they're going to be disappointed," says (Capt. David) Nevers. "They're reeling and scrambling for new sanctuaries, and by staying in the attack, we and the Iraqi security forces south of Baghdad will deny them any reprieve."