First a quick media round-up. (This is not all inclusive.)
Alexandra Zavis from Los Angeles Times is down in the heat of the battle bringing home information. Michael Gordon from New York Times is still slugging it out, and his portions are accurate in the co-authored story, “Heavy Fighting as US Troops Squeeze Insurgents in Iraqi City.” (Long title.)
CNN has joined the fight. AP came but will stay only a few days. Joe Klein from Time was here on the 21st and his story posted the same day and was accurate. We rode together in a Stryker. Like magic, Joe’s story was out before I got back to base. Joe took a helicopter out and filed from elsewhere. I’m having communications problems here, which is greatly slowing the flow. My Thuraya satellite phone and RBGAN satellite dish are not working for hours each day. The AP reporter is having the same problems. The signal degradation is caused by a special sort of RF interference. Moving our antennas around won’t work. We simply get cut off for long periods.
I am with 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team. I’ve run a few missions with them in Baghdad, and they have fought all over Iraq. This Brigade has much recent combat experience, and is expertly commanded. A person does not need to even meet the commanders (though I do each day) to know they are running a tight ship. The professionalism of 3-2 is particularly high, and they are very competent fighters who are maximizing their assets, including the incredible Stryker vehicles.
While the name “Stryker” is on the table, apparently controversy is brewing back home whether Strykers should be in our arsenal. The answer is YES: we need all we can get. The Stryker might be the finest all-around combat vehicle in Iraq. But that is a matter for another day, and for professional soldiers to answer.
The combat in Baqubah should soon reach a peak. Al Qaeda seems to have been effectively isolated. The initial attack on 19 June achieved enough surprise that al Qaeda was caught off guard and trapped. They have been beaten back mostly into pockets and are surrounded and will be dealt with. Part of this is actually due to the capability of Strykers. We were able to “attack from the march.” In other words, a huge force drove in from places like Baghdad and quickly locked down Baqubah.
LTG Ray Odierno visited Baqubah on the 21st. Odierno clarified that this battle is to be final: we are not going to do this again. Odierno stressed to our commanders that they need to be thinking of an end-state that results in Iraqis taking charge, but that Iraqi commanders should not be given the reigns until they are ready, so that the result is we set them up for success. Odierno’s timing was remarkable: even before he arrived, the commanders here were talking about end-state daily and, on a more sour note, our commanders have their hands full with the local Iraqi commanders who seem less competent (to be kind) than those I have seen elsewhere, such as in Mosul.
Our guys are winning. Al Qaeda is about to be strangled and pummeled to death in this town, but the local Iraqi leadership is severely wanting. This was most obviously noted in one area in particular, where there were some slight indicators of a possible humanitarian need. “Crisis” certainly is not the correct word, but there are displaced persons numbering at least in the hundreds. LTC Fred Johnson actually took me out there. (The access even to “bad” news is amazing with this Brigade.)
I have been with LTC Fred Johnson for several days. LTC Johnson seems to recharge on sunlight or moonlight and can run a man into the ground. After seeing the humanitarian need building with no action to abate it underway, Johnson was very unhappy. He immediately started jerking choke chains on the people who are supposed to be handling humanitarian need, trying to avert having it build into a crisis.
This is where the inept local Iraqi commanders come in. I’ve seen them in meeting after meeting, over the past few days, finding ways to be underachievers. The Iraqi commanders have dozens of large trucks and have only to drive to our base to collect the supplies and distribute those supplies to the people displaced in the battle. Our troops are fully engaged in combat, yet the Iraqi leaders were not able to carry that load without LTC Johnson supplying the initiative. The Kurds would have had this fixed yesterday. The Iraqi commanders in Mosul would have fixed this. The local Iraqi command climate is disappointing by comparison.
Later I spoke with Major Jerry Gardner who is in charge of humanitarian needs. Gardner said he has 70,000 kilos each of flour and rice (bought from Iraq), and enough bottled water to keep 5,000 people going for 15 days. He can get three times that amount with a phone call. He’s got about 30,000 MREs, and also a complete “W.H.O. kit” that he says can feed 30,000 people for a month. Gardner said he can get four more kits like that if needed.
The need is not at the level of a crisis, but the need for those few hundred is becoming more serious. They have small children. Our soldiers took me out there and let me talk with the people as long as I wanted to. The kids wanted their photos taken and were happy, but the moms looked worried. All males between ages 15-55 are being screened before being allowed to pass through the cordon. People are trying to escape the fighting, but we made this mistake in places like Tal Afar and Fallujah where our people attacked and left huge escape routes. This time, the number one priority is to trap and destroy al Qaeda. …
Click here to read the full dispatch — with photos — from Michael Yon from Iraq.
– Michael Yon is an independent writer, photographer, and former Green Beret who was embedded in Iraq for nine months in 2005. He has returned to Iraq for 2007 to continue reporting on the war. He is entirely reader supported and publishes his work at www.michaelyon-online.com.