Operation Matador Helping Flush Insurgents From Western Iraq
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 10, 2005 Troops fighting in Iraq's northwestern Anbar province are facing a sizable and skilled insurgency, with some members seen fighting in military uniforms and protective vests, the Joint Staff's director of operations told Pentagon reporters here today.
Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway said the effort, dubbed Operation Matador, is focused on eliminating insurgents and foreign fighters occupying the region, a known smuggling route and sanctuary for foreign fighters.
The area also is used as a staging area where foreign fighters receive weapons and equipment for their attacks in the more populated key cities of Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul, according to U.S. Central Command officials.
Conway said the region has witnessed a buildup of insurgents since the fall of Fallujah, when they began moving west.
Acknowledging that Anbar province is "a huge piece of terrain," Conway said the coalition is operating out of fixed locations, conducting patrols to find insurgent operating areas, then "going after them."
The strategy is the same one used elsewhere in Iraq, he said. "Where we find insurgents, we will attack them, and we will capture and kill them if they resist," he said.
Operation Matador does not specifically target al Qaeda terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who reportedly was seen in the area within the past three weeks. However, "it would be a welcome event to come across him or his body," the general said.
Conway said he's not surprised by the strength and capability of the insurgency being encountered. "We know this is a determined enemy, that he has the skill and ordnance (and) the weapons to be able to resist fiercely, as we are seeing here," he said. "So this should not be a surprise to us when it happens."
While declining to provide details about tactics being employed while the operation is under way, Conway said the coalition is depending heavily on combined arms operations. The Marines' 2nd Regimental Combat Team is a key player in the effort, he said.
So far, three U.S. Marines have been killed and fewer than 20 wounded in the operation, he said.
Conway said he is leaving it to commanders on the ground to ensure they have enough troops in the area to handle the mission.
Also in Iraq, Conway reported a "tenfold" surge in reports of criminal and insurgent activity called into the Iraqi tips hotline during the first week since the Iraqis took over its operation from U.S. forces in Baghdad.
"We see that as a testament to the determination of those Iraqis who want to see a safe and stable country," he said.