Thursday, May 12, 2005

Matdador 2

The Associated Press has this report originating from across the Syrian border on Operation Matador.

From their rooftops, Syrians in frontier towns watched airstrikes and battles on the other side of the Iraqi border, where U.S. forces are fighting insurgents in an offensive raging uncomfortably close to Syria's doorstep. Rawaf Hamad, a farmer in the village of Showaiyeh, said he was shaken awake at 3 a.m. Thursday by shelling about a mile away in the Iraqi town of al-Qaim. He heard the sound of warplanes. ''There was heavy gunfire that lasted until 6 a.m today,'' the 24-year-old said.

Readers will recall that Matador opened on Sunday. The report above is datelined Thursday recounting events at a local time of 3 a.m.

In Abu Kamal , a town of 70,000 about three miles from the border, residents could feel the ground shake from the fighting across the border. People took to rooftops to watch U.S. fighter jets and helicopter gunships bombard insurgents hiding in houses in al-Qaim. The Syrians said they could hear small arms fire from the ground, apparently insurgents returning fire. Heavy fighting broke out in the area at about midday Wednesday and continued through daybreak Thursday before it tapered off to sporadic exchanges in the afternoon.

The fighting has been going on for five days. A number of reports have suggested that the Marines have hit an empty sack and that the insurgents had escaped prior to the assault, leaving only those who chose martyrdom to stand and fight. The duration and intensity of the combat suggests otherwise. The Syrian townsfolk report US heavy weapons use (fixed wing, helicopter gunships and probably artillery) and return fire. This type of fire is significant, because heavy weapons are typically used against entrenched enemy fighters. Fixed-wing ordnance is often used to attack positions that cannot be harmed by helicopter missiles because the targets are too strongly built. The fact that many fires are delivered by night is also suggestive, because it recalls Marine tactics in Fallujah, when US forces exploited their superior night vision and surveillance capabilities to maneuver while the enemy was blinded. That in turn implies that the level of enemy resistance is such that individual positions have to be reduced by maneuver and destruction. Reports of return fire from enemy fighters imply they have prepared positions or ammunition caches because it is hard to keep shooting if they only started out with the ammunition in their personal bandoliers. The balance of probability is a significant number of enemy combatants have been caught up in Matador; that the area itself is liberally supplied with defensive positions and the enemy are fighting to the death.