The U.S. and Iraqi militaries are calling it Operation Charge of the Knights. And while President Bush and the U.S. command in Baghdad have called it a “defining moment” for the Iraqi government, the recent weeklong Iraqi-led battle in Basra showed both the good and bad of the rebuilt Iraqi military.
According to news reports, U.S. officials learned of the Iraqi plan on Friday, March 21; by Tuesday, the battle was on. But the plan was not what the American expected, officials said.
“The sense we had was that this would be a long-term effort: increased pressure gradually squeezing the Special Groups,” Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, said in an interview with the New York Times, referring to the splinter groups from the Mahdi Army. “That is not what kind of emerged.”
“Nothing was in place from our side,” he was quoted as saying. “It all had to be put together.”
Published comments by several U.S. military officials said that while the operations showed some promise, its end — with a “truce,” not the decisive victory promised by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — was less encouraging.
According to the Times, a Navy Seal and a Marine major general were sent to help coordinate Iraqi planning in Basra. U.S. airstrikes and transport planes were called in to support the operation.
Still, the U.S. military officially lauded the Iraqi air forces on their efforts in the offensive, saying that more than 100 support missions were carried out during the fight.
According to a news release issued Thursday, the missions included transportation, evacuation of wounded, logistical resupply and surveillance. Five fixed wing aircraft and six helicopters were used, including Mi-17 and Huey helicopters, along with two C-130 planes and a CH2000 surveillance plane.
“This is a historic milestone in the growth of the Iraqi Air Force to be able to effectively support ongoing operations in Basra with critical air mobility and airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Brooks Bash, air force training team commander with the Multi-National Security Transition Command—Iraq.
The C-130 crews moved 175 tons of cargo, including 127 tons of ammunition, 18 tons of food, and 8 tons of medical supplies from New al Muthana Air Base in Baghdad to Basra, officials said. They also helped in the deployment of more than 800 military and civilian security personnel and medically evacuated 69 soldiers from Basra to Baghdad.
Since February 2007, the number of Iraqi air force personnel has increased from 915 to 1,344, officials said. There are currently 59 aircraft in the fleet.