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CAMP RIPPER, Iraq — The offensive U.S. forces launched in the less-traveled reaches of western Anbar province is an effort to head off a summer surge in attacks, the U.S. Marines said.

“Historically, during this time, there’s an increase in attacks, and we’re trying to keep that from happening,” said Marine Capt. Michael W. Armistead, spokesman for Regimental Combat Team-2, which operates in western Anbar.

Dubbed Operation Mawtini, the effort began Sunday and involves more than 9,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops thrusting deep into regions of western Anbar. The aim is to disrupt and harass the insurgency and keep it off balance.

“We anticipate that the terrorists will attempt to step up their attacks in the urban areas to regain power and influence over the population,” Marine Col. Stacy Clardy, RCT-2’s commanding officer, was quoted as saying in a Marine Corps news release announcing the operation.

The operation involves Marines of RCT-2, soldiers of the Army’s Task Force 1-7, which comes under RCT-2, and U.S. Navy sailors, as well as two brigades of the Iraqi Army’s 7th Division.

In an interview with Stars and Stripes earlier, Clardy said the operation was drawing heavily on intelligence gained during an earlier RCT-2 effort, Operation Harris Ba’sil, an eight- week mission that ran from March to May.

During Harris Ba’sil, RCT-2 uncovered more than 250 insurgent weapons caches and more than 70 improvised explosive devices, and detained more than 300 suspected insurgents, Armistead said.

But the operation also yielded much actionable intelligence, Clardy said, that gave the regiment a clearer picture of the insurgency’s safe havens and patterns of movement.

“We needed to find out who was out there … how he uses the desert … how he moves, how he operates out there,” Clardy said of the earlier operation.

“We’re now going to take that information and use it to disrupt” insurgent forces in the area, Clardy said.

Clardy said the main insurgent force in the western Anbar is al-Qaida in Iraq, but that other insurgent groups are also active.

Insurgents in western Anbar tend to move in relatively small groups and keep on the move, he said.

“He is transient,” said Clardy of the insurgents. “He does not sit still very long … so it’s somewhat a matter of luck and tenacity … If you’re actively hunting him, they’re reacting to us.”

Facts and figures

Regimental Combat Team-2 operates in western Anbar province, an area about the size of South Carolina.

Western Anbar

Area: about 30,000 square miles.

Population: about 500,000. About 95 percent of the population in western Anbar lives within five miles of the Euphrates River.

Religion: About 90 percent Sunni Muslim.

Key cities: Hit, Baghdadi, Haditha, Rawah/Amah, Qaim, all along the Euphrates River, and Rutbah, which is near Iraq’s border with Jordan and Syria.

Contending forces

United States

Regimental Combat Team-2, Multi-National Force-West; 4,300, mostly U.S. Marines, also some U.S. Navy sailors; 2,700 soldiers of the Army’s Task Force 2-7.

RCT-2 total: 5,700 personnel, headquartered at Camp Ripper, Al Asad Air Base.

Iraqi

¶ 3,500 soldiers of the 7th Iraqi Army Division.

¶ 3,500 members of the Iraqi police.

Insurgents

RCT-2 considers its primary adversary in western Anbar province to be al-Qaida in Iraq. But the Marines say other insurgent groups are also active in the area.


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