Just a bit of an update…
ZAHMM, Iraq, Jan. 8 — The U.S. military launched a major offensive early Tuesday against one of the largest known redoubts of al-Qaeda in Iraq, part of a new nationwide campaign to destroy remaining pockets of the Sunni insurgency.
The unusually large attack by 5,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops in volatile Diyala province reflects growing concern that success in rooting the group out of Baghdad and Anbar province to the west has driven its members to northern areas such as the Diyala River Valley and the city of Mosul.
U.S. officials said an estimated 200 fighters from al-Qaeda in Iraq created a mini-state here in what Americans call the Bread Basket, a 50-square-mile, shoe-shaped region northeast of Baghdad that stretches from the northern Diyala River to a parallel canal to the east. Residents said the fighters, whom some described as foreigners, imposed curfews and strict interpretations of sharia, or Islamic law.
Why does WaPo insist on calling it an insurgency, when the locals tell us they are FOREIGNERS? They are TERRORISTS plain and simple.
The U.S. troop buildup that began last year and success in fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq elsewhere in the country have, for the first time in two years, freed up enough troops to wage a full-scale assault and establish a continued presence in this area, U.S. commanders said. They said the Iraqi military is sending up to a full battalion from Anbar in the coming days to help hold the territory.
The offensive was intended to surprise al-Qaeda in Iraq, a mostly Iraqi insurgent group that the U.S. military contends is led by foreigners, and to prevent its fighters from escaping by deploying troops to surround the area.
But Lt. Col. Rod Coffey, 45, of Anne Arundel County, who leads the squadron that first attacked the area, said initial reports from villagers indicated that many of the Sunni insurgents, fearing a U.S. offensive, had left more than a week ago. He estimated that 50 to 75 fighters remained.
“They created a sharia anti-state that terrorized the Iraqi citizens here,” Coffey said in Zahmm, a village where he and his men spent the night in a crumbling, unoccupied house enclosed by a mud wall.