By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
July 17, 2007 – American and Iraqi military forces broke up al Qaeda operations in the Diyala River valley during "Operation Ithaca," conducted July 12, a U.S. military officer said today. Operation Ithaca targeted Sunni-backed al Qaeda forces in and around the villages of Haimer, Abu Nasim and Jamil, located about 20 kilometers north of Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, said Army Lt. Col. Andrew P. Poppas, commander of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division's 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, which took part in the anti-insurgent offensive.
The operation was a great success and caught al Qaeda "completely by surprise," Poppas said, noting U.S. ground troops were inserted into the battle space at multiple landing zones by helicopter.
Meanwhile, Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthogs," Army attack helicopters, and Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters fired on the insurgents from the air, Poppas said. Unmanned aerial vehicles kept an eye on insurgent movements during the battle, he added.
Each of the aircraft was assigned "very specific, detailed areas" for engaging the al Qaeda forces, Poppas said. In this way, he noted, the enemy lost the ability to control the battle and was blocked by coalition air or ground troops at every turn.
"In a direct firefight, American soldiers are going to win every time," Poppas said, noting there were no U.S. casualties during the operation.
Twenty-nine al Qaeda operatives were killed and 23 others were captured during the operation. Also, three enemy weapons caches were discovered and a safe house was destroyed. Additionally, eight Iraqis who'd been held hostage by the insurgents were freed.
Local Iraqis fed up with al Qaeda had delivered hand-written maps and other information about the enemy that were used during pre-operational planning, Poppas said.
"We had some very specific intelligence that was provided to us from the local populace," Poppas said. Unmanned aerial vehicles and other means were used to confirm the information.
Ongoing surge operations in and around Baghdad are putting the squeeze on al Qaeda and other insurgents, causing them to flee Iraq's capital city to places like Baqubah to the north, Poppas explained.
The insurgents "have got to go somewhere" out of Baghdad, Poppas continued, noting his forces were positioned to intercept and deal with such relocations.
Poppas said his troops have worked closely with 5th Iraqi Army Division soldiers.
"We do all of our patrols combined," Poppas said of his unit's relationship with local Iraqi troops. "My experience with the Iraqi army units that I have fought alongside personally (with) is excellent."
Poppas said his soldiers' morale is excellent, citing their "impressive" and "phenomenal" performance during Operation Ithaca. Their battlefield prowess is the result of training as a unit for more than two years, he said.
"You deny the enemy's ability to react to you, because you're on top of them," Poppas pointed out.