Michael Yon is an independent journalist and former Green Beret who was embedded in Iraq for nine months in 2005. He has returned to Iraq for 2007 to continue reporting on the war. Here is a portion of his latest dispatch exclusively for FOXNews.com.
On June 19, American forces sealed off Baqubah and began attacking targets within the city. The immediate goal of Arrowhead Ripper was to free Baqubah of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) by trapping and killing its members, but according to American officers here, public remarks by senior military officials may have flushed many AQI leaders before the attack. Despite this frustrating and significant setback, progress toward the end-state goal of "Arrowhead Ripper" — turning over Baqubah to Iraqi government control — appears to be working, at least in terms of the removal of the current AQI leadership and its quasi-government.
There are conflicting signals about how many of the AQI leadership escaped before Arrowhead Ripper launched. This weekend’s capture of a possible high-value target in Baqubah indicates that not all AQI leaders successfully fled the city before the attack.
Media reports indicating that many top leaders escaped before Arrowhead Ripper began appear to be mostly true. But other information suggests some AQI leaders are trapped just down the road from where I write. In addition to the seven men who were caught trying to escape while dressed as women, there is information that some AQI leaders remain trapped in a constricting cordon.
For security reasons, the Iraqi Army (IA) was not included in the initial planning of Arrowhead Ripper, yet with each succeeding day, the IA has taken a larger role in the unfolding attack. The Fifth Iraqi Army Division is considered an increasingly competent group of fighters, and from the limited scope of 5th IA that I personally witnessed, that judgment seems correct. The 5th is committed to battle. Whereas the Iraqi Army is coming into the fight, and playing increasingly critical roles, the local police force is less impressive.
On the night of June 23, for instance, a police checkpoint called in to say they were under heavy small-arms attack. The same checkpoint then called frantically saying they were under RPG attack. The next even more frantic call was about a mortar attack. Yet when a Shadow UAV and Apache helicopters were dispatched, they saw no activity in the immediate area. Col. Steve Townsend, commander of 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, brought this up to a senior Iraqi officer at a meeting on Sunday the 24th, and the Iraqi officer answered with some disgust that those particular police panic at the sound of two shots, and that each member of that police detail needs two Humvees protecting them in order to feel safe.
Also on the June 24, while I accompanied Lt. Col. Fred Johnson at a downtown meeting regarding humanitarian assistance, local enemy fighters were attacking the Iraqi Army convoys each time they passed by, about 500 yards from the meeting. The sounds of battles sometimes echoed through the police hallways, yet the Iraqi police refused to respond. Two of Johnson’s men went up to the dangerous rooftop, and SSG Matt Hudgeon patiently waited for a shot on a man about 500 yards away who had been attacking IA convoys with RPGs. Hudgeon saw the man fire two rockets, and he kept trying to get crosshairs on the enemy. When he finally got a shot, Matt steadied his breathing, slowly exhaled and squeezed the trigger of his M-14. Bam! Matt’s bullet shot the man in the stomach, and the man rolled off the two-story roof, landing in the dust next to his RPG.
Independent journalist Michael Yon’s dispatches from Iraq appear exclusively on FOXNews.com. Click to read Yon's online magazine MichaelYon-online.com.