Milbloggers observe Baqubah campaign from different viewpoints
On the night of June 18 and the early morning of June 19, U.S. and Iraqi forces launched Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Iraq’s Diyala province. Targeted at the city of Baqubah, which the now-deceased al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Masab al-Zarqawi proclaimed his own capital of the “Islamic State of Iraq” in October, the goal of the operation was to trap and destroy the insurgents who have run the city of some 250,000 residents for more than a year.
Representing part of Gen. David Petraeus’ plan to pacify the “Baghdad belts” that have served as way stations for terrorism attacks inside the capital, Arrowhead Ripper is a key test of the surge of American troops to Iraq. The operation has also turned out to be an excellent palette for milblogging, both from the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, which provided the central striking force of the offensive, and from freelance journalists.
The 3-2 Strykers have cut a distinguished role in the history of milblogging. Colby Buzzell, the author of the blog-to-book “My War: Killing Time in Iraq,” was with the unit in Mosul three years ago, where his gritty description of a running gunfight with insurgents earned accolades online and a reprimand from his command. Today, the Strykers are keeping up the Colby tradition through a trio of blogs that follow the brigade.
Stryker Brigade News, a site run by friends and family of the Strykers, has followed the 3-2 since summer 2003 and provides news and discussion forums for all things Stryker, and is currently providing insight into both how Arrowhead Ripper is going and the experiences of family members watching from home.
More news about the 3-2 Strykers and their home base, Fort Lewis, Wash., is available from the Tacoma News Tribune, which has created a media blog, FOB Tacoma, maintained by military reporter Mike Gilbert. This site provides useful updates on military operations involving the 3-2, as well as such features as the author’s interviews with the brass and grunts at Fort Lewis, and tends to be more discriminating on identifying the most important news articles, blogs and magazine commentaries concerning the Strykers, pointing out the significance of updates by reporters such as Michael Gordon, bloggers such as Bill Roggio and Michael Yon, and Petraeus’ counterinsurgency adviser David Kilcullen.
A final source of Stryker-related blogging is Blog-ah, maintained by the Ranger, a Fort Lewis-based newspaper. Blog-ah posts regular updates, most of which are practical notices involving the births, deaths and community developments surrounding the soldiers based out of Fort Lewis. One interesting feature is the weekly contribution by David Hardt, a Stryker soldier who is serving in Iraq and in late June provided an interesting update on the humanitarian component of 3-2 operations when he described riding out in a truck to deliver fresh water to civilians who were suffering a cholera outbreak. While arguing with a grumpy staff sergeant on the way outside the wire, Hardt observes that delivering water to civilians “today is what may save me and you tomorrow from getting blown up.”
What the Stryker Brigade News, FOB Tacoma and Blog-ah ultimately share is a parochial mission: They serve a community of soldiers and families, providing needed information but usually limited amounts of original reporting. This role is a natural one for them but points to the limitations of blogging from the home front. It also provides a useful contrast for the service of an embedded blogger such as Yon, who has spent the duration of Arrowhead Ripper with the 3-2. Yon’s four stories on the operation provide detailed accounts of the battle, the civilian response to U.S. and Iraqi operations, and the depredations of al-Qaida in Iraq that have created the opportunity to re-engage the Sunni population.
Yon had access both to patrols going out to fight and to the 3-2 tactical operations center, providing a uniquely open view as to the progress of the effort. He observes that the brigade’s Stryker combat vehicles were crucial to the operation, for they were able to “attack from the march. … A huge force drove in from places like Baghdad and quickly locked down Baqubah.” The key that he points out were the “slow, methodical clearing operations where success is not measured against the clock,” allowing commanders to locate and disable IEDs.
The efforts of Yon and other bloggers who’ve followed the battle for Baghdad and its suburbs provide some of the best sources for keeping track of the effort.
Stryker Brigade News
Michael Yon: Online Magazine