Nah, just downplaying it the better to focus on death tolls. The Times, the Post, the LA Times, and now Time magazine all have reports on the battle, two of them filed by people on the scene. But they know what their readers want:
See-Dub complains that the AP sees fit to mention the 14 dead without mentioning the gains being made in the fighting that killed them. In fairness, that’s because they weren’t killed in Baquba: two were killed in Anbar and the rest by bombs and fighting in and around Baghdad. But the larger point, about prioritizing the body count over the battle reporting itself, is well taken, especially when you read Roggio and see just how massive and potentially significant this operation is. The Diyala offensive is a small part of it; the broader offensive encompasses Baghdad itself and various surrounding provinces, including eastern Anbar. As for Baquba, the only MSM reporters known to be there are Michael Gordon of the NYT and Joe Klein of Time. Superstar freelancer Michael Yon is there too, of course, and reports early success:
[O]ur guys are seriously outsmarting them. Big fights are ahead and we will take serious losses probably, but al Qaeda, unless they find a way to escape, are about to be slaughtered. Nobody is dropping leaflets asking them to surrender. Our guys want to kill them, and that’s the plan.
A positive indicator on the 19th and the 20th is that most local people apparently are happy that al Qaeda is being trapped and killed. Civilians are pointing out IEDs and enemy fighters, so that’s not working so well for al Qaeda. Clearly, I cannot do a census, but that says something about the locals.
Gordon corroborates that and the LAT strongly implies it’s true in noting that troops have uncovered more than 1,000 roadside bombs around the city. What kind of residents would know where roadside bombs are buried? A special kind, writes Klein:
A lieutenant colonel named Bruce Antonia told Odierno about preparing to attack the Buhritz neighborhood a few nights earlier when he was approached by local Sunni inusurgents—members, they said, of the 1920 Revolutionary Brigades—who were streaming out of the neighborhood. “They said they’d been fighting al-Qaeda but had run out of ammunition and asked us to supply them. We told them, ‘Show us where AQ is and we’ll fight them.'” The insurgents did and the neighborhood was cleared.
A second lieutenant colonel named Avanulis Smiley picked up the story from there, “Sir, they’ve also showed us seven buried IED sites. They gave us specific information—description of the houses, gate color, tree trunks.”
After the briefing I asked Colonel Antonia if he’d asked the Sunnis why they had turned against al-Qaeda. “They said it was religious stuff,” he said. “AQI demanded that the women wear abayas, no smoking and they preached an extreme version of Islam in the mosque. They’d also spent the winter without food and fuel because of the violence al-Qaeda was causing. One guy said to me, ‘We fought against you because you invaded our country and you’re infidels. But you treat us with more dignity than al-Qaeda,’ and he said they’d continue to work with us. I’ve been involved in many operations here and this is a first—usually everybody’s shooting at us. This is the first time we’ve had any of them on our side.” (In web postings, the 1920 Revolutionary Brigade has denied it is cooperating with the Americans.)
Per Roggio, MNF reports 41 jihadis dead thus far; the only American KIA I’ve heard of is from the NYT’s report.
Exit question: How much heat is Klein going to take from the nutroots all-stars for daring to publish something vaguely positive about the battle?