Reserve combat patrols began on 2 January YC109 in support of Operation Smoldering Cinder; operations are currently being commanded out of the Reserve Forward Operations Base in the Hatakani system, Caldari Border Zone.
Initial operations on the 2nd-6th of January were relatively quiet. Reserve forces launched patrols from Hatakani through State and Federation space in an attempt to flush out Phoenix Wing forces using these areas as bases for their operations. Unfortunately, on 4 January, Phoenix Wing escalated the conflict considerably, joining the Electus Matari alliance in an effort to expand their operations in Republic space in support of the Minmatar paramilitaries. In response, our orders were updated to include expulsion of Electus Matari forces from Federation and State space as well, to restrict this conflict to the Republic and Empire as stated in our original orders.
Our initial patrols met with some success, tracking down Phoenix Wing and Electus Matari pilots operating in the Aunia system as well as several systems in State space; we were able to bottle them up with superior fleet strength and delivered warnings that we would not relent in our demands, which had been delivered to both Phoenix Wing and Electus Matari fleet command. No kills were scored and no losses were taken. We went to great lengths to avoid bloodshed, offering to escort an Electus Matari pilot, Djini, back to Republic territory on one occasion. Though he declined, and clone jumped out of the system, we felt that the mission had been accomplished.
Unfortunately, 7 January would reveal that Phoenix Wing and Electus Matari were only buying time to plan a counterattack against Reserve forces. At 1600 EVT on the 7th, LT Gosok, scouting in Aunia, notified us of four Electus Matari pilots in the system, and put out a call for assistance. A Reserve relief force was dispatched immediately under the command LCDR Trion Kadeshi, and upon arriving at the station where the Electus Matari pilots had been spotted, the Reserve fleet was immediately fired upon. No warning was given, no provocation was made. In the ensuing battle, communications failures and tactical mistakes cost the Reserve a Lachesis-class recon ship. Perhaps the most galling part of this confrontation was that the pilot in command was none other than the exact Djini we offered safe escort from Federation space only a day earlier.
The rest of the fleet retreated in order order to meet up with CAPT Svetlana Scarlet's Cyclone in the Botane system to regroup. It was determined that a battle at this point would be a pointless exercise, and the Reserve fleet pulled back to Hatakani in order to refit and repair. This would only be the beginning of the day's combat; as more Reserve forces arrived on station, a fleet formed up under ADM Derrys and returned to Federation space, arriving at the Aunia system around 1900 hours. They immediately placed the station under blockade.
As time went on, an additional Reserve force was stationed on the Aunia gate in the Auvergne system, while intelligence reported a number of Phoenix Wing and Electus Matari ships arriving into the area at the same time. As a precautionary measure, to prevent our fleets from being defeated in detail, the fleet was ordered to rendezvous at the Auvergne gate in the Aunia system, giving us a strong presence of four battleships, a battlecruiser, a cruiser, and an interceptor. We had hoped to catch inbound reinforcements, but they were entering them system through another gate; on the advice of CAPT Teravada, the fleet shifted to the Botane gate at the same time as communications intercepts determined that Phoenix Wing pilot Jack Malus had entered the system.
This would be the deciding factor in the battle that followed. Caught alone by Reserve forces, Malus came under immediate fire after the cloaking effects of his jump wore off. Electus Matari forces immediately began to converge on our position in support, but by the time they arrived, the Dominix was already going down. Thanks to tight coordination and superior firepower, Reserve forces put down almost all the enemy reinforcements -- two battleships, a battlecruiser, and an assault frigate were destroyed in addition to the Dominix, with only a frigate escaping the Reserve fleet. The Reserve took no losses, though CAPT Scarlet's Scorpion, the Tantalus' Bane, suffered severe damage in the battle and was forced to withdraw after retrieval of salvage.
As she withdrew, she spotted more Electus Matari vessels arriving and the rest of the fleet jumped into the Botane system. Though she was able to make her escape in good order, the rest of the fleet was engaged on the gate by a force mostly consisting of frigates and other light vessels. The Botane star was evidently undergoing a period of immense solar activity at the same time, blinding the sensors of both sides and disrupting communications; in the ensuing haze, most kills were scored by autonomous drones. This second Electus Matari counteroffensive was a complete failure as well; Reserve forces devastated the enemy fleet, wiping out another battlecruiser, an assault frigate, and a pair of frigates with no losses. Only an Electus Matari interceptor managed to escape.
With the Electus Matari forces on the retreat, Reserve forces once again pulled back to the Hatakani system to refit; only an hour later, another Electus Matari force would follow. The interceptor that escaped the Botane battle earlier was scouting ahead, and was destroyed by a Reserve patrol just as the rest of the fleet arrived. Unfortunately, at that point, the enemy fleet had an upper hand against the remaining available Reserve vessels, and an engagement was deemed to be ill-advised at the time. After two hours of sieging Reserve positions, the Electus Matari force retreated.
Unfortunately, the events of 7 January only served to show that the very escalation we had feared when we began Operation Smoldering Cinder was coming to pass. Electus Matari forces have now expanded their operations into Federation and State space, showing that they have no intention of trying to contain the violence now spiralling out of control along the Republic-Empire border. At this point, we are unsure that the objectives set in the original operational orders can still be achieved.