Operation Phantom Thunder: The spin begins (update) Posted by: McQ
on Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Remember what I told you to keep foremost in your mind when reading news reports about Operation Phantom Thunder?
If not, let me reiterate it for you:
"The center of gravity for this operation is Baghdad"
Or said another way, this is all about Baghdad.
Today in the NYT, Michael Gordon, who Michael Yon has generally praised for his coverage of Babuqua, talks about "failure" there. When I first saw this mentioned a few days ago, I knew as sure are there are stars in the sky that this would become the dominant MSM meme for the operation there.
One week after American forces mounted their assault on insurgent strongholds in western Baquba, at least half of the estimated 300 to 500 fighters who were there have escaped or are still at large, the colonel who is leading the attack said Monday.
Col. Steve Townsend told a group of journalists that his soldiers had wrested control over most of the area from Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, deprived the insurgent group of its nominal capital and made headway in protecting the residents from reprisals by militants.
But he acknowledged that his forces had not killed or captured as many of the insurgents as he had hoped.
Two points ... Baqubua is northeast of Baghdad and is only one part (3 Bdes of a 25 Bde effort known as Operation Arrowhead Ripper) of OPT. Secondly, whether or not the number of terrorists killed met expectations doesn't change the fact that they're being cleared from a strategic area and kept away from Baghdad. Baquba was al Qaeda's self-declared "capitol" in Iraq. They had set up courts, law, etc. They'd essentially taken the place over.
In a few short weeks, that will be no more.
While it is disappointing that more AQ aren't being killed or captured, it is important to remember the mission is clear, hold, stay and build (and, obviously keep AQ from reentering the city).
So to review: the mission is to take Baqubah and deny it to AQ. By doing so we eliminate an AQ base (where "accelerants" to the violence in Baghdad were most likely produced) and we interdict their lines of communications and logistics as well as removing a safe haven. We also now stay and build, eventually turning this over to the ISF. While it would be nice to have killed 500 or 1,000 AQ, that isn't the numbers game which is important in this operation. The important number becomes how much of the population is under the protection of the ISF and denied AQ and other insurgents and come to see the government of Iraq as their salvation. And that, naturally, goes unreported.
UPDATE: David Kilcullen provides another great explanation of Operation Phantom Thunder over at Small Wars Journal. Read the whole thing, but here are two key points I've been trying to emphasize:
When we speak of "clearing" an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation. If we don't get every enemy cell in the initial operation, that's OK. The point of the operations is to lift the pall of fear from population groups that have been intimidated and exploited by terrorists to date, then win them over and work with them in partnership to clean out the cells that remain – as has happened in Al Anbar Province and can happen elsewhere in Iraq as well.
The "terrain" we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain. It is about marginalizing al Qa’ida, Shi’a extremist militias, and the other terrorist groups from the population they prey on. This is why claims that “80% of AQ leadership have fled” don’t overly disturb us: the aim is not to kill every last AQ leader, but rather to drive them off the population and keep them off, so that we can work with the community to prevent their return.
"One week after American forces mounted their assault on insurgent strongholds in western Baquba, at least half of the estimated 300 to 500 fighters who were there have escaped or are still at large, the colonel who is leading the attack said Monday."
So said another way, in one week, in one part of a much, much larger operation, our guys have killed or captured roughly half of the estimated 300 - 500 AQ members in that area. Not bad in my book.
Nope, no bias in the MSM, nothing to see here, move along...
The important number becomes how much of the population is under the protection of the ISF and denied AQ and other insurgents and come to see the government of Iraq as their salvation. And that, naturally, goes unreported.
you talked about the Fairness Doctrine the other day and the overwhelming success of conservative viewpoints on AM radio. It’s hard to argue that there is no venue for this kind of news to get to the general public.
so what’s going on?
A. Talk radio hosts don’t have the funding or support to do/obtain from others community-level reporting from Iraq. Alternatively, they could do it if they wanted but have discovered that cheap-shotting the existing media is more lucrative and far safer.
B. Trying to get that number will get a journalist and his translator killed.
C. Being freed from one oppressor does not necessarily cause one to give thanks to the new oppressor. The occupants of Diyalah province, freed from AQ, may still have no interest in a unified Iraqi government.
speaking of unreported stories, let’s try a few more:
for each brigade in the New Iraqi Army, the percentage of commanders and soldiers who would be loyal to the government upon the US’s withdrawal.
the number of soldiers / policemen trained who even show up every day
the number of policemen who patrol an area not of their sect
the status of ethnic cleansing in Bagdad
the ability of the central government to exercise sovereignity over Iraqi oil fields.
the status of US negotiations with Turkey on recognizing Kurdish independence
note: one possible reason for declining violence in Bagdad is a newfound respect for the central government. Another is that there are fewer targets because the various sides have formed defensible enclaves. there may be other reasons. given the course of the occupation, we should be very reluctant to assume that a decrease in violence means we’re winning. Violence has been such a problem for so long that many people have forgotten that the absence of violence is only the first step toward effective national reconciliation.
“When I came here I thought there were 300 to 500 fighters in there because that is what the intelligence told me,” he said. “Does that mean that half or more eluded us? I guess it does.”
Hmmm, any military people want to put the reliability of Army Intel into context...
And ok, the terrorists who were in Baquba are leaving.
Towards Baghdad are more troops.
To the North, East and West are blocking troops that they are as likely to run into or not. But, on the other hand, movement out in the open is noticed.
So, let’s say the elude capture by these blocking forces. Where are they going to go?
Another large city, or some smaller town. Either way, it’s easier to look for new arrivals then it is an entrenched enemy. The terrorists are likely moving into new and unfamiliar territory. They will have to setup new safe houses, bomb factories, and torture chambers. They will have to re-establish contact up and down their chain of command. They will have to recruit new members to replace the lost contacts and fighters from this operation. Meanwhile their reputation precedes them.
This is a point, an important point, that is relegated to the end of the article.
The longer-term effect of the assault remains to be seen, but Colonel Townsend described an operation that disrupted the insurgents without delivering a knockout blow.
“They will go somewhere else and they will start building a new network,” he said. “I think they are more vulnerable when they are on the move.”
I really have to wonder where the reporters unrealistic expectations are coming from.
We’ve been told what to expect, and a knockout blow was not among those expectations.
The tone of this article seems to be that, no al Qaeda were harmed in the pursuit of our operations, yet we suffered casualties, and the Iraqis are vulnerable to drive by shootings. And this is the "Newspaper of Record"
FWIW there are small, fragile signs of hope in Baghdad. When I was preparing the CotL this week I found the tone of blog posts from Baghdad-based Iraqi bloggers was fractionally cheerier and they were reporting some tiny improvements rather than the casualty counts.