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Explaining Operation Phantom Thunder
Posted by: McQ on Friday, June 22, 2007

Ralph Peters talks about Operation Phantom Thunder of which Operation Arrowhead Ripper is a single part:
HALLELUJAH! For the first time since Baghdad fell, our military in Iraq has a comprehensive, integrated plan to defeat our enemies.

Until now, our efforts have always been piecemeal, stop-start affairs. Even our success in the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004 went unexploited.

Things have changed. And terrorists, not just Iraqi civilians, are dying.

The 10,000-man operation reported in the Baquba area is only one part of a broader effort. In the words of a well-placed officer in Baghdad, "Operations like that are going on around Fallujah, Salman Pak, in Eastern Anbar, the belts around Baghdad, in Arab Jabour, outside of Taji and throughout the Diyala River Valley."

This widespread offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorists is part of a carefully developed, phased plan. The first step as the troop surge proceeded was to establish livable conditions in key neighborhoods of the capital.
So OK, he's excited, but what does it all mean?

LTG Ray Odierno briefed reporters at the Pentagon today via teleconference from Iraq. He described the operation like this:
Operation Phantom Thunder is a corps-level offensive operation that began on 15 June to defeat al Qaeda insurgents and extremists, deny enemy safe havens, interdict movement, logistics and communications. It is an open-ended operation that will extend through the summer and will be done in conjunction with civil-military operations to support political and economic efforts.

It consists of carefully synchronized simultaneous operations at division and brigade level to clear al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shi'a extremists in, near and around Baghdad. It also includes aggressive shaping operations by our Special Operations Forces focused on al Qaeda in Iraq and other special groups.

These operations are intended to eliminate accelerants to Baghdad violence from enemy support zones in the belts that ring the city.
Some important points about the operation that make it different from others conducted there to date. First, Operation Phantom Thunder is the umbrella name for a number of 'carefully synchronized simultaneous operations". That's important to understand. Instead of piecemeal or isolated operations which may secure a particular area but simply displace the terrorists, the purpose of these operations is to secure the area and kill the displaced terrorists before they can find another area to infest.

So Operation Phantom Thunder (OPT) is made up of simultaneous division and brigade operations, such as Operation Arrowhead Ripper being conducted in Baqubah with the 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team (2ID) where Michael Yon is. There are also operations going on with the 3ID called Operation Marne Torch (3ID is known as the "Rock of the Marne" from WWI).

It is also necessary to understand that OPT is not only focused in Baghdad, but also in the belts around Baghdad.

The disposition of forces can be found here:

Show/Hide

Deployed are 20 Brigade size combat teams, a Marine Expeditionary Unit, 4 Combat Aviation Bdes and a Marine Air Wing. Lots of firepower. And don't forget the artillery.

As you can see, within Baghdad are five Bde Combat Teams (BCT): 2nd and 4th BCTs of the 1st ID in the west and south, 2nd BCT of the 1st Cav in the center of the city, 2nd BCT of the 2ID in the east and the 2nd BCT (my old unit) of the 82nd in the north.

These are the units taking it to AQ in Baghdad. They are trying to either kill them there or make them flee the city to be killed by those ringing the city. In the NE, in Diyala, you have three BCTs, 3rd and 4th BCTs of the 2ID and 3rd BCT of the 1st Cav. In the south, in you have 2nd and 3rd BCTs of the 3ID and 4th BCT of the 25th ID. To the east 2nd BCT of the 10th ID and in the NW 1st BCT of the 1st Cav and in Anbar, the 13th MEU and 6th Marine RCT.

In this case instead of whack-a-mole, all holes are hopefully covered.

And note who they're targeting. Yes, al Qaeda is a target, and the primary target, but they aren't playing favorites. They're going after "al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shi'a extremists in, near and around Baghdad." That pretty much includes all the bad guys. So when Michael Yon entitles his series of reports "Surrender or Die", those are pretty much the only options being offered at the moment.

Note too that Odierno calls this an "open-ended" operation. It's going to go until the military feels the terrorists and insurgents are degraded to the point of ineffectiveness. One of the ways that will be done, obviously, is clear, hold, stay and build. But the other thing which has to be done is to minimize as much as possible AQs ability to disrupt this process. And that gets to another part of Odierno's description:
It also includes aggressive shaping operations by our Special Operations Forces focused on al Qaeda in Iraq and other special groups.

These operations are intended to eliminate accelerants to Baghdad violence from enemy support zones in the belts that ring the city.
So special operators are going to be terrorist hunting and they're going to trying to eliminate "accelerants to Baghdad violence". That's milspeak for they're going to be looking for the bomb factories that make truck and car bombs and the chlorine bombs. It has been in the belt areas around Baghdad that most of those have been made.

Last but not least, keep in mind the goals Odeirno has outlined for the operation:

"[D]efeat al Qaeda insurgents and extremists, deny enemy safe havens, interdict movement, logistics and communications", all of which will be "done in conjunction with civil-military operations to support political and economic efforts."

That is why it is an "open ended" operation. Parts of it are going to wind up sooner than other parts depending on what they find as they take, clear, hold, stay and build in these areas. Some areas are going to take longer than others, some are going to need more work than others, and some are going to take longer because the Iraqi Security Forces in the area aren't ready.

I'm not intimating through this explanation of the operation that all is peaches and cream and this is going to go off like clock work and everything is going to be fine. But having been an operations officer for 18 years up to and including Corps level, I can tell you that this is a plan with a chance.

However, here's something you can count on now. We will see increased US casualties. This is tough, dirty, nasty fighting and it is close quarter fighting. Offensive operations are costly. But they are the only way, really, to gain any sort of military victory. And yes, I know that the civilian side - the economic and political side - are equally important.

That's the wild card here, folks. That's the unknown.

The center of gravity in OPT is Baghdad. This operation, if successful, should provide the time and room necessary for the reconciliation process. Whether or not the Iraqis will take advantage of that, or instead act like the Palestinians, is yet to be determined.

Anyway, that's the layout. I'm going to try and keep up with this and explain as much as I can based on the info I can dig up. Feel free to ask questions.
 
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In all seriousness, who are the Sunni / Shia extremists? Are they only the people who shoot back? If not, how do we know?
 
Written By: Francis
URL: http://
Odierno goes into some of that in his briefing, Francis. He also talks about those who are allying with us. If you have the time, you might want to give it a quick read.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
who are the Sunni / Shia extremists? Are they only the people who shoot back? If not, how do we know?
Well the truth is Francis the US Army is simply shooting EVERYONE IN THE AREA and then claiming they were AQ or Shi’i or Sunni "extremists"! Remember, "If they run; they’re VC. If they don’t run; they’re very well disciplined VC." You don’t think things have changed do you? Why do you think the US doesn’t release bocy counts, because they’re killing 600 Iraqi’s PER DAY! Thankfully, we can police up the AK’s, RPK’s, and RPG’s and drop them again and again by they dead "extremists", in their mosques, hosptials, and schools....
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Almost makes me wish I was back with 1/14 CAV (RSTA Squadron for 3-2 SBCT).
 
Written By: Lysenko
URL: http://
After four years it seems that one way or another we’re nearing a time of clarity about Iraq. The next few months will be very telling. I’m, of course, pessimistic but the decisions have been made so we’ll see in coming months whether or not the "surge" will work, or be seen as a last ditch effort to save a failed policy. And though the war hawks may not believe me, I do hope my pessimism is wrong...though I doubt it is. But for the sake of countless Iraqi and American families, I hope my analysis is way off and this works.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
I do hope my pessimism is wrong...though I doubt it is. But for the sake of countless Iraqi and American families, I hope my analysis is way off and this works.
If you do end up being wrong, you have to be careful that you recognize it. Establish your metrics, Scott. What level of violence do you regard as acceptable? For example, if we get to where less than, say, 500 Iraqis are killed per month by the insurgency, is that still too many? If so, what number do you regard as acceptable?

It’s very easy to conclude, as many already have, that our effort is simply never going to work, and then move the goalposts to avoid ever reconsidering that opinion as conditions change. So put your goalposts in the ground. That might be the subject of a post on your blog.

 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
If a stable Iraq emerges where the violence can be reasonably controlled by the Iraqi military then I’ll admit I was wrong about the surge. By that I don’t mean counting so much by numbers killed but by whether or not Iraq is generally under control with insurgent attacks not unleashing sectarian violence or militias dominating. If 500 are killed a month, but they are mostly car bombs and hit and run, with government forces generally in control and the insurgents unable to promote more than various terror attacks, then that passes for "reasonable control by the Iraqi government/military." It also must remain democratic and not in the hands of an authoritarian. Billy, I have absolutely no problem admitting when I’m wrong — I’ve long ago given up tying self-esteem to correct political analysis! It sounds trite, but it’s more important that the people of Iraq have a better life than I be right in some kind of prediction. So I do hope I’m wrong.

However, even if I am wrong about the surge, it will take much more for me to think it was worth all this to invade in the first place. That metric would have to include things like America’s political economy, place in the world, national interest, and the status of counter-terrorism methods. But that debate can wait, right now I’ll be reading for the insights and links about the current offensive, looking for signs that maybe I was wrong. Because whether I like it or not, this is the policy chosen.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Due to the incredibly awful and dimwitted reporting in MSM, most people don’t even seem to realize the "surge" is far more than just a numbers game. There are new ROE that cannot be modified by overcautious field commanders, and a new philosophy of securing Iraq with lots of little mutually supporting garrisons instead of sending out raids and clearing operations from superbases.

In the past, Al Qaeda has come back to places we’ve cleared and killed anyone who had cooperated with us. Now, after we clear we establish a bunch of permanent Combat Outposts manned by ISF and coalition soldiers. The Sunni citizens (who by and large aren’t particularly fond of AQ) are responding by stepping up with tips and joining the local police forces we form. Then the reconstruction immediately starts as soon as things are stable.


 
Written By: TallDave
URL: http://www.deanesmay.com

TallDave beat me to it.

I believe history will conclude that our main error over the last several years was to simply clear insurgents from the provinces only to see them coalesce in the capital. Had we surrounded and killed the enemy in the provinces this Battle of Baghdad would never have had to happen. By pushing the enemy into the capital we handed them an unintended strategic victory. In Baghdad the enemy has been able to amplify their efforts at a time when the US public has naturally grown weary of this war. Being the capital, violence in Baghdad overshadows the relative normalcy in the rest of the country.

Now that our war planners have re-discovered the benefit of actually surrounding (Yon uses the word frequently in the last surge post of his I read) and actually destroying the enemy instead of merely pushing them around the map, our chances for success against AQ and the insurgency in Iraq has shot way up. In my opinion, anyway.

yours/
peter.
 
Written By: peter jackson
URL: www.liberalcapitalist.com
Something else people should realize is that we don’t just have another 30,000 U.S. troops. We also have a couple hundred thousand more ISF than we had a few years ago, and from all accounts they’re improving in quality as well as quantity, as the chaff is steadily winnowed from the officer and NCO corps with U.S. military guidance.

Petraeus’ strategy could not have been done in 2004; there just weren’t enough ISF and what there was wasn’t reliable enough (they were still running away a lot then; that’s pretty rare now).

Time is on our side in the military equation. The domestic political clock is the question. Fortunately, there are two aces in the hole there: 1) leaving behind Al Qaeda fiefdoms in Iraq is both obviously unwise and politically dangerous since we will eventually be attacked again 2) the public’s faith in the military has never been stronger while its faith in the political class has rarely been lower; since the politicians are ruled by the polls the military opinion may prevail in public hearings (assuming the public actually gets to hear the military opinion).
 
Written By: TallDave
URL: http://www.deanesmay.com
What is really interesting is how Erb is backpedaling from his gloom and doom Iraq position, and he mostly doesn’t even mention Global Warming (TM), anymore.

A shirt stuffed by the liberal narrative.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp

 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
Tom, my prediction remains the same. No backpeddling. I don’t mention global warming because some of you are so set in your belief that you won’t listen so I keep my discussion in places where it will make a difference (classroom, etc.) But I still am convinced humans are causing a good portion of global warming. I think some of you are so against regulation that when you see global warming given as rationale for regulation, you are pre-disposed to seek out claims that it isn’t happening in order to avoid the argument for regulation. I don’t even read those posts anymore. And Tom, seeing how you promote revisionist history on Vietnam (which you can’t really defend), I definitely do things in other places to try to make sure people are not susceptible to your kind of propaganda and revisionism. You give me a sign of what kind of anti-reason is out there, and that’s useful for me to know.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Ooh.

Let’s see if you respond to any of my counterpoints:
Tom, my prediction remains the same. No backpeddling.
I would love to see you held to that in the court of public opinion.
I don’t mention global warming because some of you are so set in your belief that you won’t listen so I keep my discussion in places where it will make a difference (classroom, etc.) But I still am convinced humans are causing a good portion of global warming.
In spite of the fact that the more actual scientific inquiry occurs, the more the rudimentary climate models you have endorsed are repudiated. I’m very glad you are doubling down on a losing bet.
I think some of you are so against regulation that when you see global warming given as rationale for regulation, you are pre-disposed to seek out claims that it isn’t happening in order to avoid the argument for regulation.
The regulation is not a good idea in the first place, and rarely authorized by the Constitution in the first place. I don’t think you view legality to be an impediment.
I don’t even read those posts anymore.
That you have stopped listening to the scientific arguments against your position is a sure sign you have put on blinders, turned towards a rhetorical cliff, and put the pedal to the metal. Bon voyage.
And Tom, seeing how you promote revisionist history on Vietnam
There should be no academic objection to a reversion to honesty.
(which you can’t really defend)
I merely point out that (1) the Tet offensive did largely destroy any indigenous communist forces in SVN, (2) the Vietnamization efforts were so successful that the South handily defeated invasion from NVN at low cost to the United States, (3) the decision to ditch the SVN entirely was our decision and it which precluded their defending themselves from ComBloc supported invasion by NVN in 1975, and (4) the defeat of SVN was a prerequisite to the killing fields of Cambodia, however much the communist Vietnamese intervened after several years to stop the genocide. It wouldn’t have happened but for our withdrawal and the NVN victory.

The end we made to our support of SVN can only be seen as an example of how not to conduct foreign policy.
I definitely do things in other places to try to make sure people are not susceptible to your kind of propaganda and revisionism.
But the things you do do not include responding with factual evidence or rigorous logic.
You give me a sign of what kind of anti-reason is out there, and that’s useful for me to know.
Then show my error in detail, as opposed to proclaiming it in the hope loudness and repetition will protect your untenable position.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
Tom, you’re not listening to the vast scientific arguments against your position, but picking and choosing minority views that fit your political bias. Your view on Vietnam is completely absurd. Also, you ignore that Cambodia’s genocide would not have happened if we had not gotten into an unnecessary and immoral war, and if we hadn’t expanded the war to Cambodia. It is a shameful part of American history and should be acknowledged as such. And the funny thing about global warming is I generally agree with the position that there shouldn’t be a lot of government regulation in response. I just disagree with those who want to deny that humans are likely a partial cause. That’s a cheap, even cowardly way to argue against regulation — trying to deny the problem rather than dealing with the question of whether or not regulation would be required if we were part of the problem. That is apparently too hard for some, so they find minority views that support their opinion, grab those, ignore the majority and then use ridicule against anyone who dares question their minority dissent. That’s what I object to — not to dissent itself, that’s good, it should be part of the discussion. But it shouldn’t be raised forward as absolute proof the majority is wrong.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
I’ve always seen Scott’s position as pessimistic, with an increasing dash of hope.

I’ve always been cautiously optimistic.

The surge could work, in that we degrade AQ and the insurgents to the point where their violence is not commonplace, and we could still loose if the Iraqi government doesn’t step up to the plate.

We would like them to work out their differences in a time-table that leaves us feeling warm and fuzzy inside. And there’s the rub, we want them to settle historic matters within the next 6-8 months, for no other reason then because we said so. That is an impractical expectation.

They ought to be making progress on issues, but solving them isn’t going to happen overnight or within several months. It’s not going to happen there, anymore then it would happen over here, or in the EU.

Now, in the end, whether taking on this task will have been worth it cant really be fully measured for generations.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://www.asecondhandconjecture.com
BTW thanks for the explanation Bruce...

One other bit of information to pass along, is that small scale, intelligence driven operations are still taking place in the rest of the country. These are targeting head AQ and insurgent leaders. They’ve netted quite a few big fish in the last few weeks.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://www.asecondhandconjecture.com
"Your view on Vietnam is completely absurd."

Hah! I guess he told you, Tom. Factual evidence and rigorous logic at its best.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Scott Erb:

"I don’t mention global warming because some of you are so set in your belief that you won’t listen so I keep my discussion in places where it will make a difference (classroom, etc.)"


The classroom, where you have a captive, gullible audience?

How frickin pompous.

We "won’t listen"? Scooter, we can’t help but listen. You and your’s have been shoving it up out spincters for 25 years.

Did you ever consider that maybe, just maybe, we know a little bit more than you and your post-modernist (read: subjectivist/irrational) buddies give us credit for?

"Reality based" my dead behind.
 
Written By: Sharpshooter
URL: http://
Sharpshooter, if anything is irrational, it’s your post. And remember: politically I’ll probably agree with you on most government regulations designed because of global warming. I find the overwhelming scientific consensus compelling, but that doesn’t mean I embrace a governmental solution. What do you mean by post-modernist? What do you think ’subjectivim’ means?

Keith: I’m still very pessimisitc about the surge (and what comes afterwards) but it’s as if I were an assistant coach who argued vehemently with the Head Coach that on 4th and 1 with the ball on the 20 we should do a safe running play. He wants to go for the end zone. I lay out the arguments against it — their secondary is strong, our QB inconsistent, and our best receiver hurt. The head coach is convinced this is the best way to go. The play begins. At that point I hope I’m wrong, the head coach is right, and that the play works.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
HALLELUJAH! For the first time since Baghdad fell, our military in Iraq has a comprehensive, integrated plan to defeat our enemies.
You approvingly quote Ralph Peters here. Great news if it proves out. Unfortunately this isn’t the first time since Baghdad fell that you have been cheerleading the strategy-du-jour in Iraq, is it? What exactly have you been shoveling during the four plus years we’ve entirely failed to have a comprehensive, integrated plan to defeat our enemies in Iraq?
 
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
What exactly have you been shoveling during the four plus years we’ve entirely failed to have a comprehensive, integrated plan to defeat our enemies in Iraq?
Now that even the most hawkish here are admitting that the last four years have seen bad tactics and strategies, I wonder if they would grudgingly admit that there was good reason why so many retired Generals took the unprecedented step of making public condemnations of Secretary Rumsfeld and his strategies. They understood the scope of the failure at that time, and were horrified at how the military was being used/abused by the political leadership. Perhaps this time they have a better strategy; however, given the track record, we have to take the cheerleading with a cynical grain of salt. It’s easy to see what one wants to see, especially with blogs and reporting out there that support virtually any perspective.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm

 
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