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Operation Phantom Thunder: the good, the bad, and the ugly
Posted by: McQ on Saturday, June 23, 2007

I've been trying to gather info from a variety of sources concerning the overall operation (Operation Phantom Thunder) and some of the subordinate ops as well. I'm doing that in hopes of being able to participate in an interview with Michael Yon this weekend. That's iffy a) because of the op tempo which may see him unable to make the time and b) because even if he can make the time, he may have trouble getting through as he's been having communication problems which he outlines in his dispatch here.

When you read Michael's posts, make sure you understand that he is talking exclusively about one of the subordinate operations, Operation Arrowhead Ripper, taking place northeast of Baghdad in the city of Baquba in Diyala province.

Bill Roggio probably has the most comprehensive look at the whole operation right now. As he reports, most of the fighting is centered in Baquba where Yon is (leave it to him to find the hot spot).

Reading Roggio, I've identified at least 3 operations going on under the umbrella of OPT. As mentioned yesterday, there is Operation Marne Torch.
"In the first week of the southern offensive, known as Marne Torch [in the Arab Jabour Region], five suspected insurgents have been killed and more than 60 others detained," Joshua Paltrow reported. The U.S. is also working to cut off the enemy's avenue of escape to trap them in the kill box. "Attack aircraft have dropped thunderous explosives on roads to cut off escape routes."
If you look at the map on yesterday's post, you'll see where the Arab Jabour region is. It is south of Baghdad.

Also south of Baghdad is another operation named Operation Commando Eagle. As Roggio points out, reporting on progress there has been sparse, but my guess is, if the operations name means anything, it is the Special Operations push I mentioned in yesterday's post meant to find and destroy the terrorist capability to make car, truck and chlorine bombs. If so, reporting on it will continue to be sparse.

Anyway, those areas where the two operations are taking place are also hot spots.

There has been some fighting reported northwest of Baghdad (toward Anbar) but not at the level found in Baqubah. Speaking of Operation Arrowhead Ripper:
"At least 55 al-Qaida operatives have been killed, 23 have been detained, 16 weapons caches have been discovered, 28 improvised explosive devices have been destroyed and 12 booby-trapped structures have been destroyed," since the start of Arrowhead Ripper, Multinational Forces Iraq reported. Coalition and Iraqi forces also found an al Qaeda "torture chamber." Upwards of 1,000 al Qaeda fighters are thought to be holed up in the western half of the city.
The bad? Well most of these AQ fighters are considered to be low and midlevel AQ. It is estimated that 80% of the leadership hatted up and left before the offensive began. As LTG Odeirno said, that's pretty much standard operating procedure for AQ leadership, but it is a miss. But as Bill Roggio points out, in the context of the overall operation, perhaps not as big of one as some will attempt to argue:
First, no cordon is perfect, and the enemy has the ability to read the signs and act accordingly. It has been clear for months Baqubah would become a target of Coalition forces, and al Qaeda has its own sophisticated intelligence network that no doubt detected Coalition and Iraqi movements.

Second, the purpose of the Baghdad Security Plan and Operation Phantom Thunder is to deny al Qaeda Baghdad and the Belts, and to kill as many operatives and leaders as possible in the process. When al Qaeda attempts to regroup, it will be in the hinterlands, and in some cases, in regions less hospitable to its actions.
The first is, of course, quite true, but it is the second which is key. As I pointed out yesterday, the center of gravity for this operation is Baghdad. Deny AQ Baghdad and you essentially have a successful mission. By pushing them further out and denying them the 'belts' you do that.

More bad. And this is from Michael Yon:
After seeing the humanitarian need building with no action to abate it underway, Johnson was very unhappy. He immediately started jerking choke chains on the people who are supposed to be handling humanitarian need, trying to avert having it build into a crisis.

This is where the inept local Iraqi commanders come in. I’ve seen them in meeting after meeting, over the past few days, finding ways to be underachievers. The Iraqi commanders have dozens of large trucks and have only to drive to our base to collect the supplies and distribute those supplies to the people displaced in the battle. Our troops are fully engaged in combat, yet the Iraqi leaders were not able to carry that load without LTC Johnson supplying the initiative. The Kurds would have had this fixed yesterday. The Iraqi commanders in Mosul would have fixed this. The local Iraqi command climate is disappointing by comparison.
This is where you have to begin to rip and tear at the Iraqi leadership, making them do their job or relieving them and getting someone who can. Obviously that's not as easy a job when it is another army you're talking about and it is their senior leadership which has to make those decisions and moves. This is disappointing, but, as Yon points out, not necessarily indicative of the rest of the ISF. Instead it is a local problem, however it is a local problem in a very key area. It goes back to my point yesterday of why this is an open ended operation.

And in Baghdad and environs:
In the northern city of Mosul, eight Christian students and their professor were kidnapped by armed men who surrounded the minibus they were riding in.

In Baghdad, the toll from Tuesday’s bombing at a busy square rose to 87 as more bodies were recovered and some of the wounded died.

South of Baghdad, in Shiite-dominated areas, violence appeared to be on the rise. In Hilla, three Sunni Arab mosques were bombed.

Nasiriya, the capital of Dhi Qar Province, about 225 miles south of Baghdad, was mostly quiet on Wednesday after American forces intervened in recent days in a battle between the police and Mahdi Army militiamen loyal to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, according to a statement from the American military and from the Sadr office in Nasiriya.
Speaking of Mookie and the boys, Roggio has a bit about them:
Also, Multinational Forces Division South Central has now merged into Multinational Division Central (MND-C), which is conducting operations in the southern Baghdad Belts. Troops from Poland, Romania, and El Salvador operating in Wasit province, which borders Iran, will fall under MND-C. A brigade of about 3,000 Georgian troops will soon be arriving to assist in interdicting the flow of Iranian weapons. Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army will also likely be a target of operations.
The ugly? Well this:
Soldiers moved block by block through the city, the capital of Diyala Province, clearing houses and removing roadside bombs. As they pressed in, American troops discovered a medical aid station for insurgents — another sign that the Qaeda fighters had prepared for an intense fight. The hospital, uncovered by troops from the Fifth Battalion, 20th Infantry, was equipped with oxygen tanks, defibrillators, generators and surgical equipment, as well as pieces of insurgent propaganda.
Speculation is that equipment may have come from sympathizers within the Iraqi government. Now that may be proven wrong, but at the moment, that is the buzz. And it again points to the problems inherent in this sort of a situation.

Of course there's also the inherent ugliness of war and combat. But some interesting things are happening as well. LTG Odierno outlined a couple of them yesterday:
We have groups reaching out. We had a group that used to be part of the 1920 Revolutionary Brigade, who has helped us in Baqubah. We did not supply them with weapons. What did they do? They showed us in one area in one day 16 deep-buried IEDs — which protected our forces. And what did they want? They wanted us to help them to defeat al Qaeda in their neighborhoods.

In Radwaniyah, which is south of Baghdad, in the area where we've reached out to some former Sunnis and we are now working with them, we have not given them weapons. But they have shown us that they would like to join the Iraqi security forces, so linking them up with the government of Iraq. Since we've done that, our "found and cleared" rate for IEDs in that area is 80 percent — 80 percent — where the normal "found and cleared" rate is about 40 percent. That's what we're trying to achieve.
And on a lesser note but a seemingly consistent failure on the part of the Army PAO, they seem unprepared to handle the press even knowing the size of this operation and the interest it would generate:
There are serious technical problems that I have brought up privately to high-ranking PAO officers over the past nearly two years which persist today, despite that any one of them could be easily resolved with better planning on the part of PAO. I’ve found that communicating with them privately is generally useless. (Obviously, as the problems persist.) A person has got to tell a million people before they are heard. Since it will affect how the news from here gets reported, and since I know the other writers here are often afraid to speak up about this stuff (one senior PAO officer actually threatened to kick me out a few months ago), I’ll take the heat on telling the million people:

I could be in combat now, but have been wasting time trying to get a badge to get into the dining facility. Got one. Not a big deal, until you add that up for 20 reporters all wasting part of their very limited time (we are in a war), and soldiers’ time (they are fighting it) getting ridiculous paperwork when the Press ID could simply say, “Unescorted access to dining facilities is authorized. Please call DSN 867 5309 with any questions.” Simple solution. I have wasted hours on the issue of eating over the past few days. It adds up when your time windows open and close unpredictably and rapidly.
Yon has reported that access to everything has been, simply, fantastic. But if you are constantly hassled with time wasting nonsense which should have been taken care of as well as being unable to get your story out in a timely manner, what good is all that access. It would seem Army PAO would go out of their way to minimize the hassles and ensure the ability to communicate. But then, that's only their job, so ...
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Roggio is indispensable. God bless that guy, he does ten times the work of the MSM in covering the war.
Written By: TallDave

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