Operation Swarmer: Legit or Theater?
Swarmer is the latest in a series of Air Assault missions, not a "wag the dog" moment
Soldiers and aircraft are positioned on the airstrip at Forward Operating Base Remagen in advance of Operation Swarmer. Image courtesy of Sgt. First Class Antony Joseph, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade.
As soon as Operation Swarmer kicked off, the pundits rushed to assign political motivations to the operation. One author of this school of analysis is Richard Beeston, the Diplomatic Editor of the London Times, who claims the air assault is "politically opportune for both the Bush Administration and the fledgling Iraqi government in Baghdad," "a show of US strength" and a "demonstrate that that they [American and Iraqi commanders], in fact, are in charge."
Such analysis highlights the shortcomings of the media in covering war, particularly the inability to track combat operations and provide meaningful analysis. Instead of looking at the big picture, a single combat operation is viewed as an isolated incident, and there is little attempt to provide the context for an operation. The perfect example of this was the media reporting on the operations in western Anbar province during the spring and summer of 2005. Instead of viewing the operations as part of an overall campaign to subdue the insurgency and establish a permanent presence in the region, the operations were viewed individually, and judged as failures based on some undefined set of metrics.
But by the time the December 15th election was conducted, every major city and town on the Euphrates, from Ramadi to Husaybah right on the Syrian border, had a presence of U.S. Marines and troops, and the Iraqi Army. Not once did the media ask how they misunderstood what happened in Anbar, and to this day still refer to the Qaim and Triad regions of Anbar as the most dangerous regions in Iraq. That just is not so.
The fact is Operation Swarmer is the latest in a series of air assault operations conducted by U.S. and Iraqi troops over the past few months. On November 21, a small Iraqi and U.S. force of about 100 men conducted an air assault, code name Operation Old Baldy, on a "terrorist hideout" on Bayji Island, on the Tigris River. On February 13th, the Iraqi Army, with a force of about 100 men, conducted its first nighttime air assault against a suspected terrorist training camp in the village of Bit Shaitin, near Salman Pak. On March 2, Coalition and Iraqi forces conducted a multi-battalion air assault on the town of Sadr-Yusufiyah during Operation Morning Glory. Two full battalions of U.S. and Iraqi troops conducted this assault, along with a full brigade of Iraqi troops on the ground. The 101st Airborne division is trained for air mobile / air assault missions, and they are training their Iraqi counterparts in this mode of operations as well (that the Iraqis do not have an air mobile unit, or organic equipment, yet are being trained to conduct air mobile operations is another interesting topic of discussion).
The planning, equipment, and training required to conduct an air assault is more sophisticated than conventional methods of assault. If the Iraqi Army and Coalition wished to conduct a show of strength, there are easier, safer and cheaper ways to do so. An armored assault immediately comes to mind, and the Iraqi Army possesses their own armored units, which would be an impressive and accurate show of the Iraqi flag as opposed to riding shotgun on U.S. Blackhawks. But claims the dog was wagged makes for far more entertaining reporting, and far shallower reporting, too.