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."

Rubbish.

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.



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READER COMMENTS: "Operation Swarmer: Legit or Theater?"

Posted by Annoy Mouse at March 17, 2006 1:40 AM ET:

I agree that the joint air mobile operations are more along the lines of a grad school for the newly forged Iraqi Army and to let the insurgents know that the Iraqis have the ability to reach out and touch someone even when the Coalition Forces are gone. But that it might give some political hay for the incumbents on a separate level is merely indicative of the gray edges between politics and warfare.

That the MSM sees the side of the coin that they were looking to reinforce is another thing.

Like the Thunder Runs of lore, there is no certainty that 'parading' your forces won't be just the ticket to draw enemy fire. The Iraqis have advantages and disadvantages of having to stand up an army under fire. No final ceremony on the parade grounds in front of the generals and an awestruck politburo, but instead much on the job training.

Posted by coldoc at March 17, 2006 6:01 AM ET:

My memory is poor, so feel free to correct me, BUT I seem to recall last November or December that the Iraqi Defense minister gave a stern warning to Ramadi and Samarra to clean up their act or the Coalition forces would do it for them...forcefully! This was after a long string of sucessful power "demonstrations" in Anbar along the Euphrates river out to Syria and just before the elections. It seems to me that the recent actions are starting to do just that by going after the new nests being formed by the fleeing "bad guys" from Anbar and from Tal Afar in Salah-ad-Din Province. Interestingly, it is along another river... the Tigris. It seem to me that we have a nice "squeeze play" going on here. Blowing up the Mosque in Samarra wasn't a very good idea! Anybody got a guestimate as to which Coalition forces are located were in this area?

Posted by Paul at March 17, 2006 8:23 AM ET:

It reminds one of Orde Wingate's tactics in Palestine in the 1930s.

Posted by Annoy Mouse at March 17, 2006 8:57 AM ET:

Wingate was a character and the closest parallel I can think of is that the joint force operations and training may be producing a future Iraqi prime minister.

Posted by Marlin at March 17, 2006 9:28 AM ET:

David Ignatius, foreign policy columnist for the Washington Post, is currently in Baghdad and has a second encouraging column (although with a couple of the obligatory digs at Bush/Rumsfeld) in as many days.

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Three years on, the U.S. military is finally becoming adept at fighting a counterinsurgency war in Iraq. Sadly, these are precisely the skills that should have been mastered before America launched its invasion in March 2003. It may prove one of the costliest lessons in the history of modern warfare.

I had a chance to see the new counterinsurgency doctrine in practice here this week. U.S. troops are handing off to the Iraqi army a growing share of the security burden. As the Iraqis step up, the Americans are stepping back into a training and advisory role. This is the way it should have happened from the beginning.

Washington Post: Fighting Smarter In Iraq

Posted by ajacksonian at March 17, 2006 10:03 AM ET:

Poor Mr. Ignatius doesn't realize what is needed to transform a generalize military into one suited and a better fit to a specialized environment. Such things as bringing back people who have been in-theater to help change training takes time. Scoping out the new training techniques and getting forces up on localized languages and customs, takes time. Learning how to transition operations between forces, be they regular rotation or hand off to the New Iraqi Army, takes time. It takes time to build an effective New Iraqi Army as they will no longer measure their effectiveness against merely local militaries in the Middle East (save Israel) but against US capabilities and doctrine. That takes time to train and inculcate and get experienced leadership and knowledge worked into the new structure.

That said the very concepts of *how* to quickly adapt are now the OBJECTIVE. How to integrate systems, peoples, cultures, local knowledge and work at all of those levels simultaneously is now the objective of the US Armed Forces. I call this concept NetWar as it encompasses knowledge of military force, social systems and dynamics, emerging information and reaction to same as all of that changes on-the-fly. The entire US Military system and how it operates, works, thinks, re-supplies, re-arms and generally does every damn thing has been changing rapidly and will do so at even a faster pace. This will be the first truly broad-spectrum Adaptable military machine ever to be on this planet. Their objective is not to kill and conquer and rule... it is to use force as a means of depriving an enemy of capability while simultaneously supporting the local culture and ensuring that the hiding places become fewer.

We need more small and lethal capabilities so as to have the most impact and get the largest return for the minimal use of force. So that those not targeted will get the least harm, with none being the goal.

And pundits think this could have even been thought of 4 or 5 years ago and worked on without the hard won skills of actually being on the ground?

Oh great solon of sophistry, please point to the magic wand that would have done so as it has escaped the rest of us.

The fun part is that no matter where you try to pin capabilities and outlook today, they will change by tomorrow. The new *process* is now the way of things and *it* adapts to input from those actually doing the work at the pointy end of the stick. It is continuous. It is a new form of war, taking from all the lessons learned going back to the beginning of records of such. It has deep memory and adaptability based on the people within it and their varied capabilities, skills and interests. Because you never know where the next good idea will come from...

Posted by Marlin at March 17, 2006 10:13 AM ET:

Ralph Peters has the same perspective as Bill.

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As this column's written, U.S. and Iraqi forces have embarked on a major air and ground operation near Samarra, Operation Swarmer. It's a classic air assault designed to catch the enemy off-balance. I can tell you that the operation's been very carefully planned.

You'll hear reflexive complaints that the need for a new offensive suggests some sort of failure, but the contrary is true. This current strike has been enabled by a dramatic increase in tip-offs from Iraqis sick of the killers in their midst, by improved U.S. intelligence operations - and by the maturing capabilities of the Iraqi military.

The Iraqis want the gangs gone - and they're doing something about it.

New York Post: THE GANGS OF BAGHDAD

Posted by Soldier's Dad at March 17, 2006 10:21 AM ET:

OT

But I've posted the updated battlespace map

http://soldiersdad2.blogspot.com/2006/03/isf-update-30000-square-miles.html

Posted by Marlin at March 17, 2006 10:50 AM ET:

OT as well.

Gateway Pundit has the latest Arabic newspaper article translation from al Hayat and associated commentary from Haider Ajina, an Iraqi now living in California. Haider reports on how Iraqi Sunni and Shiite leaders are taking a stand against sectarianism.

Gateway Pundit: Iraqi Sunni & Shiite Leaders Make a Stand Against Sectarianism

Posted by Marlin at March 17, 2006 11:37 AM ET:

John Podhoretz has an interesting column today about how, and when, we will be able to whether or not we've triumphed in Iraq (with concurrence from Condi Rice).

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We do know that our decision to put boots on the ground in the Middle East has had profound consequences in two Arab countries.

In Libya, Moammar Khadafy gave up his weapons of mass destruction. In Lebanon, a million people took to the streets of Beirut in a show of astonishing resistance to Syrian imperialism following Syria's assassination of a leading Lebanese politician - something that would have been unthinkable before the United States invaded Iraq.

Will the positive changes we helped provoke in these countries have lasting meaning? No one can yet say.

The key accomplishments are in Iraq itself, and they are considerable - and to some degree offer an answer to the fashionable pessimism of the present moment.

Despite the insistence of some realist conservatives that we have learned the folly of attempting to plant democratic ideas in the ruined earth of Iraq, the evidence of the past two weeks is that the seeds we planted are bearing fruit among the politicians elected in those dramatic and moving elections in January and November 2005.

Yesterday, as Iraqi and Coalition troops were beginning a pitched battle against insurgent fighters, the new Iraqi parliament was sworn in. It was only two weeks ago that Sunni insurgents blew up a holy Shia mosque in a transparent effort to ignite a sectarian war - a war that, we were assured by many, was sure to catch fire.

[...]

Because of the bombs and the bloodshed, and because many critics are desperate to see President Bush discredited and disgraced, the triumph of the political class in Iraq has been little noted. But if it holds, what has happened in the past two weeks will probably be seen as a turning point - and a validation of George Bush's conviction that Iraq could eventually become a democracy.

"I think the outcome, the judgment, of all of this needs to await history," Secretary of State Condi Rice said yesterday. It is conceivable that history's judgment will be harsh. But it is also conceivable that history will regard the difficult American effort in Iraq as a dramatic achievement, all the more so because it was subjected to such withering and defeatist criticism here and abroad during its darkest days.

New York Post: IRAQ'S OVERLOOKED TRIUMPH

Posted by jim at March 17, 2006 11:44 AM ET:

On The Post's Ignatius, sadly, it seems to me to fit the standard approach of critics. That is, when a critic encounters something beyond reproach, the solution is to call it "too little, too late". Similarly, when success is achieved despite a critic's predictions of failure, the solution is to decree that it had been the heeding of the critic's own predictions that had enabled success. When none of the above fit, ignore it and report a different story, with some Hollywood type prettily mouthing an empty but usefully denouncing soundbyte a leading candidate.

Posted by dj elliott at March 17, 2006 3:17 PM ET:

1. This is the 4th joint US-Iraqi AAslt op in the last 6mo.
2. AAslt is what the 101 does. This is normal ops.
3. Original press releases from Centcom and subordinates was no different in details or amount than previous reports.
4. My best guess is that it was a slow news day and the MSM needed a lead. So they hyped an operation after having ignored the previous ones. And now that it is becoming apparent that they are overhyping it, they will start the blame game.

Posted by Freedom Now at March 17, 2006 4:44 PM ET:

Any biased person will use this operation to reinforce their political views. The pro-American pundit will jump up and down and cite this as an example of US military power and growing Iraqi power. The anti-American pundit will inevitably accuse this operation of being politically motivated.

However, a neutral party could only come to the conclusion that the US is performing this operation in an effort to win the war.

That is the stated goal of the US government. It is logical that the US would do everything it can to win.

So those who object to the political benefits of this operation are political activists seeking to defeat the US war effort. They share a common cause with our enemies.

That is what makes America so great. Our tolerance of such activism is proof of our commitment to Democracy, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press.

God Bless America!!!!!!!!

Posted by dj elliott at March 17, 2006 4:46 PM ET:

1. Look at the latest Battle Space Assumption map.
2. Plot where Samara is.
3. Plot where the clearing ops by Iraqi/USMC are.
- Do you notice that Samara is between three zones that the Iraqis own? And adjacent to I MEF zone.
- Do you think we turned those areas over without making sure the threat was managable first?
- Where do you think the terrs moved to under that presure?
- And what chunk of realestate do you think we plan to turn over next? "75% of Iraq turned over by end of summer."

Samara will be turned over to Iraqi Army control within next 3 months (probably sooner).

We are doing the house cleaning prior to hand over and introducing the new tennants (Iraqi Army and MOI's Special Police Commandos) to the local residents.

Posted by GrenfellHunt at March 17, 2006 5:56 PM ET:

It's puzzling that a reporter would denounce an attack as "politically motivated". That's what war is: politics by other means. But reporters don't have to pass Clausewitz 101.

Posted by dj elliott at March 17, 2006 6:13 PM ET:

Or Sun Tsu. I suspect that members of the press can't read any writing smaller than the teleprompter. Intelligence apears to be an opt-out in the MSM.

Posted by Marlin at March 17, 2006 9:34 PM ET:

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander, Multinational Corps Iraq, in his press conference on March 17 indicated that Operation Swarmer has been planned for several months and wasn't timed to any particular event.

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Q This is the other Lisa, Lisa Meyer, from AP Radio. I've got two questions about Operation Swarmer. I'm wondering if you could describe what the composition of the leave-behind force will be once the operation is completed, whether it will be Iraqi or American, both; whether it will be police commandos, whatever. And also about the timing of it. Could you explain to us -- there are some people that say that there's a political subtext here, and I'm wondering if you could describe whether in fact there was a long period of time that transpired between conception and execution.

GEN. CHIARELLI: I really can't -- I can't figure out why people did the analysis that they did. I think that anybody's who's been on the ground -- and there are a lot of folks that have been on the ground -- I think today we had some people up there -- will see that this is a largely uninhabited area that is 10 miles by 10 miles; it is a huge area where we had some direct intelligence but where we felt what we needed to do was really look through that entire area, look for these caches. There's a science to hiding this stuff, and we went out there with that in mind.

As for stay-behind forces, again I don't want to comment on follow-on operations. I can tell you we'll be working in there for a number of days, and we'll continue to work in there again at a later date if intelligence indicates that we need to go back in there. But we will be working with the people, the small population that is in there, to work some of the non-kinetic lines that I mentioned earlier.

But there was no attempt on anybody's part back here to time this to anything other than the intelligence that was coming in. It was an operation that we had been working for a couple of months. And quite frankly, one of the biggest problems I have over here sometimes is -- all the days seem the same -- is remembering what day of the week it is and also the actual date. But I do remember today's St. Patrick's Day.

Dept. of Defense: News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Chiarelli

Posted by Tim Solan at March 17, 2006 10:23 PM ET:

Bill,

Well stated.