One Week of Operation Phantom Thunder
An update on the Battle of Iraq
Operation Phantom Thunder, the corps coordinated operation across three theaters in the Baghdad Belts, has completed it seventh day. Ground forces commander Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno gave a briefing on the operation. To date, Coalition and Iraqi forces have killed 159 al Qaeda fighters and other insurgents, wounded 41, and detained 721 suspects. Coalition and Iraqi forces found and destroyed 304 roadside bombs, seven car bombs and 128 weapons caches.
Operation Arrowhead Ripper, the campaign in the Diyala theater, remains the hottest of the three. So far the bulk of the fighting is occurring in Baqubah the provincial capital. "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.
Al Qaeda prepared for the assault on Baqubah "Days before the offensive, unmanned U.S. drones recorded video of insurgents digging trenches with back-hoes," the Associated Press reported. "About 30 improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, were planted on Route Coyote, the U.S. code name for a main Baqubah horoughfare." About 15 percent of the western portion of the city is said to have been cleared, and the operation could take up to 60 days.
General Odierno visited the city and stated most of al Qaeda's senior leadership has fled, while lower level-leaders are believed to be trapped. "We believe 80 percent of the upper level [al-Qaida] leaders fled, but we'll find them." said General Odierno. "Eighty percent of the lower level leaders are still here."
In Khalis, north of Baqubah U.S. forces killed 17 al Qaeda fighters as they attempted to enter the city. Attack helicopters were called in to destroy the terrorists' vehicles on the outskirts of Khalis.
As operations in Diyala province are ongoing, Rear Admiral Mark Fox, a spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq, stated Iraqi and Coalition forces are laying a trap for al Qaeda fighters fleeing the hot zones in the belts. "If you've got [the regions] properly cordoned then they're going to flee into somebody's arms. It's a trap," he stated. As we've noted since the beginning of the operation, Iraqi and U.S. forces have been placed in blocking positions along the rivers and key choke points.
Al Qaeda is left with fewer places to hide: Anbar Province no longer a safe haven, pressure has increased Baghdad and the hot operations in the belts, and the Shia south is hostile. Ninewa, Kirkuk, and Salahadin, remain as al Qaeda's fall back positions, but Iraqi and U.S. Forces have prepared for this option. Some of the best Iraqi Army units are stationed in the northwest. These are seasoned units that have recently returned from supporting the Baghdad Security Operation.
U.S and Iraqi forces have stepped up operations in the northwestern region. Four al Qaeda fighters and insurgents were detained in a series of operations in Ninewa, while another 18 were captured during raids in northern Baghdad and southern Salahadin provinces.
Al Qaeda responded with one of its patented suicide attacks near Kirkuk. Sixteen civilians were killed and 76 wounded after a suicide bomber "struck a compound housing the municipal headquarters and local town council in Sulaiman Bek. The blast also reduced nearby houses to rubble ... At least 10 city council members, including the mayor and the police chief, were among the wounded."
To the south, U.S. forces continue to press forward in the Arab Jabaur and Mahmudiyah regions. The operations consist of a series of raids, patrols and clearing operations. Reporting from Operation Commando Eagle in the Mahmudiyah has been sparse, however the activity in Arab Jabour has been robust. "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."
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 U.S. military commanders continue to state the operations will be ongoing through the end of the summer. The escape of Al Qaeda leaders and operatives from Baqubah nd the southern belts will no doubt be touted as a failure in the plan, but this view demonstrates a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of warfare and the purpose of the operation.
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 tould 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.