One Week of Operation Phantom Thunder


US forces in Baghdad and the Belts. MNF-I map, click to view.

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.

US forces in Baghdad and the Belts. MNF-I map, click to view.

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.

US forces in Baghdad and the Belts. MNF-I map, click to view.

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.



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READER COMMENTS: "One Week of Operation Phantom Thunder"

Posted by Vito Garaito at June 22, 2007 9:50 PM ET:

If the pro-Iraqi coalition can keep the heat on the al-qaida interlopers, the intelligence network of al-qaida will fade away. No one wants to be the last soldier in a losing cause.

Posted by OldSoldier54 at June 22, 2007 10:09 PM ET:

Georgia sent a Brigade??!! Cool.

Thanks for the update, Bill. You and Mike Yon are doing we Americans a massive service. I wish I were wealthy ...

I hope the good guys kill every one of those murdering sons of Darkness.

Posted by Marlin at June 22, 2007 10:21 PM ET:

Michael Yon sent an e-mail to follow-up his post of earlier today.

----------------------

"It's Friday evening 22 June. Operation Arrowhead Ripper continues to unfold. The operation is going very well. This looks like it will become a serious problem for al Qaeda."

Instapundit: THIS MORNING I LINKED MICHAEL YON'S LATEST POST

Posted by DJ Elliott at June 22, 2007 10:51 PM ET:

OldSoldier54

I know what you mean. A Bde is a major chunk of the Republic of Georgia's Army. Closes up next month in Wasit to work the smuggling problem from Iran...

Posted by Firght4TheRight at June 22, 2007 11:44 PM ET:

Okay, I believe I am about to ask the dumbest question in the history of The Fourth Rail, but with the battle of Baqubah only in it's what...3rd or 4th day...and with " 1000 " Al Qaeda holed up in the western part of the city, how do we know that " 80 percent of the upper level [al-Qaida] leaders fled "???

I mean, if we don't know where they are, how do we know they aren't in Baqubah?

And as a follow up - if there were around 2000 Al Qaeda in Diyala, what would 80% of upper level leaders amount to? 10? 20? 50?

Posted by DJ Elliott at June 23, 2007 12:13 AM ET:

Firght4TheRight

- We have captured some personnel.
- Troops that have been abandoned are even easier to convince to talk since they are demoralized and disalusioned. They require minimal to zero convincing.
- They know they were abandoned...

PS The press doesn't understand basic field intel either. Realy dumb questions (even dumber than that) are the norm in the briefs. You are not even a contender for realy dumb question title...
"The only dumb question is the one not asked."

Posted by Richard1 at June 23, 2007 12:39 AM ET:

Firght4TheRight,

Thanks for asking, I had the same question ;-)

Posted by Neo at June 23, 2007 12:49 AM ET:

Once again, I don't think the 80 percent is an actual statistical breakdown. Call it a ballpark figure. I think the General meant that our intelligence tells us that much of the AQI leadership has left Baqubah. I don't think there are any extra statistical goodies to be found within the statement. It's not like someone at the Brookings Institute can massage the data and come up with the standard deviation for fleeing Emir's.

Posted by crosspatch at June 23, 2007 1:51 AM ET:

There is also another way of looking at it. The top leadership moves around a lot. It could be that only 20% were in Baqubah when the thing kicked off and that was to be expected.

It might not mean that 100% were there and 80% actually fled. Though I would say that at this point their view of Baqubah would be from astern.

Posted by P_G_S at June 23, 2007 11:02 AM ET:

Let us also not forget the fact that AQI also reads web pages and MNFI transcripts. The potential to spread disinformation by making comments like "80% of leadership" should not be underesrtimated.
Let's send AQI and their allied scum to the reward they so justly deserve. May God bless our men and women.

Posted by RHYNO327 at June 23, 2007 1:07 PM ET:

yes, wow! hoah GEORGIA! maybe Germany should take a look at that. SHAME, SHAME, Germany. you could do better than that in A-stan. last time i looked, ur a Christian country. that makes you an INFIDEL. so you must die. when will you wake up? there are rumblings in the news about terror attacks in Germany, and on German troops in A-stan. maybe if you lose a couple hundred innocents, you will realize YOU ARE NOT IMMUNE. GEN. Petraeus, i know you are missed by ur original command, but there is a higher calling for you. Every Screamin' Eagle is proud. Send them to Allah boys!

Posted by crosspatch at June 23, 2007 1:37 PM ET:

The Associated Press is reporting two senior AQI leaders captured in Diyala and taken to Baghdad, no word on identity.

Posted by MattR at June 23, 2007 2:03 PM ET:

As long as stupid questions are OK: Why do ~1000 AQ stick around to get stuck in a trap? What percentage of the estimated 1000 do we expect to kill or capture? And does it even matter?

AQ sounds like it has nothing going for it (other than getting headlines in our papers) because every time they're given a chance to set up a government the locals decide the MNF is a better deal. Tony said something along the lines of it just takes time for the local population to realize that terrorists have nothing to offer, and to give us a second chance. Is that part of what is going on in Diyala? It seems to be a pattern. We come in, we're seen as occupiers, things are not good, AQ replaces us, offers nothing but violence for a year, the Iraqis decide enough is enough, and the second time around we have a better time of it. Is this in the manual Petraeus wrote? Am I just reading this all wrong?

Posted by section9 at June 23, 2007 2:10 PM ET:

There's also something else going on. Imagine how many AQI hightailed it over the border to their IRGC training camps.


Indeed, what's not said is how many Revolutionary Guards personnel are being bagged in this offensive. That's what I'd like to hear.

Posted by DJ Elliott at June 23, 2007 2:20 PM ET:

MattR

The majority of the population in Diyala do not have access to internet or TV or news. They know what they are told and see. Until a couple of months ago there was no radio station in Diyala. The majority of the rank and file AQ recruits are iliterate.

We are used to having access to all sorts of info and multi-sources. The first thing AQ targets is the radio/TV/internet connections/cell phones/etc. Control the data and only feed your troops and the population propaganda.

The AQ staying behind are told to stay and fight and know that if they do not follow orders they will be killed. Control by fear and intimadation...

Posted by crosspatch at June 23, 2007 2:37 PM ET:

There was a report a couple of months ago (at least, maybe longer) that AQI was beginning to leave Iraq. Lebanon was mentioned as a destination. That was some weeks before the battle started at the AQ camp near Tripoli.

It would not surprise me to learn that AQ was starting to cut their losses, get their best people out of harm's way, and allow what cannon fodder remains to run amok and create as much havoc as possible while Iran takes over the "heavy lifting" in keeping Iraq unstable.

And I thought I might also pass along this background reference piece I found on the net. It is an intelligence report produced in 1946.

According to its authors, Islamic countries were "full of discontent and frustration" and were aware of their "inferiority." These feelings manifested themselves in "killings and terrorism," which were reported in "daily news accounts." The analysts knew about the feud between the Sunnis and Shi'a. They also knew about Wahabism and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Link to article including full text of the repot.

Posted by DJ Elliott at June 23, 2007 2:59 PM ET:

crosspatch

They were diverting foreign volunteers for Iraq to Lebanon while still in Syria.

Enough said. We are going OT here.

Note: AP is quoting a MNF-I press release from earlier this morning on the 2 captured.

section9

Do not expect them to openly identify RG. DC does not want open war with Iran. Look for "smugglers", "shia extremist facilitators", "Rogue JAM", etc and mention of EFPs in the press releases.

Posted by Firght4TheRight at June 23, 2007 5:13 PM ET:

DJ and all,

Thanks for all of the answers to the questions and I appreciate not being sent to the corner for asking! haha

My hope is that there are a bunch of "top leaders" out in the hinterland with no "leg men" to do their bidding. If that ends up the case, those leaders will be swallowed up by the populace, perhaps worse.

Posted by pat at June 23, 2007 7:08 PM ET:

How do we know that these people are Al Qaeda and not Sunni insurgents? How are they identified and differentiated from all the other militias etc that are operating there?

Posted by joe at June 23, 2007 7:35 PM ET:

I am not as optomistic as everyone else about how well this campaign against the ISI is working. It looks to me like Al Qaeda did what it always does when heavy pressure is put upon it it melted away and will live to fight another day. Hopefully we can catch some of them while there on the move like we apparently did in tikrit today. I also believe that some of the foreign fighters are leaving Iraq to the Levant, somalia, North Africa, and Europe but not cause of their impending defeat but because Al Qaeda has succesfully Iraqified itself and the foreign fighters now probably do more harm than good as Al Qaeda wants to represent the sunnis as the ISI.
Heres an article that discusses this http://kdka.com/topstories/topstories_story_173190438.html

It really is an astonishing statement by General Odierno that 80% of the leadership escaped. When AL Qaeda flees an area it usually leaves behind a group of eager martydom seekers that will fight to the death against the U.S. we seen this before in Fallujah. I doubt there rank and file feel abandoned. They know full well that an insurgent organization must protect their leadership above all else. When they joined Al Qaeda they knew there fate was death or jail.

Im also very concerned about what I read in Michael Yons excellent article were he states that the Iraqi army in the area is exceptionally poor even by Iraqi standards! If they dont improve and stop the death squad activity that they were known for previously immediatly this will be for nothing.

I also doubt that the Revolutionary Gaurds are working operationally in the trenches with Al Qaeda. The relationship is probably more akin to the IRGC supplies some weapons and safe passage to AL Qaeda and in return Al Qaeda keeps America busy and Al Qaeda promises not to attack Iran. The best proof of a truce between the two is that Iran is surrounded by Al Qaeda but AQ has yet to attack Iran.

Im aware this was a really negative post but I just dont see what everyone is so optomistic about.

Posted by Richard1 at June 23, 2007 8:41 PM ET:

Joe,
Al-Qaeda didn't melt away. In fact reports are coming out now of heavy fighting.

What the General said yesterday was he thought about 80% of the *senior leadership* left the area. That is not that many people if the estimates of from 200 to 2,000 al-Qaeda on the ground there are correct. We are talking about, what? Maybe 10 people. Also there are reports today that 3 senior al-Qaeda may have been killed today just outside of Baqubah. So let's wait and see how this pans out.

Posted by Richard1 at June 23, 2007 8:47 PM ET:

Joe,


Check out:

Iraqi army is making strides in Baqubah

Posted by anand at June 23, 2007 9:13 PM ET:

DJ, you said "Enough said. We are going OT here." I don't follow.

Posted by MrBig at June 23, 2007 9:16 PM ET:

Richard1

I couldn't agree more. I believe the "80%" comment is getting WAY too much play. If they had 10 senior leaders there prior, that's 8 guys. If they had 20 (doubtful) that's still just 16. If we nailed the 3 that you mentioned, that makes 5-13 that got away (for now). Nothing to give up hope about IMHO.

As for those that remain. Might as well get about taking care of them now rather than later.

MrBig

Posted by Neo-andertal at June 23, 2007 9:30 PM ET:

Pat said;
"How do we know that these people are Al Qaeda and not Sunni insurgents? How are they identified and differentiated from all the other militias etc that are operating there?"

They identify themselves as Al Quada. The locals identify them as Al Quada. Their former allies identify them as Al Quada. Captured prisoners identify them as Al Quada. The head of Al Quada identifies them as Al Quada. Their own web sites identify which groups are loyal to Al Quada. We have intelligence people who spend a good deal of time figuring out who are the leaders of the different cells and where their loyalties lie. And by the way, the major newspapers now call them Al Quada.

There are local tribes that are still loyal to Al Quada but it's made clear who is in charge. There was a time a few years ago when the locals joined in because Al Quada provided the most resolve and stiffest resistance at a time when the Baathist resistance was floundering. It became increasingly obvious that the locals had become pawns in larger game pressed by outside interests. Locals who complained were killed. There are areas within Iraq that local insurgency movements still have power, the tribes around Tikrit still sympathize with Al Quada, the insurgency in Kurkuk was pretty local until recently, the local tribe in the Yusufiyah area still has a lot of clout with Al Quada.

Do you have a strong argument on good sources that Al Quada is not in charge? Who is in charge than?

Posted by pat at June 23, 2007 9:40 PM ET:

I'm looking for some clarification here. Until recently, we heard about attacks by Sunni insurgents, former Baathists, and Shiite militias. It seemed to be a pretty toxic stew of people who were 1) trying to assert their power in Iraq and 2) trying to inflict damage on the US forces. As far as I can remember, it is only in the last few weeks that it is said that we are battling Al Quada. What happened to the Baathists and the Shiites? And who is blowing up the mosques and markets?

Posted by pat at June 23, 2007 9:58 PM ET:

sorry, Al Qaida. Or al Qaeda. I don't think I've ever seen it spelled as Al Quada. A slip of the finger, I guess.

Posted by anand at June 23, 2007 10:34 PM ET:

Joe,

Al-Qaeda, and Al-Qaeda linked networks have attacked many Shia and Iranian targets around the world.

They frequently attack and kill Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis allied with Iran. Al-Qaeda is hated by the vast majority of Iranians, including most clerics and members of the Iranian military.

Note that Zawahiri and Bin Laden have never mentioned Western pressure on Iran, or Iran's nuclear program, in their list of grievances. A shia bomb scares the bejeezus out of them.

That is why if solid proof of Khamenei/Al-Qaeda collaboration could be proven, it would probably lead to Khamanei's overthrow for being an Iranian and Shia traitor.

One of the biggest events in the week since "Operation Phantom Thunder" was launched is Muqtada al-Sadr accusing Iran of backing Al-Qaeda. It's a huge story in the Iraqi press: http://pajamasmedia.com/2007/06/sadr_bites_the_hand_that_feeds.php

This may actually be turn out to be what June 2007 will be remembered for in Iraqi history.

Some of Muqtada's political allies (current and former) are cooperating against the IRGC (they have been cooperating against Al-Qaeda for some time) as part of Operation Phantom Thunder (including the provincial government of Maysan), and Muqtada may be trying to give himself some political cover and retain some of his allies. But still, it is worth noting that no other prominent UIA or Kurdish political leader has do directly accused Iran of backing Al-Qaeda. Muqtada's attacks may open the door for other Iraqi political leaders to speak and act differently in the future.

Posted by Neo at June 23, 2007 10:59 PM ET:

Pat,
You're right it's Al Qaeda (Spelled ae like Israel). Sorry! I see I have been doing it for quite some time. I made the mistake of adding the wrong spelling into my spell checker way back and will laps into it without thinking.

Neo

Posted by Neo at June 23, 2007 11:42 PM ET:

"Until recently, we heard about attacks by Sunni insurgents, former Baathists, and Shiite militias. It seemed to be a pretty toxic stew of people who were 1) trying to assert their power in Iraq and 2) trying to inflict damage on the US forces."

Fair enough! The media made the transition to calling them "Al Qaeda" back in April after numerous interviews with both rank and file and former leaders in the insurgency. Up to that point much of the media discounted any information that came from intelligence or military sources. It's not that the information hasn't been out there, it's that it had not credibility because of the earlier WMD flap. Up to the point a short time ago when former insurgents started publicly complaining about Al Qaeda's heavy handed tactics, most of the information the media was picking up on the insurgency came through their own Iraqi stringers (Reliable sources that they were). Unfortunately, the history of Al Qaeda's take over of the insurgency as told from the mouths of insurgents themselves lined up with what the intelligence sources had been saying all along.

If you want more information on what Al Qaeda has been up to. You can go back and read Bill's articles about the formation of the Anbar Salvation Council. Read the linked articles there are plenty of accounts of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Here is an earlier account of the split that had formed between the Insurgents and Al Qaeda.
http://billroggio.com/archives/2007/03/the_sunni_civil_war.php#more

I can't locate the interview with Abdul Sattar Abu Risha head of the ASC. He gives an account of the split with Al Qaeda. Someone might help me on that.


If you would rather have sources hostile to the war. Read this article by Nir Rosen. The first half of the article is about the refugee situation, the second half contains interviews with insurgent leaders. They give their accounts of their troubles with Al Qaeda. Take it with a grain of salt, Nir Rosen is a very vocal opponent to the war in Iraq. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/13/magazine/13refugees-t.html?ref=magazine

Posted by Richard` at June 23, 2007 11:43 PM ET:

Pet,

Here are some of your insurgents:

One-Time Iraqi Insurgents Now Helping U.S.

I am sure there are others out there. Last year there were a lot of al-Sadr's militia in the area too.

Posted by DJ Elliott at June 24, 2007 1:12 AM ET:

A couple of thoughts on the comments:
- AQ is transliterated several different ways. Depends on which protocal you use. That is why you will see Q/K/G used interchangebly at times because they are the same letter in arabic.
- Al Queda in Iraq is rank and file Iraqi but, the leadership is still foreign. AQI is lead by an Egyptian ATT. This is an imported murder gang and not to be lumped in with insergents that target military targets. They also are the majority of the suicide bombers, car bombers and mosque/market bombers. Murdering civilians is what they do best. They thrive on disorder and chaos.
- The Iraqi Army Division in Diyala (Arrowhead Ripper) is the 5th and it only recently transfered to IGFC control after having its Commanding General relieved for cause last month. The officers of that Division are still learning the new boss' operating style and will be hesitant to show initiative for a while, until they get to know him and what he expects.
- I pointed out we are sliding OT (off topic) because this is a discussion of Phantom Thunder and subordinate operations. Not Syria/Lebanon or Afghan, etc... Bill is a stickler for staying on-topic and hates it when someone hijacks a thread and goes into left field.

Posted by crosspatch at June 24, 2007 3:22 AM ET:

I am amazed at the contrast between this battle and both the battle for Fallujah and the battles of the far Western Anbar towns as far as information coverage is concerned. And that goes with both the military PAOs and the various civilian agencies. Watching the news this evening one wouldn't even know a battle was underway and to say that the information out of the MNF-I site is sparse would be understatement. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, I am simply noting a spectacular difference in the quantity and quality of information available from all sources as a whole. There seems to be considerably more attention to OPSEC this time around.

And I think some of the earlier topic drift might have been to expand on the paragraph of the posting that began with "Al Qaeda is left with fewer places to hide:" so that seemed to naturally spur speculation on where they might be going.

In any case, looking at the Defenselink, Defend America, and MNF-I sites this evening brings up a whole lot of very little interesting information. Nothing much at all in the way of latest news in Diyala province. On one hand, I guess I like that. On the other hand, we are all hungry to know what our forces are doing and how things are going.

Thanks for keeping us all as informed as you possibly can.

Posted by DJ Elliott at June 24, 2007 4:08 AM ET:

crosspatch

Two words about your comments on OPSEC (and for that matter OPDEC): Gross Understatement.

Posted by David M at June 24, 2007 7:09 AM ET:

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 06/23/2007
A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention updated throughout the day so check back often. This is a weekend edition so updates are as time and family permits.

Posted by RedRaider at June 24, 2007 8:32 AM ET:

I'm really glad OPSEC is so much better. I for one don't mind reading the historical version of the battle if keeping current operations secret saves the lives of Americans and Coallition forces in the fight.

The 80% comment has been overblown by the BBC, CNN and others of their ilk for obvious reasons. I was shocked to hear the BBC lead the other night with the comment that OAR has been deemed a FAILURE. The basis for that ludicrous headline turned out to be the BB reporter's fixation on the 80% comment.

Running backward though, is no way to fight a war. And that is what Al Queda's leadership in Iraq is doing. A lucky few will escape and regroup elsewhere, mostl ikely outside Iraq. But this operation appears to have been very very succesful so for.

As always, keep the good guys in your prayers. And thanks Bill, DJ, and all commentors for the great reporting and the brilliant insights.

Posted by From Inside Baghdad at June 24, 2007 9:23 AM ET:

I'm not so sure the OPSEC is good at all. Seems to me there's a lot of information put out about what we're doing and what we're planning. Info about where we have certain numbers of troops is not good info to share.

ie. "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. "

Putting lives in danger...

Posted by DJ Elliott at June 24, 2007 9:35 AM ET:

OPSEC has improved over the last couple of months. The data on IA forces in the north is older...

Posted by Richard1 at June 24, 2007 10:21 AM ET:

Pat,

This article seems to answer your question about the mentioning of al-Qaeda. As this article shows, the military isn't the ones singling out al-Qaeda.

Posted by Bill Roggio at June 24, 2007 2:15 PM ET:

From Inside Baghdad,

Do you think al Qaeda doesn't understand its fallback positions? Do you think they know where they are and are not welcome, and where US and Iraqi forces are and are not? No one is talking specific numbers or locations here, the information is general in nature. Its all information released at the corps level downward. Posts like yours display a certain level of ignorance I cannot comprehend.

Posted by ajacksonian at June 24, 2007 2:47 PM ET:

It is not OPSEC to figure out where the potential hiding places of AQI might be - read the MNF-I daily output and you can see the shift via the daily reports over a period of 3 months. The positioning of lighter forces and the raids just prior to OPT also point out that the SE is being blocked by UK and Iraqi Special Forces... again *that* is in the daily dispatches. Getting higher level confirmation is a help, but OPSEC and COINTEL must be considered for those answers, also. Reports give on a good idea on type of operation, target of operation and relative success of operation.

One part of AQI that is rarely addressed, because it is unknowable without good HUMINT and ELINT, is the actual effectiveness of AQI. That is a measurement not in the number of people, but the organizational capability to be effective in operations. AQI represents the *other* phase of al Qaeda: its combat effectiveness. Terrorism is more effective against soft targets (civilians, police and infrastructure) than it is against hard targets (combat forces, special forces and heavy police units). Generically speaking, al Qaeda has not had to field a combat force of any real capability since the mid-1990's in Afghanistan. That has been their sore point in Iraq for awhile, now, and I gave a bit of a deeper overview of this a bit ago.

AQI has had a problem that is indicative of small operations generically, be they business or terrorist, of addressing personnel overhead. The paradigm all the way up to major corporations and capital invested forces (like nuclear aircraft carriers) is that the recuring cost in manpower far outweighs capital expenditure. Recruiting individuals, training them, supporting them and retaining them all have associated costs for any organization, even 'volunteer' organizations. A major telling point for AQI last year was that weapons caches in built-up areas, perhaps the easiest to guard, were being unguarded and MNF and IA/IP forces could find them if they could get enough HUMINT to backtrace them. Equipment, in its tons, was being discovered and some, no doubt, were left over Saddam era caches, but many of them were indicative of IED and terrorist ops typical of AQI. Purchasing and smuggling in such has low recuring overhead... guarding it and ensuring it is kept safe requires people and that is a high cost item.

The highest cost individuals are those that are most trained as they have the most investment in them, so when bomb-making experts, cell operation trainers, disguise experts, trusted money couriers and such started to be removed from AQI, they had a huge problem in their training area as they have very limited ability to train such individuals. Falling back on less well trained individuals hurts overall organization effectiveness until they can 'get up to speed' on operations. That starts a vicious cycle of downwards capability as these newcomers are less well able to keep out of sight and when *they* go... by my guess AQI has lost at least two, if not three tiers of that echelon in its organization in Iraq and globally over the last 3 years. About 1 per year. That is why they are looking to Sudan, Algeria, Bosnia, and the TBA in S. America to spin up new training facilities and 'train the trainer' for ops. They are, it appears, using Hezbollah contacts for some of those, but bin Laden made personal contacts in the late 1990's when he was in Albania for awhile, so that does help.

That helps put the '80% of senior AQI' business in persepective as that addresses individuals who are *not* in direct combat ops control (and using the old rule of thumb of 1:16, two echelons up) that leaves the upper command for the field command around 5 or 6, with field commanders in the 60-70 range. Taking a 20% hit on the upper command is 2 people... highly trained and specialized in logistics, combat training and training field commanders. That is like walking into the JCS and removing 1 or 2 of them and a portion of their staff. Or, say, removing Bradley, Patton and MacArthur in WWII early 1945. You still have capable people *left* but who will bring the knowledge, expertise and background of those indivdiuals at that level with them? And the smaller the size of the organization, the harder it is to replace good people like that...

Posted by DJ Elliott at June 24, 2007 3:27 PM ET:

Process of elimination:

AQ is being heavily targeted in Baghdad, N Babil, Diyala, E Anbar and S Salahadin.

Where do they try to retrench:
- The above are where they are running from.
- Southern Iraq is no-go territory for them (problem in south is JAM).
- KRG is no-go (Peshmerga).
- Western Iraq (Anbar) is becoming no-go (ASC).
- That leaves Kirkuk, Salahadin and Ninawa.
-- Kirkuk is not on a border and puts AQ in a potentialy encircled and trapped position pinned between KRG (fighting Peshmerga) and expanding ASC. Also, it has been announced that Kirkuk's IA Bde count in near future is tripling.
-- Salahadin has the same problems to a lesser degree as Kirkuk with the expanding ASC from Anbar being the pinning force and with new IA/INP Bdes already announced as forming in May.
-- Ninawa. Borders Syria which provides resupply. No announced troop increases. Nominated PIC in Apr by MND-N but, as MNC-I puts it delayed till fall because it is an AQ fall-back position.

Anyone that understands where AQ's powerbase is in Iraq, knows where they will run. Ninawa via Kirkuk/Salahadin. Some elements stay behind in Salahadin, Kirkuk and Diyala to keep US/ASC/KRG busy while main forces and leadership try to stand up bases in Ninawa. That means Mosul is going to be in-play in the near future.

The problem AQ has is that two of the best four IA Divs existing (according to MNC-I) are stationed in Ninawa and the IP up there is nothing to laugh at either, They were not nominated for PIC as a lark.

The number of IA/INP Bn/Bde ID's specifically reported on in (press/press releases/briefs) MND-N AOR has dropped over 75% since the begining of May. Closer to 85% in Ninawa. OPSEC is being payed attention to. That very effort indicates that MND-N expects the north to get hot.

Posted by anand at June 24, 2007 4:09 PM ET:

"The problem AQ has is that two of the best four IA Divs existing (according to MNC-I) are stationed in Ninawa and the IP up there is nothing to laugh at either, They were not nominated for PIC as a lark"

The IP are already in the lead for security for the vast majority if not all of Ninevah province. 3rd and 2nd IADs (Iraqi Army Divisions) are tactical and strategic overwatch.

Any Al-Qaeda that are looking at migrating North are looking at 'a world of pain.'

Posted by ceosspatch at June 24, 2007 9:48 PM ET:

It might help to go back and review some of the comments made by commanders in the theater about the planned disposition of exfiltrators from the cordon.

Maybe you did an experiment in junior high school where you tapped a ball of mercury and it shattered into lots of little balls. Where those bits end up can be influenced; shaped, if you will. And there is really very little the enemy can do about it at this point. It is a matter of die now or die later but the ultimate result is not in question.

This is not a small unit operation. Those planning this have a much wider view of the overall battle space. I have a hunch that clearing Baqubah and other major nests of AQI is only the beginning and comments from various commanders as to time lines tend to validate that hunch.

Posted by DJ Elliott at June 25, 2007 1:34 AM ET:

http://billroggio.com/multimedia/IraqBdeOOB1.php
Recommend review of OOB listed at link to left of page. Map includes Province names.

- North Babil/South Baghdad Provinces. Aka "Triangle of Death" and the "fiyahs".
- Current site of Operations "Marne Torch" and "Commando Eagle"
- Prior to the surge there was only the US 4-25 BCT, US 2-10 BCT and IA 4-6 Bde.
- Currently the focus of the US 3ID/3CAB, US 4-25 BCT, US 2-10 BCT, US 2-3 BCT, US 3-3 BCT, IA 4-6 Bde, INP 1-1 Bde and INP 3-1 Bde.

This has been indian country for a very long time. The surge has provided troops to get into areas we have not been in for over a year...

Posted by Neo-andertal at June 25, 2007 1:49 AM ET:

I can probably get parts of that one.

"1) Please define what you call "Northern Babil" in the above context, and"
Use this map: http://billroggio.com/maps/SW-Baghdad.php
In northern Babil the countryside is dominated by Sunni's while there are large Shiite enclaves within cities and some towns. Southern Babil is largely Shiite although Hillah does have Sunni areas.
The area of direct interest is south of Baghdad. Draw a line from southern Baghdad down to Latifayah than west all the way to Amiriyah. That whole area has been a problem. Considerable attention has been given to Amiriyah and the western edge of this region. More attention was given looking for the soldiers abducted in the area.

"2) How long you think (based on your credible sources) that AQ has been there."
This area was part of the original April 2004 uprising and has been a major problem since. There was a huge munitions depot and base in the area, so plenty of bomb material has always been available. Al Mahmadia was Zarqawi's base of operations at several points during the war. In fact right after the first Samarra Shrine bombing Al Quada had a large presence in the area. This was the one area that US forces placed considerable pressure on in spring 2006. This is one factor that forced Al Qaeda to develop Diyala province North East of Baghdad.

"3) And in what strength there? That percentage of AQ compared to the total Anti-MNFI combatants" there? In this instance there is a single tribe which has close relations with Al Qaeda. In fact, if I had to rate areas for support of Al Qaeda it would be near the top, along with Tikrit, and formerly Fallujah and Ramadi. Since there is a strong tie-in with a single tribe this area may be one of the last to be truly pacified. Also, the strong tribal alliance with Al Quada in this area ensures there will be a problem in this area for some time.

Posted by Neo at June 25, 2007 1:53 AM ET:

Sorry DJ, I didn't see you had already posted on this.

Posted by Ammo Guy at June 25, 2007 6:31 AM ET:

This just in - Richmond has fallen and Jefferson Davis and his cabinet have escaped Grant's clutches. 100% of the Confederacy's senior leadership got away! The press terms Grant's latest offensive a complete failure therefore...Sheeesh.

Some things never change...and the leadership high-tailing it before the adversary arrives is no exception. However, I will make an exception in Der Fuhrer's case...unless the Police Gazette stories I read in the barber shop in the 1960's are really true; if so, he's still hanging out on a beach in Argentina at the ripe old age of 118.

Pardon my sarcasm - God bless our troops.

Posted by Neo at June 25, 2007 1:23 PM ET:

"'curiosity' about mil-exp."

For those that are curious, my background is not military. Most already know that. My familiarity with the subject comes from extensive (obsessive) reading on the subject(Iraq / Foreign Policy), a fairly well developed amateur interest in history (not at all confined to military history), asking loads of questions, and a fair talent at rendering a good layman's explanations and observations based on the more technical writing. In other words a (usually welcome) site pest.

Actually my training was in Physics, MA.

Posted by Neo at June 25, 2007 2:36 PM ET:

"1) Looking at the map attached to this article, you're defining what I'd call "northwest" Babil proper (which incl. most of Tri. of Death). Also the area leading NW up to Fallujah?"

Yes, Some of the activity extends Eastward and South but that is the primary area. Yes, the "triangle of death" is a subset of this area south of Baghdad. I would also extend this area up to the southern outskirts of Fallujah. Only recently have we taken steps to deny the Western portion of this area. Yes it is along the Shiite-Sunni fault line. I believe another focal point of trouble in that area centers around the industrial complex at Salman Al Husain straight west of Latifayah. Someone tell me what this place is called. It has slipped my mind. The place is hard to miss with Goggle Earth. Look for industrial buildings with huge blast berms around them and hundreds of burial pits and hardened storage bunkers.

Posted by anand at June 25, 2007 6:19 PM ET:

Al P.,

You have gotten some quality responses to your questions on Northern Babil. If you want some more clarification, please see MG Rick Lynch's briefing. No Transcripts yet or direct web links (they use Java). Click on "Briefings/Town Halls"
http://www.pentagonchannel.mil/

Regarding military vets. Many post here. DJ Elliot served two decades in the Navy. He knows his stuff. Enough said.

Bill Roggio is also a military vet (http://billroggio.com/about/).

Posted by anand at June 25, 2007 6:21 PM ET:

Sorry, DJ Elliott.

Posted by ajacksonian at June 25, 2007 9:08 PM ET:

Mil Exp - My body opted me out of military service of any kind.

14 years in DoD civil side DMA/NIMA/NGA (all without even changing the place I worked at!) and wound up in Advanced R&D for INTEL analysis. Mind you, I never worked as an analyst, but I worked to define workflows, how the work was done, why it was done the way it was, and used my previous experience to define and delineate sources, materials, contextual analysis, reliability and all sorts of other fun stuff....

Before that I was a geologist walking on thin crust on Yellowstone.

Thats it unless you count in 25 years of gaming experience... has its uses and teaches a few good skills...

Since my latest worsening of health just doing some WMD IMINT on Syria and working to figure out the cross-connects on transnational terrorism.

Posted by Honza P at June 26, 2007 5:01 PM ET:

Back in the 1980s, who would have ever thought the Republic of Georgia and El Salvador would be sending units to Iraq under US command in a war that had, four years out, claimed less than 5,000 non-local troops but was characterized world-wide as a blood bath?

And still there are people who counter-factually claim the world is gettign worse, not better. ;-)

Pravda vitezi!