Operation Phantom Thunder: The Battle of Iraq


Baghdad and the Belts. Red bordered units identified as active in offensive operations. Click map to view.

A status update on the operations in the Baghdad Belts and beyond

Operation Phantom Thunder, the name of the overarching operation to secure the Baghdad Belts, is now in its fifth day. As noted yesterday, Phantom Thunder is a corps-level operation, with multiple U.S. and Iraqi divisions engaged on multiple fronts. Iraqi Security Forces and Multinational Forces Iraq are engaged in intense fights in four main theaters: Baghdad proper, and the belts regions consisting of Diyala and southern Salahadin provinces to the north, northern Babil province to the south, and eastern Anbar province to the west of Baghdad. The fighting has been the most intense in the city of Baqubah the provincial capital of Diyala.

The concurrent operations in each theater have been named in most cases. Operation Arrowhead Ripper, managed by Multinational Division North is underway in Baqubah nd greater Diyala province. Multinational Division Central is running two operations: Operation Marne Torch southwest of Baghdad and Operation Commando Eagle to the southeast. The current operation in eastern Anbar, managed by Multinational Forces West has not yet been named. Operation Fardh al-Qanoon (otherwise known as the Baghdad Security Plan), which officially kicked off in mid-February, is managed by Multinational Division Baghdad and the Iraqi Baghdad Operational Command.

Operation Arrowhead Ripper

The large portion of the media attention has focused on the battle in Baqubah as this is where the brunt of the heavy fighting is occurring. Baqubah s the provincial capital of Diyala as well as al Qaeda's proclaimed capital of its rump Islamic State of Iraq. Hundreds, and upwards of 1,000 al Qaeda fighters are believed to be holed up in the city in prepared fighting positions. The city has been mined with IEDs and booby-trapped homes, and seeded with snipers.

Michael Gordon reported U.S. troops moving into western Baqubah where they found well-prepared medical aid stations and field hospitals. "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," noted Mr. Gordon. Baqubah nd greater Diyala province is al Qaeda country.

"At least 41 insurgents have been killed, five weapons caches have been discovered, 25 improvised explosive devices have been destroyed and five booby-trapped houses have been discovered and destroyed," Multinational Forces Iraq reported last evening.

The 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division (3/2) appears to be shouldering the brunt of the combat. The soldiers from the 3/2 "killed 24-36 enemy fighters and detained nine," according to Mike Gilbert of the News Tribune. "They found and destroyed 16 other roadside bombs, four houses that had been rigged to explode, and two car bombs. They found two safe houses, destroyed what he described as a mobile weapons cache, and captured two other weapons caches, including 'a significant IED cache.'"

Both Michael Gordon and Michael Yon, who are embedded in Baqubah reported U.S. and Iraqi troops are receiving valuable intelligence from the residents of Baqubah "A positive indicator on the 19th and the 20th is that most local people apparently are happy that al Qaeda is being trapped and killed," Michael Yon wrote. "Civilians are pointing out IEDs and enemy fighters, so that's not working so well for al Qaeda."

While the reporting from the regions outside Baqubah s sparse, there are indications engagements are also ongoing in the Diyala River valley.

Operations Marne Torch and Commando Eagle

Multinational Division Central, the newly created command to deal with the southern Baghdad Belts, has two concurrent major operations ongoing in its area of operations. Marne Torch is focusing on the city and surrounding regions of Arab Jabour, southeast of Baghdad. Commando Eagle is focusing on the Mahmudiyah region southwest of Baghdad.

"To date, Marne Torch and Iraqi army units have detained more than five dozen suspected extremists and destroyed more than 17 boats on the Tigris River that are responsible for transporting accelerants into Baghdad," Multinational Forces Iraq reported in a press release. "U.S. forces killed five insurgents, discovered and destroyed 12 improvised explosive devices, and detained 13 wanted individuals."

Operation Commando Eagle began on June 21, and was described as a "mix of helicopter-borne air assaults and Humvee-mounted movements, included Soldiers from several battalions of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) out of Fort Drum, N.Y., and the 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division."

The operation has yielded 29 suspected insurgents and numerous weapons caches, including one containing "75 CDs of propaganda and terror techniques instructing methods to commit kidnappings and to shoot down coalition helicopters."

The Mahmudiyah region contains the notorious "Triangle of Death," an area where al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents have established bases of operations to attack Baghdad and launch attacks on the Shia areas to the south. Three U.S. soldiers were captured in the region in mid-May, and two of the soldiers are still missing.

Operation ??? in eastern Anbar

Multinational Forces West has yet to release the name of the ongoing operations in eastern Anbar province. But the scope of the operation in eastern Anbar is now clearer. In an Associated Press interview with Brigadier General John Allen, the deputy commander of Multinational Forces West, the hot spots in the province were identified.

Brig. Gen. Allen noted there are three main focal points: Fallujah, Karma, and the Thar Thar region. The Fallujah piece includes moving into each of the 11 neighborhoods of the city and "establishing very quickly neighborhood watch organizations and a police precinct headquarters." [See The Fourth Rail's interview with Colonel Richard Simcock, the commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team - 6 for more details on the operation to clear Fallujah.]

The operation to secure the Fallujah neighborhoods is called Alljah. "The operation is similar to what another unit did in the city of Ramadi," said Maj. George S. Benson, executive officer of 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines "We're capitalizing on the success of Ramadi and using many of the same techniques."

Fallujah is expected to be fully secured by August. U.S. forces expect to clear Karma, the poisonous al Qaeda haven northeast of Fallujah, and the Thar Thar region by July. "We're going to clear Karma here very shortly," Brig Gen Allen told the Associated Press, as he described the town as a "way station" to and from Baghdad. "We're going to start churning up the ground north on the grounds of Thar Thar ... a spot where we haven't had forces before."

Captain Eric Coulson, the commanding officer of an Army Engineer company in the Fallujah Ramadi corridor and author of Badgers Forward described the situation in eastern Anbar in an interview today. "Al Karma continues to be the most challenging area in Multinational Forces West's area of operations, followed by Zaidon. Karma is the one place we can be guaranteed to find IEDs every night."

Captain Coulson also discussed the improved security situation in Fallujah and the Habbaniyah and Amiriyah regions. "Fallujah gets better by the day," he noted. "Most of the area west of the river seems to be stable. There are lots of tribes and Iraqi Police providing local security in the Habbaniyah and Amiriayh/Ferris areas. The truth is it is very quiet."

Battling the Mahdi Army; raiding al Qaeda

As the major offensive is ongoing in the belts, the pressure is being kept up on Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army as well as al Qaeda's network throughout Iraq.

On June 20 Iraqi Special Forces raided Sadr City and captured a "key insurgent leader" along with two associates. "This individual is allegedly responsible for coordinating and conducting kidnappings, death squad killings and improvised explosive device attacks against innocent civilians and Iraqi and Coalition Forces," reported Multinational Forces Iraq. "The primary suspect is allegedly responsible for supplying vehicles, identification materials, and uniforms to support insurgent activities such as the kidnappings and extra-judicial killing of Iraqi citizens. He is also alleged to have received new technologies to upgrade improvised explosive devices that would be used to target Iraqi and Coalition Forces."

This comes as General David Petraeus announced that an "Iran-backed" secret cell of Mahdi Army was behind the kidnapping of five British civilians in Baghdad last May. "We think that it is the same network that killed our soldiers in Karbala in an operation back in January," General Petraeus told The Times. "We killed the head of that network less than a week before the operation that detained those British civilians. It was already planned and carried out by his followers. It is a secret cell of Jaish al-Mahdi [al-Mahdi Army] not all of which are under control of Moqtada al-Sadr." General Petraeus is referring to the Iranian backed Qazali Network, which the U.S. has been actively working to dismantle.

The operations against al Qaeda's nationwide network also continue. Raids on Wednesday and Thursday in Mosul, Karma, Fallujah, and "north of Baghdad" netted 11 al Qaeda. Coalition forces have positively identified an al Qaeda leader from the Karma region who was killed on June 17. "Hussayn Awath Hussayn Hawawi, also known as Abu Thabbit, was a Libyan foreign fighter with connections to the North African foreign fighter network and ties to al Qaeda in Iraq   Intelligence reports indicate he moved at least 30 North African fighters into Iraq" after escaping during a prison break in Mosul in March. "Hawawi is also believed to be involved in suicide bombing operations, and his foreign fighters allegedly conducted a number of attacks on Coalition Forces in Anbar province in late May."

The concurrent operations in the Baghdad Belts, combined with the effort to secure Baghdad and the Special Forces raids on al Qaeda's network will place a great strain on the terror group if the momentum is carried through the summer. Iraqi and Coalition fForces are striking hard in the heart of al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent havens in Diyala, Babil, and Anbar while squeezing the terror groups in the capital and conducting intelligence driven raids to keep the enemy off balance.

Al Qaeda can chose to stand and fight, and may do so in some places. But will eventually attempt to flee the hot zones in central Iraq for safer grounds. This will push them further from Iraq's center of gravity, while placing them at risk while attempting to reestablish their networks. Northwestern Iraq - Niwena, Salahadin, and Kirkuk - will be a likely destination, however some of the most experienced Iraqi Army units are operating in the region. Some of them are taking up blocking positions to prevent the infiltration of terrorists attempting to escape Operation Phantom Thunder.



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READER COMMENTS: "Operation Phantom Thunder: The Battle of Iraq"

Posted by Ted at June 21, 2007 1:48 PM ET:

The tide is beginning to turn!! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Posted by Mike R at June 21, 2007 2:16 PM ET:

Phantom Fury???? Wasn't that the name of the second Fallujah clearing as well? I guess the brass is superstitious...

In all seriousness though things are looking good

Posted by Sheldon at June 21, 2007 3:01 PM ET:

Thanks for all you do Bill. This report is really heartening.

The political and media situation here in the US is frustrating, I love to read how it really is.

Posted by C-Low at June 21, 2007 3:33 PM ET:

Bill not many on this post as yet but I have noticed especially on your last that your trackbacks are getting mighty long. There is a absolute HUNGER NEED for news from the WOT that is in context of military norms and reason. You and a few others reinforced by the huge growing numbers of mill bloggers are that voice.

If Fox News editors had a brain they would set up a DAILY "From the Front WOT" hour long program were You & Yon as regulars and a rotating group of Toten and of course Mill Bloggers with a mediator maybe Unchle Jimbo or xpesome such.

I would bet $100 bucks that the rating would in short order through the roof not to mention the satisfaction Fox would get from the rest of the media outlets playing catch up and paying to pull quotes news off the show. You guys called Anbar back when the Summer offensive started over a year & half ago and then called the result of if the Anbar council succeeds (it did you were proven right) then you guys called this new offensive and the point that we were rolling AQ into the Diyala pocket for a boxed attack and again you called what is now happening what 3-4 months ago?

Point is the Mainstream Media is insanley lacking in the ability to understand comprehend and hence report Military matters in context. Examples of such inability is glaring from the fact Iraq historically compared so far is no were near a failure in any measure and more simple like a CNN show I saw the other day were the reporter was crying about how "these soldgiers are putting one dog tag on thier neck and one in their shoe strings, becuase you know sometimes after these IED's there is horrible damage sometimes you lose a arm or leg so you are covered one neck one shoe", I remember my gradfather telling me such about putting a tag in his shoe laces becuase in his words "a mortor or artillery shells hits you sometimes all that is left is your shoe". Common knowledge for the military but revolutionary ideas for our supposed "qualified expert" media.

Posted by crosspatch at June 21, 2007 4:41 PM ET:

Yon has posted that the major media outlets are not in Baqubah yet or at least he hasn't seen them in any of the briefings. I might imagine that travel to that area of operations might be a bit dicey right now and unless someone was already there before it kicked off, then they are going to be out of luck for a while.

It appears that BBC was taken unawares and did post a request on their website for Iraqis to report troop movements to the BBC via their web form but that was puled due to reader outrage.

NYT should have some good reporting out soon from Michael Gordon who, according to Yon, has been in the thick of it alongside our troops and is apparently writing some good stuff but it remains to be seen how it looks once it gets through editing back here before publication. Other news organizations appear to be absent:

During the morning brief (June 20th), Major Robbie Parke mentioned that CNN, TIME, Reuters and some others, are trying to get out here now. Problem is space. Looks like Gordon and I are mostly alone for now. Others are said to be in Baqubah, but if they are here, they are missing some of the most important parts, and if they were at the important commander's meetings, I would have seen them.

Posted by Jonathan Klingler at June 21, 2007 5:17 PM ET:

To anyone who reads Michael Yon and your reports, it is clear that Phantom Thunder is unprecedented in post-Saddam operations in terms of its geographical scope and size of the force used. You've been using Battle of Iraq as a term for this operation, and it makes complete sense to me. My question is, is this common usage among people on the ground and experts, and if it is not, why isn't it? It seems like Phantom Thunder is as close to a decisive battle plan as we are going to see. Once again, great work!

Posted by Jeffery at June 21, 2007 5:52 PM ET:

All this success is bound to turn off the liberals and press in general. I am super glad!!!

Posted by anand at June 21, 2007 6:36 PM ET:

From the top article: "We're going to clear Karma here very shortly,"

Is it spelled "Garmah" in the following map?

http://billroggio.com/maps/AO-Denver-1.jpg

Arab words are frequently spelled multiple ways when converted to English (often one word can have many technically correct spellings).

Posted by Teflon Don at June 21, 2007 9:13 PM ET:

anand:

Yes, that is Karma (or Garmah, or Karmah, etc etc).

Posted by Patrick Coyle at June 21, 2007 10:11 PM ET:

As an ex-grunt I really appreciate reporting from a war zone by someone who understands what is going on. Unfortunately, since the draft was stopped too many years ago there are not enough people with actual military exposure to comprehend the difference between military reporting and talking heads. Those of us who do salute you.

Posted by Marlin at June 21, 2007 11:02 PM ET:

Joe Klein from Time is also now in Baqubah. He reports both good and not so good news.

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

A lieutenant colonel named Bruce Antonia told Odierno about preparing to attack the Buhritz neighborhood a few nights earlier when he was approached by local Sunni inusurgents-members, they said, of the 1920 Revolutionary Brigades-who were streaming out of the neighborhood. "They said they'd been fighting al-Qaeda but had run out of ammunition and asked us to supply them. We told them, 'Show us where AQ is and we'll fight them.'" The insurgents did and the neighborhood was cleared.

[...]

At a second briefing, at a bunkered, joint U.S.-Iraqi command post in the middle of Baquba, the news was less optimistic. An Iraqi General said that he was pretty certain that the al-Qaeda leadership had slipped away, north to Tikrit and Samarra, and that many of the fighters were burying their equipment before they left town, hoping to return-as always-when the Americans left. "Well, it's up to you to make sure they don't come back," Odierno said.

Time: Turning on al-Qaeda in Baquba

Posted by Chaos at June 21, 2007 11:28 PM ET:

I think it's been made painfully clear that outside of Baghdad it is largely going to be the tribal militias, not the Iraqi Army and especially not the police, who are going to be the ones doing the heavy lifting keeping al-Qaeda from coming back =/

Posted by Lisa in DC at June 21, 2007 11:28 PM ET:

Bill,
Totally awesome per usual. Thanks for the dedicated and detailed reporting!

Posted by RedRaider at June 21, 2007 11:46 PM ET:

"An Iraqi General said that he was pretty certain that the al-Qaeda leadership had slipped away, north to Tikrit and Samarra"

This is all part of the plan. I'll bet we have Special Forces hot on their tail. Fleeing terrorists make great targets. I smell a JDAM with their names on it.

Great reporting as usual. Thank you so much.

Posted by David M at June 22, 2007 10:17 AM ET:

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 06/22/2007
A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by Badger 6 at June 22, 2007 12:53 PM ET:

I like your new editor.

Posted by matthew schrank at June 22, 2007 4:37 PM ET:

I heard in this one AP report that 'three quarters' of AQI leadership 'fled' before the assault- with no sources given.

Any credibility to this insinuation that the campaign is already a failure- or is this just typical AP propaganda?

Posted by Jay Wells at June 22, 2007 4:45 PM ET:

Help me to understand when Gen. Odierno says 80% of al-Qaida leaders fled Baqubah. Did he mean they fled before or after the operation was launched?

Posted by ME at June 22, 2007 4:54 PM ET:

Any credibility to this insinuation that the campaign is already a failure- or is this just typical AP propaganda?

Even if true the mission is not "allready a failure" given that most AQ appar to have ben trapped and are now being killed or captured.

It also seems hard to believe that, with the operation still ongoing, the number of AQ leaders that may or may not have fled would be known at a precision of 80%. The only way to know that would be if they were actually seen leaving and were allowed to get away.

Posted by crosspatch at June 22, 2007 5:04 PM ET:

What I heard reported today was:

"80% of the senior leadership have fled but we will find them. 80% of the lower leadership is still in the area of operations and are trapped"

So there is sone good and some bad news. It is probably easier for the senior leaders to slip out as they would have more powerful connections and simply by being older, might be perceived as less of a threat than a more junior, younger operator and able to get though checkpoints and the like. A guy in his 50's with a woman of the same age might be able to negotiate their way past someone who might look closer at someone in their 30's but I am speculating there. In any case, the higher leadership would be expected to have some powerful help though personal connections they might have that allow them some degree of freedom of movement. Remember that these people rarely stay in one place very long anyway.

I am still amazed at the lack of overall analysis coming from the conventional news sources. They are giving us narrow glimpses from particular locations but seem to be purposely avoiding any "50,000 foot" view of what is going on.

Posted by RedRaider at June 22, 2007 7:01 PM ET:

The complete lack of quality reproting on the important battle by the MSM is another sign that they are in their death throes. Granted, there are a few guys embedded along side Michael Yon and Bill Roggio but have neither skills nor the inclination to report the details of VICTORY. If they cannot find a way to make America and her allies look bad, they just won't file the story. And even if they do, their editors will headline it with an anti-American spin.

As to those escaping, I suspect there will be fewer and fewer places for them to run and to hide. Montentum is shifting dramatically. Let's keep the pressure on them. Thanks for the great reporting and keep our brave fighting men and women in your prayers.

Posted by Neo at June 22, 2007 8:43 PM ET:

"Help me to understand when Gen. Odierno says 80% of al-Qaida leaders fled Baqubah. Did he mean they fled before or after the operation was launched?"

From the context, I took it to mean that a majority of the Al Quada leadership in Diyala bugged out before the operation was launched. Also, I think he meant 80 percent as a figure of speech, meaning most of them, rather than an exact percentage. (If his intel on how many of the enemy left is good enough to quote an exact percentages, he'd better shut up and do something about it. I doubt his information is that exact though.) It's useless to speculate on numbers, but the leadership could have taken a force with them they thought they could maintain further north and left the remainder to fight it out in Diyala province.

Lets not get into a big argument about whether this is a success or not, so early in the battle. Let's realistically look at what is at stake. This is the primary staging point for Al Quada operations into Baghdad. Al Quada is in the process of losing all areas of control around Baghdad which will force their operations underground. There's a real opportunity to significantly degrade Al Quada's forces within Diyala province (That doesn't mean that they are all going to be trapped and killed). Those that survive will be pushed up into the narrow part of the Tigris river valley above Samara. It's rather slim pickings for Al Quada up there and we will be in hot pursuit. Add to that, the strong possibility that local Sunni councils much like the Anbar council could take political control within Diyala province and make it very difficult for Al Quada to come back into Diyala.

Posted by Jay Wells at June 23, 2007 8:01 AM ET:

"Help me to understand when Gen. Odierno says 80% of al-Qaida leaders fled Baqubah. Did he mean they fled before or after the operation was launched?"


My hunch was that they were tipped off. Jennifer Griffin of Fox News apparently had the same hunch at yesterday's teleconference with Gen. Odierno. Here is their Q&A on this point:


"Q General, it's Jennifer Griffin from Fox News. Yesterday you said that you thought that about 80 percent of the lower-level -- sorry -- higher-level al Qaeda leaders in Baqubah had escaped before the forces went in there. Do you think that they were tipped, and perhaps they were tipped by Iraqis that you had consulted with about -- in the security forces or in the government who you had consulted with about the operation?


There were signs from the air that they were laying IEDs on the road. They clearly knew you were coming. How did they know?


GEN. ODIERNO: Well, frankly, I think that they knew an operation was coming in Baqubah. They watched the news. They understood we had a surge. They understood Baqubah was designated as a problem area. So they knew we were going to come sooner or later. I don't think they were tipped off by Iraqi security forces. I think they were tipped off by us talking about the surge, us discussing the fact that we have a problem in Diyala province.


And this is a pattern, by the way, of the leaders, and I'm talking about the top leaders now. And when I said 80 percent, I'm talking about 80 percent of the top leaders. They always do this. They did it in Fallujah. They don't stay and fight. They -- when the tough -- when it -- when the fight comes, they leave. They don't stay there with their recruits that they recruited into al Qaeda. What stays are the mid-level leaders and the fighters. But I guarantee you, we're going to track down those leaders. And we're in the process of doing that. We know who they are, and we're coming after them, and we're going to work that extremely hard.


But I don't think they were tipped off. I think these deep-buried IEDs have been there for a long time. This is a tactic that al Qaeda uses. They come into an area, and then what they do is, they form a support zone around themselves by putting in many, many deep- buried IEDs, because they know that's one way they can protect themselves. So this is -- we see this in many other places. This is -- when they try to take an area over, this is their way to protect themselves."


Thank you for the question, Jennifer. And a bigger thank you to Gen. Odierno for your service to our country.

Posted by jordan at June 24, 2007 3:36 PM ET:

Seems pretty likely that that 80% was tipped off by the endless surmising and yakking about what the surge would entail, and the fact that the U.S. military pointed out Diyala province was next on their list.

That's the problem with fighting "transparently". We have a media environment where combat leaders have to spell out what they're doing, where they're doing it, and how, every 24 hrs. The public and lib leaders, goaded by the media, want to know everything, as fast as possible.

So, the military responds to these media and news cycle demands. When the inevitable happens, and the enemy adjusts to that information, the very same entities that demand full and immediate disclosure of military plans and intentions declare the plan a failure because some got away!