Northern Lights & Other Counterinsurgency Ops

A cordon & search operation in Abu Ghraib includes an air assault by elements of the 10th Mountain Division; sweeps around Baghdad likely part of Scales of Justice

Locations of recent operations in and around Baghdad.

Iraqi and Coalition forces have increased the tempo of multi battalion sized operations in the outlying regions surrounding Baghdad. Two multi-battalion operations, Iron Strike and Northern Lights were conducted in the past two days in the towns of Salman Pak and Abu Ghraib. Meanwhile, Operation Scales of Justice, which began when a battalion of the call forward force was deployed from Kuwait to provide additional security during the “run-up to [the Muslim holiday of] Arba’een and over the vulnerable period of the formation of the new Iraqi Government.”

Operation Northern Lights is a combined and joint multi-battalion operation consisting of 1,400 soldiers and Marines from the 3rd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment and the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division. Northern Lights kicked off with the Marine and Iraqi Army battalions “moving to blocking positions by ground” and the battalion from the 10th Mountain conducted the air assault. This is a a counterinsurgency sweep designed to uncover weapons caches and flush out insurgent and al Qaeda members. Two large weapons caches were unearthed, which included RPGs, assault rifles, bomb making equipment, mortars & mortar rounds, ammunition and an Iraqi police jacket. Iraqi soldiers wounded an insurgent after he opened fire at one of the cache site, and “Iraqi and Coalition Forces have detained two persons of high-value interest and 16 suspected terrorists.” Northern Lights is the fifth air assault operation in the past three months.

Task Force Black.jpg

Task Force Black, Image from the London Times

Inside Baghdad proper, Operation Scales of Justice appears to be designed to beef up security. Scales of Justice is a brigade plus task force comprised of the call forward battalion from the from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division and “two Iraqi Army battalions, three National Police battalions and three Coalition battalions.” Also in Baghdad, three peace activists were freed from captivity by British Special Air Service commandos assigned to Task Force Black, “a combined team of about 250 US, British and Australian special forces backed up by intelligence personnel.” al Qaeda conducted its own mission and murders twenty five during a suicide strike on the the Baghdad headquarters of Iraq’s anti-terrorism squad.

North of Baghdad, Operation Swarmer concludes after six days of sustained operations in the farmlands northeast of Samarra. CENTCOM reports Swarmer resulted in “104 suspected insurgents currently being detained and questioned, and 24 caches discovered,” and breaks down the results of the weapons caches:

– Six shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles

– Over 350 mortar rounds and three mortar systems

– 26 artillery rounds

– A variety of IED-making materials and other military items

– Over 120 rockets

– Over 3200 rounds of small-arms ammunition

– 86 rocket-propelled grenades and 28 launchers

– Six landmines

– 12 hand grenades and 40 rifle grenades

– 34 rifles and machineguns of various types

It seems Swarmer wasn’t the fizzled Potemkin operation some made it out to be. Coalition forces have also been conducting a sustained counterinsurgency sweep on the Jabouri Peninsula near Balad. This is a combined U.S. and Iraqi operation made up of the 1-8 Combined Arms Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division and the 1st Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division. Bomb making material, weapons and ammunition have been discovered, along with four SA-14 surface-to-air missiles.

Also, South of Samarra, Coalition forces killed four al Qaeda and detained one during a raid against a High Value Target described as a “a top al-Qaida in Iraq cell leader who controls a large number of al-Qaida in Iraq associates in the Samarra/Balad area.” In Diyala province, Coalition forces arrested Fares Kadhim Lafi, an “aide to al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi” who “carried out 27 operations including an attack on a minibus that left nine civilians dead.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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15 Comments

  • It seems like we are pulling a gradual constricting maneuver around Baghdad. Like a rat being slowly crushed by a python, it can flail and flinch showing life but its death is inevitable. The momentum seems in our favor.
    Great round-up, Bill.

  • Marlin says:

    This is a little off topic, but Charles Krauthammer has an op-ed column in the Washington Post today that sums up my feelings about the ‘civil war’ in Iraq debate completely.
    —————
    This whole debate about civil war is surreal. What is the insurgency if not a war supported by one (minority) part of Iraqi society fighting to prevent the birth of the new Iraqi state supported by another (majority) part of Iraqi society?
    By definition that is civil war, and there’s nothing new about it. As I noted here in November 2004: “People keep warning about the danger of civil war. This is absurd. There already is a civil war. It is raging before our eyes. Problem is, only one side” — the Sunni insurgency — “is fighting it.”
    Indeed, until very recently that has been the case: ex-Baathist insurgents (aided by the foreign jihadists) fighting on one side, with the United States fighting back in defense of a new Iraq dominated by Shiites and Kurds.
    Now all of a sudden everyone is shocked to find Iraqis going after Iraqis. But is it not our entire counterinsurgency strategy to get Iraqis who believe in the new Iraq to fight Iraqis who want to restore Baathism or impose Taliban-like rule? Does not everyone who wishes us well support the strategy of standing up the Iraqis so we can stand down? And does that not mean getting the Iraqis to fight the civil war themselves?
    Hence the gradual transfer of war-making responsibility. Hence the decline of American casualties. Hence the rise of Iraqi casualties.
    Washington Post: Of Course It’s a Civil War

  • Got another fair size op going on in the Kirkuk area.
    //www.mnf-iraq.com/Releases/Mar/060324a.htm
    KIRKUK , Iraq – Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division are conducting combined offensive operations in and around Kirkuk March 24, simultaneously searching five villages in the region for suspected terrorists.

  • Marlin says:

    CentCom is reporting today that a major operation developed and conducted by the Iraqi 2nd Brigade, Operation Scorpion, is being conducted today in and around Kirkuk. It is the second major operation developed and conducted by this brigade in the past two months.
    ————-
    Operation Scorpion began at 4 a.m. with Soldiers from 1st and 5th battalions of the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Brigade systematically moving through the villages, searching for selected targets based on Iraqi-generated intelligence. 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment is supporting operations at each of the five villages.
    The operation was developed and planned by Maj. Gen. Anwar, commander of the Iraqi 2nd Brigade, and his staff.
    The operation is being supported by 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
    CentCom: SEARCH FOR SUSPECTED TERRORISTS UNDERWAY IN FIVE VILLAGES

  • Claudio says:

    Are that operations becoming more similar to the search and destroy big operations of the Vietnam War?
    I mean: all that heliborne movement, bigger operation than before…
    Is it only an impression?
    Claudio

  • Matthew says:

    My guess is that the heiborne operations are a combination of surprise sweeps (after all Airborne Units like the 101st are trained for these operations) and training of one or few airborne counter-insurgency Iraqi unit(s).

  • Jim,MtnViewCA,USA says:

    The sequencing of the operations is indeed fascinating.
    My impression is that the Iraqi Army can go anywhere and do anything. The opposition forces seem largely reduced to murdering civilians and feeding propaganda to eager US and Euro journalists. Though the recent successful prison break is a counter-example. Still, aren’t the Syrian riverine supply ratlines are largely dried up? Now some order is imposed on the Greater Baghdad region, the next link in the chain.

  • Lisa says:

    In doing research about different wars I found that some of the history about the Vietnam War sounds strikingly familiar…
    This is what I found below:
    If enemy pressure became too great, they would break down into smaller units and scatter
    April – May 1966
    In Operation Birmingham, more than 5,000 U.S. troops, backed by huge numbers of helicopters and armored vehicles, sweep the area around north of Saigon. There are small scale actions between both armies, but over a three week period, only 100 Vietcong are killed. Most battles are dictated by the Vietcong, who prove elusive
    And
    In December 1965, Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese leadership ordered a change in a way the war in the South was to be fought. From now on, the Vietcong would avoid pitched battles with the Americans unless the odds were clearly in their favor. There would be more hit and run attacks and ambushes. To counter the American build-up, Vietcong recruitment would be stepped up and more North Vietnamese Army troops would be infiltrated into South Vietnam.
    The Vietcong, following the example of Chinese guerillas before them, had always given the highest priority to creating safe base areas. They were training grounds, logistics centers and headquarters. They also offered secure sanctuaries for times when the war might go badly.

  • Lisa says:

    In doing research about different wars I found that some of the history about the Vietnam War sounds strikingly familiar…
    This is what I found below:
    If enemy pressure became too great, they would break down into smaller units and scatter
    April – May 1966
    In Operation Birmingham, more than 5,000 U.S. troops, backed by huge numbers of helicopters and armored vehicles, sweep the area around north of Saigon. There are small scale actions between both armies, but over a three week period, only 100 Vietcong are killed. Most battles are dictated by the Vietcong, who prove elusive
    And
    In December 1965, Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese leadership ordered a change in a way the war in the South was to be fought. From now on, the Vietcong would avoid pitched battles with the Americans unless the odds were clearly in their favor. There would be more hit and run attacks and ambushes. To counter the American build-up, Vietcong recruitment would be stepped up and more North Vietnamese Army troops would be infiltrated into South Vietnam.
    The Vietcong, following the example of Chinese guerillas before them, had always given the highest priority to creating safe base areas. They were training grounds, logistics centers and headquarters. They also offered secure sanctuaries for times when the war might go badly.

  • Lisa says:

    In doing research about different wars I found that some of the history about the Vietnam War sounds strikingly familiar…
    This is what I found below:
    If enemy pressure became too great, they would break down into smaller units and scatter
    April – May 1966
    In Operation Birmingham, more than 5,000 U.S. troops, backed by huge numbers of helicopters and armored vehicles, sweep the area around north of Saigon. There are small scale actions between both armies, but over a three week period, only 100 Vietcong are killed. Most battles are dictated by the Vietcong, who prove elusive
    And
    In December 1965, Ho Chi Minh and the North Vietnamese leadership ordered a change in a way the war in the South was to be fought. From now on, the Vietcong would avoid pitched battles with the Americans unless the odds were clearly in their favor. There would be more hit and run attacks and ambushes. To counter the American build-up, Vietcong recruitment would be stepped up and more North Vietnamese Army troops would be infiltrated into South Vietnam.
    The Vietcong, following the example of Chinese guerillas before them, had always given the highest priority to creating safe base areas. They were training grounds, logistics centers and headquarters. They also offered secure sanctuaries for times when the war might go badly.

  • E. T. USN 71-78 says:

    Regarding similarities between Iraq and Vietnam (Comments 8, 9, 10), I see some glaring differences. Fewer pitched battles and more hit and run attacks seem a normal progression whenever an insurgency faces overwhelming odds and defeat after defeat, so there is nothing striking about this aspect.
    The biggest differences pertain to the other areas. Specifically, the Iraqi insurgents are not able resupply nearly as easily as the Vietcong or NVA. There is no massive infusion of NVA-like soldiers in Iraq, nor do the insurgents have training areas, logistic centers, safe havens or sanctuaries to any great degree.
    Another big and important difference is this war does not have an unchallenged liberal mainstream media, as opposed to the Viet Nam era. Yes, the MSM does still exert a lot of influence, but it does not have a stranglehold on information as before, and when it is grossly inaccurate it does get corrected. The MSM’s credibility is probably at an all time low.
    Finally, the stakes in this war are much higher than in Viet Nam, too. This “dominoe” would have a much more devastating direct effect on us than did Viet Nam. We cannot afford to fail or abandon Iraq as we did with Viet Nam.

  • Northern Lights & Other Counterinsurgency Ops

    Courtesy of The Fourth Rail:
    A cordon & search operation in Abu Ghraib includes an air assault by elements of the 10th Mountain Division; sweeps around Baghdad likely part of Scales of Justice
    Iraqi and Coalition forces have increased the tempo…

  • Regarding similarities between Iraq and Vietnam (Comments 8, 9, 10), I see some glaring differences.
    In 1965, rather then begin the process of Vietnamization of the Vietnam war, the US increased troop strength from 120,000 to 400,000 thereby Americanizing the war. The reversal in course didn’t occur until 1969, well after any public support for the war had evaporated.
    The “Iraqization” of the Iraq war began almost on day 1. We now have almost 400,000 security forces in Iraq, the bulk of them are Iraqi.
    It wasn’t until 1972, that US troop levels dropped to the levels now in Iraq.

  • dj elliott says:

    SD: Is it my imagination?
    – On one hand the left says we did not learn anything from Vietnam.
    – On the other they push for US to replicate the same mistakes that were identified after Vietnam.
    Is it possible they are the ones who are incapable of learning?
    Ret USN

  • JAF says:

    I think the antiwar types did learn something from Vietnam, they learned how to destroy morale at home and embolden the enemy. They are using the same playbook.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis