Baghdad and the Belts. Red bordered units identified as active in offensive operations. Click map to view.
An interview with Brigadier General Gurganus on Multinational Forces West’s role in Operation Phantom Thunder
As operations north of Baghdad in Baqubah nd south in Babil province have taken center stage, the third theater in eastern Anbar province has received little attention in the reporting from Iraq. The reporting has been so sparse that the name of Multinational Forces West’s operation has yet to be released. In an interview with Brigadier General Charles M. Gurganus, commanding general of Ground Combat Element, Multi-National Force-West, The Long War Journal has learned the name of the operation is Fahrad Al Amin, or Operation Safety and Security.
As we noted at the opening of Operation Phantom Thunder, the focus of combat operations in eastern Anbar province includes Fallujah, the Karma region, and the desert expanse of the Thar Thar region. Brig Gen Gurganus confirmed this, however he noted that Multinational Forces West did not expect to meet serious opposition in any of the three areas of focus. “I could only hope that they would stand and fight,” said Brig Gen Gurganus. “We should be so lucky because that is our strength.”
The purpose of Fahrad Al Amin is to “make sure al Qaeda and the insurgents have no safe sanctuary where they can rest, refit, stage, and plan for attacks,” said Brig Gen Gurganus. “We want to keep any of ones we have in Al Anbar from getting to and being able to join the fight in Baghdad.”
Regimental Combat Team – 6 is conducting the bulk of operations in Fallujah, where Coalition and Iraqi forces are working to establish police stations and neighborhood watches in each of the 11 districts in the city.
The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit [13th MEU], which just arrived in eastern Anbar province, is conducting operations up to the Thar Thar region. The Marines and Iraqi troops operating in the Thar Thar area are “starting to establish a relative freedom of movement up to and through the Thar Thar region.” The arrival of the 13th MEU as part of the surge “gives us an opportunity to go into areas where previously we quite frankly we couldn’t stretch that far and maintain a permanent presence.”
The Marines operating in Thar Thar “haven’t seen a lot of accurate attacks yet.” They have mainly encountered indirect fire attacks and took some casualties from enemy IEDs. When asked if he expected a major battle in Thar Thar, Brig Gen Gurganus said no. “I don’t expect it, I expect to continue to find IEDs, indirect attacks, they’ll pop up and fire a few rounds and take off. I really do think they will look for a seam to try to squeeze out and go where there is not a Coalition force presence,” the general admitted.
Brig Gen Gurganus expressed confidence in the ability of Iraqi troops and police to secure the regions in his area of operations. On June 24, Brig Gen Mick Bednarek, the general in charge of the offensive in the north, and Maj Gen Rick Lynch, the commander in the south, expressed doubts about the ability of the Iraqi Army to hold the regions after they were cleared by U.S. forces.
“In our areas we probably have sufficient forces if they are not drawn off to be used in other parts of Iraq,” said Brig Gen Gurganus. “Our strength in numbers will be sufficient to leave a presence.” The Iraqi Army in the region is now manned well of 80 percent — close to 90 percent in the 1st Iraqi Army Division. As late as last year, units were at as low as 39 percent. Brig Gen Gurganus attributed the surge in recruiting to the Anbar Awakening and other tribes that now oppose al Qaeda’s attempt to subjugate the Iraqi people.
But the ability of the Iraqi Army and police to conduct complex counterinsurgency operations is a concern. “I don’t worry about numbers as much as capabilities to fight a counterinsurgency,” he noted. It is difficult to “raise an army as it fights at the same time.”
Brig Gen Gurganus stated that despite these concerns he is very comfortable in integrating the Iraqi Security Forces into Multinational Forces West’s operations. He noted the interaction between the Iraqi Army and police and Coalition forces in Ramadi and Fallujah have been “success stories” that he expects will be repeated throughout Anbar.
Success on both the security and political fronts In Anbar has allowed for some optimism in the province, which was written off as lost just last fall. “While I’m always guarded, I’m extremely cautiously optimistic that we’ve turned a significant corner in the fight out here in Anbar,” said Brig Gen Gurganus.
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