Operation Fahrad Al Amin: the Anbar Offensive

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.

Listen to the full interview with Brig Gen Gurganus.

[Time 34:06 | Size 16 M | Format MP3]

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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25 Comments

  • DJ Elliott says:

    – “I could only hope they stand and fight” is a Classic Marine answer…
    – I like the 2200 per 5 week rate at Habenayah. That should fill out 1st and 7th to authorized 120% manning in next 3.5 months and allow for the formation of 4-7 IA Bde NLT this fall…

  • Marlin says:

    “I really do think they will look for a seam to try to squeeze out and go where their is not a coalition force presence.”
    Forcing this behavior of al-Qaeda would seem to fit in perfectly with the current goals of the Coalition Forces as discussed by David Kilcullen, the Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser, Multi-National Force-Iraq, today.
    —————————-
    When we speak of “clearing” an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation.
    […]
    This is why claims that “80% of AQ leadership have fled”

  • MikeE says:

    Bill links to an AP story that claims…
    “BAGHDAD – American military commanders now seriously doubt that Iraqi security forces will be able to hold the ground that U.S. troops are fighting to clear – gloomy predictions that strike at the heart of Washington’s key strategy to turn the tide in Iraq.
    Several senior American officers have warned in recent days that Iraqi soldiers and police are still incapable of maintaining security on their own in the most crucial areas, including Baghdad and the recently reclaimed districts around Baqouba to the north.”
    …but reading the recent press conference with Gen. Pittard one finds the following.
    “Q Do you feel confident that the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army will be able to maintain that after the U.S. presence begins to draw down or move to other areas?
    GEN. PITTARD: I’m confident that the Iraqi army will be able to do the job. But again, our ultimate goal is not for the Iraqi army to be in the streets of the cities of Iraq. The ultimate goal of the Iraqi government and the coalition is for the Iraqi police to do that, and that will take some time.”
    It seems that a perhaps more accurate statement than that found in the AP story might be that the IA willl be able to step up quite quickly but the IP will not.

  • “When we speak of “clearing” an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation.
    “This is why claims that “80% of AQ leadership have fled”

  • Dan says:

    Thefightinggop – eventually they run out of communities for their shop. They are limited to provinces outside of Shiite and Kurdish control. Envision Phantom Thunder repeated twice and AlQ is going to be forced out of Iraq entirely to Syria and Iran.
    This of course assumes that blocking/garrison forces perform up to par and AlQ won;t re-infiltrate the cleared areas.

  • Rob says:

    I have not heard the phrase ‘drop a dime’ used recently, but that is where this is going. The population that has learned they don’t want Al Qaeda back now has the option of making a cell call, giving a location of a safe house or VIEB factory and taking the group of local Al Quaeda thugs out of action.
    Its a little like a drug-house in your neighborhood. Do you call it in and expect action or look the other way because you dont want to be a snitch.
    It looks like in Ramadi, Tel Afar, Baqubah the locals have decided to drop a dime. This is called the tipping point.
    Someone tell Harry Reid.

  • crosspatch says:

    “. I truly don’t understand. Apparently AQI sets up camp in other communities while the fighting goes on elsewhere. If we don’t kill them off, then what’s to prevent them from setting up shop elsewhere?”
    My advice would be to have a little patience. As others have stated here, the goal was to push al Qaida out of the large population centers. Notice that the worst of the Iraqi units was in Baqubah and left there while the more capable units were placed in major population centers surrounding the region of operations. That was probably intentional.
    Remember that there is only so much military force to go around and you are dealing with human beings, not machnes. If I were planning such a thing, I would probably cover the major population centers with the capable units, not rotate the bad unit out figuring al Qaida might simply follow them, use my own forces to do the heavy lifting in ejecting AQI from Baqubah while using it to train and remoralize the IA units … let them get a victory under their belt. I would intentionally leave pockets for AQI to run to which would probably be sparsely populated. Once the initial operations are done and people have had a chance to rest, begin to pick off those pockets.
    AQI would be pushed into sparsely populated areas where there are fewer recruits, they can terrorize fewer people, their movements are harder to hide and ultimately where they can be surrounded and killed with impact to a minimum number of civilians. If an AQI member is sleeping well tonite, my guess is that is because he happens to be exactly where we want him to be … for now.
    But since I am not privy to any actual plans, that would be all speculation on my part.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    The next important phase in Baghdad’s belts is building local security. There are two parts to this; completing MNF and IA security arrangements; than building & integrating local security into the mix.
    If it can be successfully developed, local security will be the base upon which security arrangements are built. Hopefully, it will also become a basis for stabilizing the local political structure.
    Problem is, this sort of development is not dramatic enough to capture the attention of the American public. Plus, the enemy will be taking pot shots the entire time with casualties gradually counting up. Success means a lot for the locals but it also means moving into new areas and repeating the process. Eventually, you start getting more areas where the violence drops but casualties among combatants doesn’t go down until security truly takes hold in an area.
    Unfortunately, none of this plays well on TV and it doesn’t produce the sort of numerical metrics that a congressman can go to his constituents and say see thing are getting remarkably better with the improving numbers across the board.
    What the Iraqi casualty metrics doesn’t show is that Al Qaeda is increasingly attacking its own support base deeper within Sunni territory. They are having to spend more effort just to keep their position among their own support base from eroding too fast.
    Now Al Qaeda needs to do three things to win. Keep leveraging Iraqi terrorism against the Washington political establishment so that MNF pulls back, disrupt the establishment of local Sunni security arrangements so that Sunni resistance to Al Qaeda doesn’t harden, and survive with enough clout in the Sunni community to recover their position.
    Right now a pullback would cause new security arrangements with local Sunni’s to quickly collapse. A quick collapse may not be so obviously the case in six months. It does seem a shame to contemplate pulling the plug on the whole thing right at this point, with at least a fair possibility that Sunni disenchantment with Al Qaeda will snowball at some point.
    I increasingly feel that what is actually happening on the ground and what is happening within the political community are largely divorced from each other at this point. The failure of this operation is a political imperative for the left, contrary facts aside. The Republican Party is running scared on this knowing there will be a political bloodbath in the next election. A political bloodbath that will happen all the same when they agree to retreat.

  • This is a great site. You learn just as much from the comments as you do from the stories.

  • Max says:

    Bill, what is happening with the efforts of the Iraqi government to build up the security forces?
    I know that the government’s income has been constrained by the lack of a large export capacity due to insurgent attacks on the pipelines etc. But it has been over 4 years now, and oil prices have been hovering at historically high levels for years now. They have been taking in many billions of oil dollars in revenues, and where is it all going? I understand they’re operating a socialist-style economy with massive subsidies for lots of things, but what have they done about funding for equipment like armored vehicles and increasing the army to the numbers that they need to secure the entire country, like upwards of a million soldiers? Do you have any information on that? And how has the new support from the Sunni tribes helped in this regard? Thanks in advance.

  • anand says:

    Positives (beyond DJ’s comment and Bill’s good summary):
    – 7th IAD is up to 80% manning versus 39-42% a year ago
    – All the new IA recruits are sons of Al Anbar
    – Brigadier General Gurganus respects and trusts the Iraqi Army (IA) so much that he involves the IA leadership in all operations planning.
    – The IA is very good at Bn level operations (both 7th and 1st IAD)
    – Iraqi Police (IP) and IA cooperation is very good across most of Al Anbar including Ramadi and Falluja.
    – 1-7 IA is doing a good job in Ramadi.
    – Junji or Privates are very good for IA.
    – 2nd Lts. Are also coming along well. (Many Junji have been selected for officer training and commissions.)
    Less positive:
    – The IA is a year away from being good at division level coordinated operations across a wide battlespace. (presumably referring to 7th IAD. I would be surprised if this also refers to 1st IAD. The 1st IAD brigades have been split up across Iraq on many occasions since early 2004. As a result, while they operate very well at the brigade level, they haven’t had the chance to gel as well at the division level. Still, I would expect the 1st IAD to be a lot less than a year away from being able to plan and coordinate division level operations across their entire battlespace.)
    – Logistics are still a challenge for the IA.
    – Senior Officer and Senior NCOs remain a challenge (in part because of continuing rapid IA expansion).
    On a different and unrelated note, the Al Anbar tribal elders and sunni arab militia are competing with each other to take the lead in fighting Al-Qaeda and providing security in Al-Anbar:
    //www.sltrib.com/opinion/ci_6226257

  • RedRaider says:

    I will be glad When the rest of Iraq begins to experience abuilding boom and economic growth like they are seeing in the Kurdish north. I know we have to get the secrity situation under control, but once the Iraqis can stand on their own feet and defend themselves their economy is going to boom. Faster please.

  • anand says:

    MAX,
    Please see many past articles by Bill on the subject. Please also look carefully at:
    //billroggio.com/oob/index.php
    and
    //billroggio.com/multimedia/OOBpage15-Equipment.pdf
    (for IA equipment in theatre and in pipeline.)
    The ISF (Iraqi Security Forces-both MoI, Ministry of Interior, and MoD, Ministry of Defence) will probably spend between 9 and 9.5 billion dollars a year in 2007 (American tax payers are likely to provide about $5 billion in grants to the ISF this year on top of that). Total budget and revenue of the GoI (Government of Iraq) is about $40 billion.
    I would look up the latest IMF and World Bank Iraq reports for a detailed breakdown of the budget of the GoI. The latest quarterly report for Congress has some good GoI data points.
    Many of us could give you quite a few data points and links . . . but it is important not to stray off topic.
    Regarding “

  • pizzaboy says:

    Maybe i’m going a bit off topic, but i’ve been wondering how long are Wasit and Karbala away from IPC? I remember Rubaie saying it would be soon after the Kurdish provinces went IPC but i haven’t heard any news about them, what’s the hold up and will they be transferred before September 15? and for that matter will any other provinces go IPC before Petraeus heads to DC?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Max:
    Look on the left of the page at ISF OOB. Recommend notes page.
    Note, the OOB gets updated monthly so you can expect a new article and updated pages next week.
    On the sunni tribe assistance:
    1. Sunni recruits from the tribes are joining the IA/IP with family/clan blessing/encouragement.
    2. Locals are tipping US off to IEDs, safehouses, AQ locations, etc. If they can’t netralize them, they know they can call their new friends to do it.
    Pizzaboy:
    – Same report is quoted on notes page of OOB. From March.
    – While I still expect 2-3 more provinces to go PIC by September, Wasit appears to have more than previously recognized Iranian surogate problems. Why else would we be augmenting Wasit DBE with the 31st Georgian Bde?
    – Southern Iraq is getting hotter as JAM “rouge” elements (Iranian surogates) are eliminated…

  • anand says:

    pizzaboy,
    Within three months the following provinces will have PIC (Provincial Iraqi Control) in my opinion:
    -Ninawa( ىﻮﻨﻴﻧ)
    -Karbala'( ءﻼﺑﺮآ)
    -Wasit( ﻂﺳاو)
    -Al-Basrah( ةﺮﺼﺒﻟا) (according to LTG Odierno. I am more skeptical that Basrah can make it.)
    -Conflicting reports on Al-Qadisiyah( ﺔﻴﺳدﺎﻘﻟا) – I think 50% likelihood.
    -At Ta’mim( ﻢﻴﻣﺎﺘﻟا) [Is ready for PIC, but Kurdish politics won’t allow it in the next three months]
    Note the Maysan( نﺎﺴﻴﻣ) model for PIC. The provincial government and PM Maliki pre-agree on requests for ongoing action on the part of the IA and MNC-I within the province against Shia radicals and Iranian elements. While DJ is right regarding Wasit, the Wasit provincial goverment is further along than Maysan in terms of capacity, capability, IP, and provincial IP. (Not sure on IA in province.)
    By 2.28.08, 16 of 18 provinces should be PIC (excluding Baghdad and Diyala), even if events proceed slightly worse than expected.
    DJ, might the Georgian brigade also be involved with “3D”

  • pizzaboy says:

    Well here’s my follow up question if 16 provinces go to IPC by the end of February will that mean a large reduction in troop numbers?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Of the US Combat forces
    – 1 Bde is in Ninawa
    – 1 Bde is in Kirkuk
    – 1 Bde is in Salahadin (not incl Baghdad Belt)
    – 1 Bde is convoy support
    – 2 Bdes are in Anbar (not incl Baghdad Belt)
    – 14 Bdes are in Baghdad and its belts…
    The 4 Allied Bdes are mostly training and backup for ISF and have been phasing down steadily except Wasit (primary smuggling route from Iran).
    We have been reducing in most of Iraq very steadily for over a year but, Baghdad has been absorbing the reductions from elsewhere and then some.
    “…large reduction in troop numbers…”
    would require Baghdad and adjacent belt to be settled by then since that is where 70% of our forces are located (in less than 20% of Iraq’s territory).

  • David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 06/27/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

  • cjr says:

    “The 4 Allied Bdes are mostly training and backup for ISF and have been phasing down steadily….”
    Take the US brigade in Ninawa (4th / 1st Cav) for example:
    -1 bn (2/12th) has been detached and sent to Bagdad
    -1 bn (1/9th) has been allocated to MiTT teams, training and mentoring IA.
    -There is only one bn(2/7th) in the brigade that is actively engaged in security operations for all of Mosul, a city of 2 million.

  • Max says:

    Thanks everyone for the info.
    I feel a little frustrated when I know the government of Iraq must be raking in the dough with such high oil prices, even with limited exports, and yet it “seems” little is happening. I am only a concerned American with limited vision into events on the other side of the world, so I really appreciate this blog. I want Iraq to be successful so we can get out of there as soon as we can.

  • anand says:

    cjr,
    In addition to the 2/7th and 1/9th, is the 5/82 FA assigned to tactical overwatch for Ninevah minus Mosul? Not the perfect mission for a field artillery battalion . . . but probably one they can execute pretty well.
    Presumably, the 27th BSB provides logistics support to ISF in the province; and the 4th BSTB “Vigilant” is helping with improving HQs ISF companies in Ninevah.
    The story of Ninevah, Iraq’s second most populous province, with two highly capable IA divisions, quality IP, and very good IP/IA cooperation that forms a model for the rest of Iraq, is one that doesn’t get nearly enough coverage.
    Regarding US combat brigades in Iraq. There are opportunities to reduce US forces in the belts minus Diyala by next spring. The biggest problems are the mixed sunni/shia communities in Baghdad and Diyala.

  • Don Vandervelde says:

    Tnx for the great site & great comments. Allying with the Sunnis will turn the tide in Iraq & in the middle east region.
    A smallish island in the north sea controlled a good share of the world for a couple of centuries with a relatively small military. They allied with and brot to power a selected faction from always warring locals; and ruled thru them.
    We need to do the same with the Sunnis against the Shiites. It’s a much better fit to defeat al queda and the Irani mullahs; and slowly bring freedom, independence and some sort of democracy, to create real stability.

  • cjr says:

    Anand:
    That is almost correct. For the rest of Ninawah, outside of Mosul, there are 2 bns:
    -5/82FA = Q-West (south of Mosul)
    -3/4th reg 3rd/25th ID = Rabiyah (Syrian Border area). The rest of 3/25th is the Kirkuk brigade.

  • RHYNO327 says:

    the turn around in Sunni attitude is the MOST important event. does it have anything to do with the oil and gas deposits found in Anbar? i think a little [or a lot?] of that, plus the insane behavior of moslem maniacs that have beheaded people, killing of whole families, and the most ludicrous-NO SMOKING. why? they will sever ur 2 fingers…you may as well outlaw drinking tea and coffee. oh, why ur at it, ban chess. these things are Arabic traditions. how these psychotic moslems hijacked a religion of millions is beyond me. why don’t moslems as a whole speak up and defy these INFIDELS. yes, thats right. THEY are the infidels. the Sunni movement may be THE turning point. i hope so.

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