From Phantom Thunder to Phantom Strike

Locations of extremist zones in the Belts. Click to view.

In today’s press briefing from Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Commanding General of Multinational Corps – Iraq, provided an operational update on Operation Phantom Thunder and its successor, Phantom Strike. Odierno reported the security situation in Baghdad has greatly improved, and further explained the scope of Phantom Strike, the operation designed to pursue al Qaeda and the Iranian-backed Shia terror groups.

Operation Phantom Thunder, which began on June 15, focused on clearing al Qaeda and Iranian-backed extremists from the major population centers in Baghdad and the Belts regions of northern Babil, eastern Anbar, southern Salahadin, and Diyala provinces. Major clear and hold operations were conducted in Baqubah /a>, Arab Jabour, Mahmudiyah, Samarra, and Fallujah. At the same time, Coalition and Iraq forces pushed into areas previously ignored over the course of the past few years, denying al Qaeda and Shia terrorists the bases of operations to launch attack inside Baghdad.

Since Phantom Thunder began in mid-June, US and Iraqi Security Forces have killed 1,196 extremists, wounded 419, and detained 6,702 suspected insurgents, Odierno said. Of those killed or captured, 382 are considered high-value targets. Over the past two months, US and Iraqi Security Forces have found 1,113 weapons caches, 2,299 IEDs and disabled 52 car bombs. “The number of found-and-cleared IEDs, vehicle-borne IEDs and caches are approximately 50 percent higher than the same period last year, due in large part to effective tips provided by concerned Iraqi citizens,” Odierno said.

Phantom Thunder has had a noticeable effect on the security situation in Baghdad and beyond. “Total attacks are on a month-long decline and are at their lowest levels since August of 2006,” Odierno said. “Attacks against civilians are at a six-month low, IED attacks are a two-month decline and have a 45 percent found and cleared rate.” Inside Baghdad, civilian deaths are at the lowest levels since February 2006, when al Qaeda in Iraq destroyed the dome of the Golden Mosque in Samarra and incited the year-plus-long wave of sectarian reprisals, driven by brutal attacks by al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army.

Iraqi Security Forces. Click to view.

Phantom Thunder is followed by Phantom Strike, which was launched on August 15 and “consists of simultaneous operations throughout Iraq focused on pursuing remaining AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] terrorists and Iranian-supported extremist elements.”

Phantom Strike is designed to strike at al Qaeda and Shia terror bases largely in the rural regions in Baghdad and the Belts. The operation is fueled by intelligence derived from Phantom Thunder. In today’s briefing, Odierno noted that “with the elimination of safe havens and support zones due to Phantom Thunder, al Qaeda and Shi’a extremists have been forced into ever-shrinking areas, and it is my intent to pursue and disrupt their operations.” Odierno showed the “prioritized target boxes based on intelligence gained from Phantom Thunder in and around Baghdad, and noted “Phantom Strike operations are not limited just to these areas.”

The major areas Odierno refers to are the regions north and east of Baqubah n Diyala province as well as areas in Tamin, Salahadin, and Niwena provinces in the north, where al Qaeda in Iraq has stepped up attacks against civilians and Iraqi Security Forces. Iraqi and US forces launched Operation Lightning Hammer in Diyala province on the same day Phantom Strike was announced, and over 16,000 troops are pushing into al Qaeda havens in the Diyala River valley north of Baqubah

Since the “surge” of five additional US combat brigades was completed at the beginning of June, US and Iraqi forces have persistently remained on the offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq and the Iranian-backed Shia terror groups. Al Qaeda in Iraq has not had time to regroup and reestablish itself as US and Iraqi forces maintain the pressure with rolling operations. Just as the push to clear Baghdad began to ramp up with the “surge,” Phantom Thunder was launched in the major population centers in the Belts. Just as al Qaeda looks to move its operations into the less patrolled rural regions, Phantom Strike and Lightning Hammer were launched to tackle these regions.

This is a major difference from 2006, when Multinational Forces Iraq failed to conduct a cohesive battle plan to address al Qaeda and Sunni insurgency, while ceding large sections of Baghdad and portions of southern Iraq to the Mahdi Army. The attempt to secure Baghdad in 2006 failed as there was little effort to dislodge the terror groups from the Belts surrounding Baghdad.

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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14 Comments

  • sScott says:

    I just recently found your site. Excellent information. Why don’t we ever see the statistics on enemy casualties like this? Are we afraid to say we are killing the enemy?

  • Lefty says:

    First off, this is good promising news on top of a building momentum.
    Second, what is being done to INFILTRATE Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sadr cultists??
    It’s time for the Awakened Natives to not just turn on them, but to also get inside stealth intelligence on them, the way THEY HAVE BEEN DOING on MNF & the Iraqi governance since April 2003.
    Finding ordinance caches post-retreat is good. But finding the bosses of the planners and interdicting their supply chains would accelerate the current MNF successes and bring The Tipping Point that much closer that much faster with less loss of good guys (& women & children).

  • Paul says:

    Informative and encouraging article!
    I share sScott’s frustration. It amazes me that the kill ratio in Iraq is not trumpeted more. It’s very hard to find this information and I think it would do alot to help show the American people how effective our military is and that there’s more happening in Iraq than the daily ied explosions.
    I would like to know how our military leaders would rate the signifigance of the turning of the sunni insurgents vs. the surge in US troops in their current success. In other words, would this surge have been anywhere near as successful as it appears if it happened a year earlier (before the awakenings).

  • DubiousD says:

    To what extent (if any) are the Iraqi police participating in these operations, and who is currently responsible for police training and oversight?

  • B.A.Hokom says:

    Once again great news we’ll never hear from MSM outlets, who continue to paint a very different story about Iraq. Good work Bill!
    Hopefully when Hammer and Phantom are completed the holding troops from Thunder will drive the last nail into the insurgents.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    sScott:
    Fallout from Vietnam body counts. Policy is not to generaly provide enemy KIA…
    DubiousD:
    – MoI owns the Police and that includes their own training.
    – Those local auxilleries are Auxillery Police.
    – Local IPs are involved in all of these operations.
    – INP has one Bde up in MND-N, two Bdes in MND-C, one Bde in phase two training and the rest including both Division HQs are listed in Baghdad (on the map).

  • Mike E says:

    The enemy body count should not be trumpeted as the main metric of success but I don’t see the harm in not hiding it. The enemy body count could be released periodically along with the meticulous coalition body count and the often overblown civilian body count. A danger of actually keeping a lid on the enemy KIA is that it serves their propaganda and recruiting effort by making them seem 10 feet tall and hiding from potential recruits a negative of taking up arms, i.e. the high probability of getting killed.

  • Tina says:

    I find the information here great. I found it from Knighthawk at Polipundit.

  • Another reason why body counts aren’t used often as a metric of success is that counterinsurgency warfare (as outlined by General Petraeus in the manual) is not to kill the enemy necessarily but build legitimacy for the host government and support civil order. We could take out the JAM-infiltrated Iraqi Army unit mentioned in Michael Totten’s recent posting for example, and while celebrating the loss of some bad guys foster disorder and mistrust of the government, which undermines the mission as a whole.

  • thanos says:

    Excellent news, and thanks for the report Bill. I’m kind of interested to see if there’s wavering in the Awakening the next couple of weeks after the formation of the new government. Otherwise things are definitely looking better.

  • ajacksonian says:

    One of the main differences between the 2007 surge operations and previous is the shift of populations against various insurgent groups that have targeted the tribal/family structure of Iraq.
    That is not true infiltration, per se, but lots of everyday folks ‘dropping the dime’ on them.
    What may be a bit overlooked is having the necessary organizations mapped out in gross structure by the INTEL folks on the ground. The tools they used to find and get Saddam were applied against the insurgency. Getting an individual is relatively easy, mapping out an organizational structure of multiple organizations is a bit more difficult. Getting good, hard civilian HUMINT on them has provided the ‘filling in the blanks’ part of the structure. While you might know a local Emir and a trusted secondaries name, often you only have titles to work with… the moment a *name* gets handed over, then the links between names in the pre-existing databases built up by prior operations start to become clear. That then gives an indication of the larger structure and capturing anyone *alive* gives more HUMINT on that structure.
    That is a very steep ramp-up curve, as any police officer who has done anti-organized crime work will tell you. To take down an entire organization you need a good idea of its extent, connections and supply capabilities. That is why this campaign has a different feel than the more limited and pointed campaigns of 2005-6. We did not have the HUMINT portion down, then, to analyze the structure and conduct ops against it. Today we, and the Iraqi Army and Police, do. The vital data that is gotten is helping MNF, IA and IP jointly as the databases keep track of criminal operations, terrorist operations, and other operations (such as Iranian supplies and where they show up).
    At some point a turning point is reached in which military and police operations are ‘inside the command loop’ of insurgent organizations: we know their organization better than they do and can predict its movements to a good degree of confidence. In 2005-6 that level of confidence was very low. Bringing in the Sunni Tribes in Anbar started that turning around and the gross networks started to appear. SEP 2006 looks to be pivotal to this, as these things became possible after it.
    I am actually having problems of citing historical precedent for a military organization that capable on the ground… Belisarius in the Peninsular Campaign? Definitely Alexander in Persia… but closer to modern times? This is not COIN by anybody’s book, but it is damned effective….
    Pershing in the Philippines, perhaps?
    Anyway you cut it, it is amazing. In awe of this level of capability. Words do fail.

  • Neo says:

    West of Taji and the 4-9 operating area, Bill’s map has a couple areas marked as insurgent areas. Two of these seem to correspond to extensive pit mining areas. Maybe it’s the rough terrain that appeals to them. There’s a whole mess of dug up areas out there (33 deg 43 min 37.18 N by 44 deg 07 min 27.62 E). If you’re using Google earth zoom out a bit and you’ll see the extent.
    I’m not sure what type of pit mining operation I’m looking at. If I go to another one of these areas at 33 deg 35 min 35.74 N and 43 deg 55 min 27.28 E. First I see the place mislabeled al Karma which is actually south of this location. Second I notice strip pits. If you look north you will see more pits digging out the light colored areas. Going south is a road with white dust along the road and blowing east. Than what looks like of a line of smoking facilities that are processing the white substance. Also high voltage electric lines that come into Baghdad pass through this area.
    Am I looking at phosphate mining and processing Facilities?
    This is an interesting feature out in the middle of all this mess. 33 deg 45 min 22.45 N and 44 deg 04 min 38.38 E.

  • Kane Kaizer says:

    Nice work Bill. I’ve been trying to edit the wikipedia pages using the information I get from you, and I really did enjoy entering those numbers on OPT’s page. I wish we could get the stats for Marne Torch and Arrowhead Ripper and others so I could edit those too, but the overall picture is fine with me and looks fantastic. Keep up the good work!

  • AQI Losses says:

    Bill,
    A great report. A very informative strategic overview of current operations.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis