Coalition, Iraqi forces launch Operation Phantom Strike

Iraq. Click map to view.

Operation designed to uproot al Qaeda and Iranian-backed terror groups

With one month left before General David Petraeus’ report to Congress on the status of progress in Iraq, Iraqi and Coalition forces have launched the next phase of security operations designed to pursue al Qaeda in Iraq, the Iranian-backed Special Groups terror cells, and the rogue Mahdi Army elements. Operation Phantom Strike was launched today, and “consists of simultaneous operations throughout Iraq focused on pursuing remaining AQI terrorists and Iranian-supported extremist elements.”

Operation Phantom Strike follows Operations Fardh Al-Qanoon (the Baghdad Security Plan) and Phantom Thunder, which pushed Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces into areas previously unsecured, as well as ejected terror groups from safe havens in Baghdad and northern Babil, eastern Anbar, Salahadin, and Diyala provinces. During this time, Iraqi and Coalition forces conducted daily, intelligence-driven raids against al Qaeda in Iraq and the Iranian-backed cells nationwide, with a heavy emphasis on cells in Baghdad, Diyala, and central and northern Iraq.

The Baghdad Security Plan and Phantom Thunder can be considered shaping operations for Phantom Strike. Once Iraqi and Coalition forces moved into previous no-go zones, they have established local security forces and intelligence networks able to pinpoint the makeup and location of the Sunni and Shia extremist groups. Phantom Strike will be a largely intelligence-driven operation.

Signs of Phantom Strike could be seen in the Multinational Forces Iraq press releases issued over the past week. Prior to that, there were one or two press releases a day on raids against al Qaeda and the Iranian-backed Shia extremists. During the last seven days, multiple press releases announcing numerous raids were issued. Iraqi and Coalition forces were clearly ramping up operations based on intelligence gains.

While the scope of the operation has yet to be disclosed, Operation Phantom Strike will likely focus on securing several key areas. One critical area is north and east of Baqubah n Diyala province, where al Qaeda in Iraq has conducted vicious attacks against small villages in an effort to stir up sectarian violence. Security forces will also strike in the Hamrin mountains, a region that stretches from Diyala to Kirkuk where al Qaeda is believed to be basing operations. Iraqi and Coalition forces have been striking hard at al Qaeda cells in Kirkuk and Mosul in the North. Iraqi and Coalition forces will also look to consolidate gains in northern Babil.

Operations against the Shia extremists will be more difficult. Iraqi and Coalition forces have conducted an aggressive campaign to weed out individual Special Groups and Mahdi Army cells in Baghdad (particularly Sadr City), Diwaniyah, Amara, Najaf, and elsewhere in the South. However, it is unclear how aggressive the Iraqi government will be against the Mahdi Army. If the gloves are off, large battles may take place in Diwaniyah, Amara, Najaf, Kufa, Sadr City, Basra, and throughout the South.

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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  • Michael says:

    Was waiting for “Phantom Lightning” or some new operation. Very good to see how the operation unfolds based upon intel. I have more confidence in Petraeus every day.
    Can’t wait to see operation Phantom Hailstorm against al Quds training camps one day. One can always hope.
    One of the OPs turned up an Iraqi Medic terrorist helper. Very curious as to how much intel we received from UK’s arrest of terrorist bomber Bilal Abdulla, the Iraqi Doctor and his connections in the underworld of al Qaeda/Sunni extremist.

  • Alex says:

    This is very interesting. Great reporting as always. It will be good to have upped operations against the Mahdi, since ultimately, Iraqi Shi’ites will probably be the dominant force in Iraqi politics simply due to strength in numbers; therefore, Shi’ite extremists need to be neutralized since otherwise reconciliation with Sunni elements (not necessarily on street level, but on a national political level) is going to be difficult.

  • Dan says:

    Sadly, I think that it’s inevitable that Iran’s theocracy is going to have to be toppled by U.S. military action just as Saddam’s regime was. I had hoped that perhaps some deal might be able to be worked out. But Iran is the source of 80% of the trouble in both Iraq and the greater Middle East today. Without Iran’s financial and tactical support, both Hamas and Hezbollah would wither and die. The small cadre of hard-core mullahs who really run the show in Iran truly believe that they are on a religious mission to prepare the Earth for the return of the Mahdi, and that calls for spreading as much chaos as possible. Aside from the fact that their weapons and surrogates in Iraq are killing American kids, the thought of these maniacs being in possession of nuclear weaponry is utter unacceptable. It will not be allowed to happen. Personally, I’m betting that the next president, whether Democrat or Republican, will be compelled to move militarily against Iran by no later than 2010. Hopefully, that president won’t make the same mistake as the current one did in deciding to fight the Iraq war “on the cheap” with only 130,000 troops.

  • This, hopefully, is another nail in the road for al-Qaida. It will also set the political climate in Washington and will also help silence the naysayers and negative talks about what our military is doing over there in Iraq.
    I agree with the above poster. We will see war by 2010 with Iran, only I think it will be much sooner than that, OR, let’s hope that the current Iranian regime implodes first.

  • Terry Gain says:

    I would respond to Dan’s comment but it seems to me that his comment offends the comments policy prohibition against political discussion -and so would mine if I responded.
    Shouldn’t Dan’s comment be deleted?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Dan’s comment isn’t political in nature, he said the next admin – whichever party is in charge – will have to deal with Iran. Perhaps you’re referring to the final comment. It would be nice if we didn’t have to rehash the tired arguments about what we should or should not have done on a daily basis.
    I’m really trying hard to provide a place where we can discuss the issues of the day without the rehashing old arguments or the scoring cheap political points. It isn’t easy to do and there has to be some leeway for discussion. Unfortunately some people can’t resist the temptation.

  • Fight4TheRight says:

    Another great report, Bill…a couple of observations.
    1. I like the fact that they are continuing these major operations, announcing them, playing them up a bit. It reinforces that we indeed have detailed strategies and it sends a huge message to Al Qaeda that we will not let up until they are dead or gone.
    2. I am amazed at how much difference a change in leadership has made in this war effort. Petraeus, in my opinion, has not only put into action a sound plan but more importantly, it appears he is getting everything he can out of his troops – I know a lot of them have been there for awhile and that’s gotta be tough on ’em but Petraeus has shown each and every one of them what a second wind you can get when everything comes together.
    And finally, one question. You meantioned that operations against the Mahdi army/militias will be more difficult and you put forth… ” However it is unclear how aggressive the Iraqi government will be against the Mahdi Army. ”
    The question is, can’t the U.S. simply take the IA out of the equation in that part of the operation? In other words, only U.S. troops are used to go after the Mahdi’s and any Iranian back groups. Is that not possible?

  • Don Vandervelde says:

    It’s important to include the IA, or even have them lead. We can’t police the whole world, forever, and if it takes longer now to train them than to do it ourselves, it’s a long-run win. Once they develop the habit and basic skills of successfully fighting and killing the extremists and mass murderers, it’ll be hard for them to stop, which is good.
    Iran should not be “invaded” by ground assault like Iraq. It is very unstable and vulnerable socially, economically and militarily. It can be dealt with as we dealt with the Taliban, by special ops and internal collaborators (which might include the Irani Kurds), calling down unlimited quantities of 2,000# bombs on the mullahs and their forces with pin-point accuracy.
    They are also utterly dependent on their few, exposed, seaports. We could control all their shipping with a few well placed mines, giving us a choke hold on their economy. We should support a government-in-exile to take over when the mullahs fall. We might even get a blue denim revolution out of it.

  • AQI Losses says:

    Keep the heat on. AQI is definitley on the defensive, but a wounded animal will strike back harshly.
    Since the official launch of the Baghdad Security Plan, on Feb 14th, along with operations in other provinces, AQI and supporting affiliates has suffered the following losses. (Source: MNF-Iraq press releases/briefings only). Or in short the past six months resulted in:
    781 killed, including the following leadership:

  • Neo says:

    About escalating hostilities with JAM.
    I expect there will be quite a bit of discussion among staff on how to push harder of JAM without having it all explode in our face. So far an instrumental approach against JAM has both brought the space we needed to fight elsewhere and also successfully kept the Iraqi Army in play. A year ago I would fully expect much of the IA to take JAM’s side in any showdown. Last March it was small carefully selected steps. Now it’s more of a question of how much you ask the IA to do.
    If you take the gloves of right now I think there is a risk the situation getting out of hand and overwhelming an already stretched force structure. I see more of the same tactics more broadly applied. It’s larger increments that we are after now, bringing the IA into the mix too.
    In the mean time we need to finish what we have started in the North, closing out all remaining pockets of AQI control and driving them underground.

  • Neo says:

    That’s “incremental approach”

  • TS Alfabet says:

    I could be way off here, but it seems from what I have been reading here and elsewhere that the Shia are in the agonies of choosing sides right now between the Iranian-supported militia and those who…have not chosen to side with Iran or the U.S.
    Somehow, clever people in Iraq must help these fence-sitters to see that they *must* choose one side or the other. The Iranians will not let up; they will keep pushing their tentacles deeper into every facet of Iraqi society until they have a terror-kingdom just like Iran. Only the U.S. can supply the military, political and financial muscle to overcome the Iranian monster.
    At the same time, we should be putting serious pressure on the Saudis to up their oil production in order to bring down the price of oil. This is a real achille’s heel for Iran. Iranian oil is *much* costlier for them to get out of the ground and shipped out (something like $30/barrel versus $6/barrel for the Saudis). If the price of oil came down even to the $50/b level for any length of time, the Iranian economy would collapse and the money to fund Iraqi shiites (and Hamas and Hezbollah) would dry up as well. Syria might start re-thinking its alliance with Iran at that point, too.
    We have a real opportunity here to start an avalanche of positive change, but it has to be done now. Once Iran has nuclear weapons, the Saudis will be impossible to persuade and all roads will lead to Tehran. Absent a nuke strike on the U.S., there will be no president, Dem or Republican, who will take on Iran once it is nuclear.

  • Alex says:

    TS Alphabet, maybe I am overly optimistic, but I do not think that the current Iranian regime will fully go nuclear, if for no other reason than an Israeli air strike.
    The biggest worry I have about Iran is that they will try to go 1980s Lebanon style like what Syria did (and is doing). Now if we can get Iraq a legitimate air force (key word is legitimate) of their own, the mullahs will think twice about any direct action.

  • anand says:

    TS Alfabet, the Saudis and most others are already trying to increase oil production. Until the Asian (China, India etc.) and global economy slows down, oil prices will stay up. The world economy has grown faster in each of the last couple years than any other time in recorded history. This is a good thing.
    Neo is spot on. His and the MNF’s approach also allows “moderate” elements within JAM to reassert themselves and allows Shia public opinion to push Sadr into line. Muqtada always has his finger in the air. The goal is to convince him to disarm his militia. After that . . . he can win as many elections as he wants.

  • Neo says:

    I must state that there are significant differences in what I think will work short and long term. There are a number of reasons I think we should continue the course of pressuring the worst elements within Sadr’s organization, for now. First; Overriding the whole effort is our shortage of manpower. We don’t need a major escalation in the south while we press AQI in the north. Second; Much of Sadr’s organization seems satisfied to sit this out, thus far. We need to stay away from flair ups that would bring more people into the fray. Third; Sadr seems to stand down when he needs to. Right now I don’t have a problem with him backing down once again even if only temporarily. Right now the strategy seems to be hold JAM in check while pushing all out to destroy AQI.
    Long term I’m less optimistic. I fully expect the present Iranian administration to be relentless. It’s capability that holds them back not will. I worry much more about Iran escalating than the US. We will find ourselves coming into general confrontation with Sadr’s organization soon enough. Hopefully by that time JAM will have antagonized much of the Shiite population. In the end the Shiite majority must decide how badly they want to lead an independent country or will they be pressured to bow to Iran. Without the prospect of getting much of the Shiite population onboard an eventual show down with JAM would face long term failure. Problem is, we are unlikely to get much of the Shiite population to fight with us unless we can stand our ground. Otherwise we only succeed in putting them into a fight with Iran that they can’t win.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    Anand, have to disagree with you here:
    “the Saudis and most others are already trying to increase oil production. Until the Asian (China, India etc.) and global economy slows down, oil prices will stay up. ”
    You may recall several months ago that the Saudis announced that oil in the $70+ range was unhealthy and dangerous for OPEC and they unilaterally starting producing more oil which directly resulted in a drop of oil prices down to the $50/b range. This went on for a few weeks when Iran sent unmistakable messages to the Saudis not to meddle with oil prices or else… Whether in response to those threats or not, the Saudis cut back to agreed OPEC quotas and the price of oil crept back up.
    The Saudis absolutely can influence the price of oil because they have– at least for now— the ability to bring millions more barrels of oil onto the market single-handedly. If they want to do that. We need to work on the “if.”


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