By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 22, 2007 – The surge of forces into Iraq is over. The surge of operations has begun, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq told Pentagon reporters in a teleconference today. Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said the series of operations under the overarching title "Operation Phantom Thunder" is designed to protect the Iraqi people, ease reconciliation among the religious sects, defeat al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremists and continue development of Iraqi security forces.
Phantom Thunder is a corps-level offensive aimed at defeating extremists in Iraq, the general explained. "It is an open-ended operation that will extend through the summer and will be done in conjunction with civil-military operations to support political and economic efforts," he said.
All of the elements of the surge are in place, the general said. Twenty U.S. brigades and regimental combat teams are in place in the country. Six brigades are in Baghdad proper - the focus of the surge -- and eight are in the belt around the Iraqi capital. Two Marine units guard the western approaches to the city.
"There are also four combat aviation brigades and a Marine air wing in support, all with many other combat enablers such as precision air support and artillery," Odierno said. "This provides us tremendous capability to do simultaneous and sustained operations and to maintain pressure across the entire theater on extremists. More importantly, it allows us to operate in areas where we have not been in a long time."
All of the operations under Phantom Thunder are done in coordination with Iraqi security forces and coalition partners, he said.
"We have already begun attacking the enemy from multiple directions in a way that I believe he will not be able to resist," the general said. "Our pursuit will be agile and relentless. Our goal is to force the enemy to fight from positions of disadvantage while we maintain the initiative."
Phantom Thunder consists of carefully synchronized operations at division and brigade level to clear al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiia extremists in, near and around Baghdad. "It also includes aggressive shaping operations by our special operations forces focused on al Qaeda in Iraq and other special groups," he said.
The intent of Phantom Thunder goes back to the handbook of defeating an insurgency - separate insurgents from the population, then put in place political and economic initiatives to buy time and space for the Iraqi government to move toward political accommodations, Odierno said.
There are already results, he said. To the west, the Marine's 6th Regimental Combat Team is well into the process of establishing Iraqi police precincts in Fallujah, where violence has significantly decreased over the past few months. The leathernecks found a very large cache with over 25,000 gallons of nitric acid. The city of Ramadi, which up until a few months ago was considered lost, is returning to normal. "Attacks in Ramadi are at a two-year low," he said.
South of Baghdad, the Multinational Division Center began Operation Marne Torch against al Qaeda safe havens along the Tigris River. The coalition has not had forces in the area in two years. "This is an area known for producing car and truck bombs that are sent north into Baghdad," Odierno said.
Coalition and Iraqi forces already have eliminated and detained more than 100 enemy fighters. Forces in the area are slowly and deliberately clearing the area of enemy while reaching out to the local populace.
"Of note, the citizens there are coming forward, providing tips to coalition forces, which has helped us to find and clear many (improvised explosive devices)," he said. "Some of the highlights from Operation Marne Torch: 17 caches found and cleared, 288 structures cleared, several Iraqis added into our biometric database, 46 captured insurgents, 18 of which are considered to be of high value."
In the city, "some parts of Baghdad are doing well and seeing progress, while others still have high levels of violence," Odierno said. Coalition focus is clearing and controlling the security districts of Adamiyah in northeast, Rashid in the south and portions of Mansour in the northwest.
"These are the areas where we're seeing the majority of violence inside of Baghdad," he said. "These are areas where sectarian fault lines exist, convergence of (al Qaeda in Iraq) and Shiia extremists."
Building joint security stations and combat outposts - the building blocks of the strategy in the capital - continues.
"In some neighborhoods, such as Ameriyah, we have had residents come forward to coalition forces and express their weariness of (al Qaeda in Iraq) and a desire to band together to form neighborhood watches," he said. "The government of Iraq is actively publicizing the joint security stations to Baghdad citizens and providing telephone numbers to report suspicious behavior and tips, and they continue to be very high, as we continue to get many tips."
In the city, three rocket and mortar cells have been taken down in the past few days, and a list of material taken from caches includes 21 107-mm rockets and more than 100 artillery shells. In Rashid, 750 gallons of nitric acid, and four truck and car bombs were found. In Sadr City, troops have found five mortar systems, 54 mortar rounds, and three 107 mm rockets. Also in Sadr City, coalition forces took down a particularly active indirect-fire cell.
In Multinational Division North, three brigade combat teams operate in the belts north and east of Baghdad, and three more brigade combat teams work elsewhere in the division's area of operations. Operation Arrowhead Ripper is concentrated in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, to defeat enemy in the city and secure the population conducting detailed and deliberate clearing operations.
"What we have found so far is a determined and entrenched enemy who's trying to stand and fight, and we have continued to use ... close-air support, artillery, and helicopter air weapons teams with success," Odierno said.
The general said senior al Qaeda leaders in Baqubah abandoned their followers.
"So far within Baqubah, there's been many successes: four weapon caches have been found and cleared, three truck and car bombs have been captured and destroyed, over 25 deep-buried improvised explosive devices have been found and cleared, and 10 booby-trapped houses were rendered safe." Al Qaeda terrorists rigged the houses with thousands of pounds of explosives to try to kill coalition forces as they attempted to enter.
Odierno stressed that these are the early days in the operation, but added that there are encouraging signs. Baghdad murders this week are down to 33, from 93 a week in January, and coalition forces are finding more caches.
"In some places, the enemy has decided to stand and fight, and they are paying dearly for this mistake," he said. Also, large-scale car and truck-bomb attacks are down "because Iraqi security forces are doing their job," Odierno said.
Coalition and Iraqi forces have detained 721 detainees so far, with 50 classified as leaders of cells and high-value targets, he said.
Most encouraging, Odierno said, is that Iraqis are stepping forward.
"One of the things we do as part of our foot patrols among the population centers is monitoring graffiti to gauge public sentiments," Odierno said. "In the mixed and volatile Rashid district of Baghdad earlier this week, there were two sentences spray-painted on the wall in Arabic. The first said: 'Yes, yes, to the new security plan' and the second said, 'No difference between Shiia and Sunni.' Obviously, this is only one anecdote, but a small step in the right direction."