American Forces Press Service
Aug. 24, 2007 - Operation Lightning Hammer concluded Aug. 22 after a 12-day, large-scale operation to disrupt al Qaeda and other terrorist elements in the Diyala River Valley, a complex area of villages and palm groves in Iraq's Diyala province. The operation, which involved about 16,000 Iraqi and coalition forces clearing some 50 villages, was a key element in Multinational Corps Iraq's overall Operation Phantom Strike, and it resulted in 26 al Qaeda members killed, 37 suspected terrorists detained, and the discovery of 10 weapons caches.
"The strength and determination of the fighting men and women from the Iraqi and coalition forces showed great results during Lightning Hammer," said Army Col. David W. Sutherland, commander of coalition forces in Diyala province. "We have continued to diminish their supplies and disable al Qaeda's abilities to disrupt the population."
Soldiers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, partnered with members of the 5th Iraqi Army Division, initiated the operation with a late-night air assault into targeted locations Aug. 13 and conducted an additional three air-assaults during the course of the operation.
Residents of most villages welcomed the security forces, providing tips and intelligence about recent activities in their towns. Many residents also were interested in joining the Iraqi security forces. Following clearing operations, the Iraqi army provided medical assistance and humanitarian aid to the local citizens, many of whom said their villages were recently influenced by al Qaeda.
More importantly, more than 80 tribal leaders and representatives, some of whom had not spoken to one another for more than a year, met Aug. 19 to discuss their grievances and swore on the Quran to unite in their fight against terrorists and become one tribe of Diyala.
"As I conducted my battlefield circulation and talked with many of the citizens, they repeatedly thanked our soldiers, but more importantly, their security forces, for liberating their towns from the terrorists, specifically al Qaeda," Sutherland said.
"Because their villages have been cleared, the local and central governments will now be able to provide those essential services al Qaeda destroyed, and the people feel a sense of security they have not known for some time," he added.
Throughout the operation, Task Force Lightning soldiers also discovered 22 improvised explosive devices, 11 of which were discovered based on tips from a police chief in the valley, and disabled booby-trapped houses and six car bombs, all of which could have been used to harm a large portion of the population or security forces.
In addition, an al Qaeda command post was discovered in the village of Shadia, and an al Qaeda medical clinic was located in Qaryat Sunayjiyah.
The command post, which was surrounded by fighting positions, contained bed space for 20 individuals, supply requests, records of munitions, a list of families supporting the element, a list of al Qaeda members detained by coalition forces and other terrorist propaganda.
"Although we didn't find many of the terrorists, the operation proved to be a great success because we disrupted al Qaeda, causing them to run," Sutherland said. "Their fear of facing our forces proves that the terrorists know there is no safe haven for them in Diyala.
"And though this specific operation is over, our fight is not over," he continued. "We will continue to aggressively target al-Qaeda, and ultimately, they will be brought to justice."
(From a Multinational Corps Iraq news release.)