By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 17, 2007 - Iraqi and coalition forces are pursuing extremist leaders in Iraq's remote areas in coordinated "quick strikes" that launched this week, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq told Pentagon reporters today. Operation Phantom Strike is a series of joint operations that extend from Operation Phantom Thunder, a corps-level offensive that began in June targeting al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiia extremists in, near and around Baghdad, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.
"With the elimination of safe havens and support zones due to Phantom Thunder, al Qaeda and Shiite extremists have been forced into ever-shrinking areas. It is my intent to pursue and disrupt their operations," Odierno said.
Over the coming weeks, the general said, combined forces will conduct quick-strike raids against extremist sanctuaries and staging areas. Using precision-targeting operations, troops will target terrorist leaders and members of lethal improvised-explosive-device and car-bomb networks, he said.
"We will continue to hunt down the leadership, deny them safe haven, disrupt their supply lines and significantly reduce their capability to operate in Iraq," Odierno added.
In the first 24 hours of one "quick-strike" raid, Multinational Division North soldiers captured and killed several enemies and seized weapons caches in the Diyala River Valley. Called Operation Lightning Hammer, this operation targeted extremists as they tried to re-establish sanctuaries, the general said.
Odierno highlighted some successes of Operation Phantom Thunder, which launched June 15. In 142 battalion-level joint operations, Iraqi and coalition forces detained 6,702 suspects, killed 1,196 enemies and wounded 419 others. Combined forces also killed or captured 382 high-value targets, he said.
Troops also cleared 1,113 weapons caches and scores of IEDs and car bombs. "The number of found and cleared IEDs, (car bombs) 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," the general added.
Odierno warned that high-profile attacks may rise as two important dates approach. In the early weeks of September, Ramadan, Islam's holiest month, begins. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, is slated to present an anticipated report to Congress around the same time.
"Our enemy is ruthless and will no doubt attempt to exploit the upcoming Ramadan season, as well as influence political opinions in the coming weeks by increasing attacks with particular emphasis on high-profile terror attacks," he said.
But extremists' efforts are increasingly hampered by civilians who cooperate with coalition forces as troops ramp-up raids around the country, Odierno said.
"Al Qaeda and other extremist elements will have to contend with an Iraqi population that no longer welcomes them," he said, "as well as quick-hitting offensive operations by coalition and Iraqi forces."