U.S. Launches Biggest Air Operation Since Invasion End

CNN is reporting that the U.S. military has launched the largest Iraqi air assault since the end of major combat operations.

U.S. and Iraqi forces on Thursday launched the largest air assault operation since the invasion of Iraq nearly three years ago, the U.S. military said. More than 50 aircraft are involved in Operation Swarmer, supporting more than 1,500 Iraqi and U.S. troops near Samarra, about 75 miles (121 kilometers) north of Baghdad. The aircraft also delivered troops from the Iraq and U.S. Army to “multiple objectives.”

The offensive began Thursday morning in southern Salaheddin province “to clear a suspected insurgent operating area northeast of Samarra,” the site of the bombing of the Shiite shrine that escalated sectarian tensions and pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

This is in line with Tuesday’s Knight-Ridder report that our airstrikes have been quietly increasing over the past few months. In response, Kevin Drum observed, “Bombs don’t beat insurgencies. The fact that we’re increasing our reliance on them is bad news.”

I agree that heavy reliance on bombing at this stage of the operation is bad news, because it is further indication that there are still large rebel strongholds. On the tactical side, though, while defeating an insurgency requires more than military means, I disagree that bombing can not be an effective tool. We’re not fighting a pure insurgency but a hybrid war against al Qaeda and other terrorists, sectarian troublemakers, and true political insurgents. Targetted strikes against base camps and logistical support facilities make some sense.

Further, winning a war–against any type of enemy–requires a combination of defeating their hostile ability and their hostile will. The former requires killing their soldiers, blowing up their facilties, and otherwise making it hard for them to fight effectively. The latter, which often requires the former as a precursor, involves convincing the enemy that, to borrow a phrase from the Borg, further resistance is futile. Properly executed air strikes can help in both these phases.

Moreover, highly visible action is sometimes necessary for maintaining the will to fight on one’s own side. The constant barrage of terroristic bombing conducted by the enemy has done very little to effect the hostile ability of the Coalition–2700 dead is tragic on a personal level but negligible strategically–but has weakened the confidence of the Iraqi and American publics. These bombing strikes could help reverse that, giving visible evidence that we’re fighting back effectively and reminding the enemy that he is militarily outmatched.

The ultimate resolution of this war, as with any other, will be political. While things look much more bleak on that front than I would have forecast at the point when we toppled Saddam’s regime, there has nonetheless been substantial progress. David Ignatius points out in today’s WaPo, “[T]here are unmistakable signs here this week that Iraq’s political leaders are taking the first tentative steps toward forming a broad government of national unity that could reverse the country’s downward slide.”

Operation Swarmer may be the boost we need to help see that through. It will certainly be much easier to cobble together a working political system if the parties have some degree of confidence that they will be able to maintain some basic level of physical security.

Update: It appears that I let the reports of the previous strikes color my understanding of this op, the early reporting of which (at least in print/online) sources was quite sketchy. As a couple of commenters have pointed out below, this looks to be a mostly Army-based operation involving helicopters and ground troops. There are apparently no bombers involved, nor even AC130 gunships.

The updated AP report appears to be backing away from the earlier implication that this was primarily a bombing mission, noting that, “There was no immediate word on whether any fighter jets or other fixed-wing warplanes had dropped bombs or fired missiles as part of the assault.” They go on to write,

In its description of the operation, the 101st Airborne Division used the term “air assault,” which refers to the use of attack and transport helicopters to move infantry soldiers to a ground target or group of targets. It does not generally include fixed-wing warplanes like fighter jets or bombers, and there was no early indication that such planes played a predominant role in the assault.

None of that colors my analysis of the general escalation of air strikes reported by Knight Ridder, but the juxtaposition that and a land based operation is confusing.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bhoe says:

    U.S. Launches Biggest Air Operation Since Invasion End

    The invasion hasn’t “ended.”

  2. James Joyner says:

    Has the Normandy Invasion ended? After all, we still have troops in Europe.

  3. whatever says:

    Kevin Drumm is an expert on how to stop insurgencies? Is he an expert on anything?

  4. LJD says:

    It will be interesting to see the MSM paint an increase in the tempo of killing terrorists as a bad thing.

  5. Bob Owens says:

    James,

    An “airborne assault” is nothing more than a helicopter insertion of infantry units.

    Where are all the bombing comments coming from?

  6. DC Loser says:

    Has the Normandy Invasion ended? After all, we still have troops in Europe.

    I’m sure some Europeans would say it hasn’t ended.

  7. Bhoe says:

    Has the Normandy Invasion ended? After all, we still have troops in Europe.

    FYI, Normandy is in France & France assumed full military sovereignty in the late 1960s. At that point it basically kicked out all NATO troops.

    So, yes, the Normandy Invasion has ended and France has its full sovereignty. An “invasion” is an act of intrusion and encroachment involving encroachment and violation. The US invasion of Iraq persists.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Bob: It’s unclear from the media accounts I’ve read what exactly is happening. The K-R article was indeed about bombing strikes, though.

    Bhoe: But the Normandy Invasion was not an invasion of Normandy but an invasion using Normandy as a port of entry. The ultimate target was Germany, where many U.S. troops remain.

    Regardless, while the extant regime certainly objected, the current elected Iraqi government welcomes our presence and is, nominally at least, participating in this Operation.

  9. dj elliott says:

    I sent this to Fox since their reporting and
    CNNs are so AFU…

    Air Assualt element: Iraqi Army 1 Bde/4th Div; US 3 BCT & CAB/101st AB Div
    Ground component: Iraqi MOI 2nd Special Police Commando Bde

    PS: AC-130 does not have a 90mm cannon. 105mm How, 40mm and 25mm cannons.

    PSS: This is the third Air Assualt that the Iraqi Army has participated in. Previous ops employed Iraqi 1st Bn/1st Bde/4th Div (same Bde doing this op) and 3rd Bn/1st Bde/6th Div in joint US-Iraqi assualts.

    I think you need to hire someone to read the military press releases. They have told you this…

    PSSS: Do you want a copy of my current Iraqi OOB put together from press releases and official web sites.

    V/r Dorlon Jay Elliott, IS1(SW), USN(Ret), Westminster CO

    —– Original Message —–
    From: DJ Elliott
    To: Warstories ; Viewerservices ; Studiob ; Special ; Newswatch ; Myword ; Lineup ; JER ; Jamie ; Heartland ; Hannity ; Friends ; Foxreport ; FNS ; Feedback ; dennis ; Colmes ; Cavuto
    Sent: Thursday, March 16, 2006 10:45 AM
    Subject: Operation Swarmer

    Iraqi Units: 1st Brigade/4th Division and 2nd Commando Brigade
    US Units: 3rd Brigade Combat Team and Combat Aviation Brigade/101st Division

    Iraqi Security Forces, Coalition Launch ‘Operation Swarmer’
    American Forces Press Service

    WASHINGTON, March 16, 2006 â?? Iraqi and coalition forces today launched the largest air assault operation since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in southern Salah Ad Din province to clear a suspected insurgent operating area northeast of Samarra, military officials reported.
    “Operation Swarmer” began this morning with soldiers from the Iraqi army’s 1st Brigade, 4th Division; the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team; and the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade conducting a combined air and ground assault to isolate the objective area, officials said.

    Attack and assault aircraft provided aerial weapons support for the operation and also delivered troops from the Iraqi army’s 4th Division; the “Rakkasans” from 1st and 3rd Battalions, 187th Infantry Regiment, of the U.S. Army; and the “Hunters” from 2nd Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, U.S. Army, to “multiple objectives” according to a Multinational Force Iraq statement. Forces from Iraq’s 2nd Commando Brigade then completed a ground infiltration to secure numerous structures in the area, officials said.

    More than 1,500 Iraqi and coalition troops, more than 200 tactical vehicles, and more than 50 aircraft participated in the operation, according to the MNF-I statement.

    Initial reports from the objective area indicate that a number of enemy weapons caches — containing artillery shells, explosives, materials for making homemade bombs, and military uniforms — have been captured.

    The operation is expected to continue for several days as a thorough search of the objective area is conducted, officials said.

    Operation Swarmer follows closely the completion of a combined Iraqi and coalition operation west of Samarra in early March that yielded substantial enemy weapons and equipment caches.

    The name Swarmer, the MNF-I statement explained, was derived from the name given to the largest peacetime airborne maneuvers ever conducted, in spring 1950 in North Carolina. Soon after this exercise, the 187th Infantry was selected to deploy to Korea as an airborne regimental combat team to provide Gen. Douglas MacArthur with an airborne capability.

    (From a Multinational Force Iraq news release.)

    Related Site:
    Multinational Force Iraq

  10. dj elliott says:

    If you are curious about how much territory has been handed over to Iraqi forces, watch the weekly Badhdad Brief by MG Lynch at:
    http://www.pentagonchannel.mil/

    Only 2 reporters bothered to attend this week’s brief. Normally only about a dozen bother to show up and ignore most of what they hear.

  11. Robert says:

    This used to be called “wagging the dog” when Clinton did it.

  12. dave says:

    LJD, the only “terrorists” in Iraq are the British and the Americans. The Iraqis fighting them are heroes, not terrorists. The term “terrorist” should never, ever be used to refer to someone who isn’t American or British. Please try to get your terms correct. In any case, this is just the desperate actions of a nation that is no longer a serious military power and simply can’t admit that it has been defeated. They can drop all the bombs they like, but nothing can make them win. Losers lose, and there have never been bigger losers than those in the US military. We’ll defeat them in Iraq, and then we’ll defeat them on their home territory. It’s just a matter of time.

  13. JT says:

    If a pregnant Iraqi woman is killed in an air strike, does that make George Bush pro-choice?

  14. anjin-san says:

    Yep, drop more bombs. That ought to do it. Worked so well in “Nam…

  15. dj elliott says:

    Dropping bombs is called an “air strike”.
    “Airborne Assault” is when you drop paratroops.
    “Air Assault” is helo-borne insertion.
    If you watched “Blackhawk Down” then you saw a small scale Air Assault.
    Your inaccurate slamming comments demonstrate that you are clueless when it comes to military matters.
    “Better to stay silent and be thought a fool, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
    I think that quote originated with Sam Clemmens.
    Ret USN

  16. JT says:

    Pick nits much?

    Oooh, a helo-borne insertion! Haven’t done that since college. Why is the military so gay?

    Maybe the confusion of bombs over the awesome helo-thing is this paragraph right after the initial quote:

    “This is in line with Tuesday�s Knight-Ridder report that our airstrikes have been quietly increasing over the past few months. In response, Kevin Drum observed, �Bombs don�t beat insurgencies. The fact that we�re increasing our reliance on them is bad news.�

    So if confusion is King, blame the author.

    My initial comment still stands; sounds like an air assault would be a bit more surgical, but I’m still pretty sure there will be collateral damage. Which, BTW, is why they hate us: we think American lives are more important than Iraqi (Arab) lives. “They” tend to disagree…

  17. dj elliott says:

    So far no KIA/WIA (enemy or friendly).
    Just a bomb factory, uniforms, Iraqi Army IDs, and 41 detainees.

    This was the fourth US-Iraqi Air Assault. The press normally does not report these. It must have been a slow news day.

    Extract from:
    U.S., Iraqi Troops Score Successes
    American Forces Press Service

    WASHINGTON, March 10, 2006 ?

    “Operation Glory Light” was designed to deny terrorists sanctuary and preempt enemy attacks in the Baghdad area. The week-long operation was launched March 2 with a joint air assault by U.S. and Iraqi troops into the Sadr-Yusufiyah area by soldiers of 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, and 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division soldiers.

    Following the air assault, the soldiers were attacked by indirect and small arms fire. They also discovered a roadside bomb. Soldiers from the 6th and 9th Iraqi Army Divisions then moved into position to clear, search and secure roads and houses in the town. March 5-6, the 9th uncovered nine weapons caches, consisting of 131 mortar rounds, nine 50 mm mortars, 17 rockets, two rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, six AK-47 rifles, two BKC machine guns, and a large amount of bomb-making materials.

    In total, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers found 26 roadside bombs, two car bombs and 15 weapons caches. The operation also involved seven firefights with the enemy resulting in the detention of 16 suspected terrorists, two terrorists killed and one wounded, officials said.

    (Compiled from Multinational Force Iraq news releases.)

    ——————————————————————————–

    Extract from:

    U.S. Army and Iraqi soldiers look out the rear of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter as they are extracted after completing a mission to detain or eliminate insurgent activity southwest of Samarra, Iraq, on Feb. 27, 2006. U.S. Army soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment and Iraqi army soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Iraqi Division were airlifted to and from objectives during the combined-joint operation. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Alfred Johnson, U.S. Army. (Released)

    ——————————————————————————–

    This was the first US-Iraqi mission

    Extract from:

    November 23, 2005

    Release A051123e

    Air assault mission takes down terrorist stronghold

    TIKRIT, Iraq â?? A joint Iraqi and U.S. mission against a terrorist hideout near Bayji uncovered a large amount of money and weapons.

    The operation named Old Baldy was launched Nov. 21 by Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 4th Iraqi Army Division and â??Rakkasansâ?? from the 101st Airborne Divisionâ??s 3rd Brigade Combat Team. More than 30 suspected terrorists and a large cache of money, weapons and material were captured during the operation.

    The air assault mission was centered on al Bayji Island, a 10 square kilometer land mass splitting the Tigris River north of Tikrit, Saddam Husseinâ??s hometown. The island has served as an isolated hideout for terrorists and criminals in the past.

    According to Lt. Col. Randy George, commander of Task Force Leader…

    ——————————————————————————–

  18. Jonk says:

    Leftist Radio Air America was reporting a few minutes ago that the “bombing” was done without any authorization from the Pentagon or the WH…that the 101st made up a “bomb dropping mission” totally on their own. Air America was wondering how many more thousands would be killed in this operation.

    Huh? How can a radio “news and commentary” show put out such total rubbish like this? People listen to this crap and believe what they hear. Not good.

  19. Herb says:

    I don’t know who this guy Dave is but he surely is not an American. He is about the lowest life form I have seen on OTB in quite a while Perhaps he needs a Hellfire put right between his eyes and go to see Allah with the bomb on top of his head where he can be blown up again while saying goodbye to his 72 virgins if there are any over there.

  20. LJD says:

    When do we start shooting people for treason?

    Now that a day has passed, and news is coming from the operation, the crazy tin-foil hat-wearers ought to be feeling pretty stupid about their previous comments.

    Keep talking, people are listening and you’re making assess of yourselves.

  21. Robert says:

    LDJ,

    If you really want to see people who should feel stupid about their previous comments, check this out.
    http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2842

  22. dj elliott says:

    1. Look at the latest Battle Space Assumption map.
    2. Plot where Samara is.
    3. Plot where the clearing ops by Iraqi/USMC are.
    – Do you notice that Samara is between three zones that the Iraqis own? And adjacent to I MEF zone.
    – Do you think we turned those areas over without making sure the threat was managable first?
    – Where do you think the terrs moved to under that presure?
    – And what chunk of realestate do you think we plan to turn over next? “75% of Iraq turned over by end of summer.”

    Samara will be turned over to Iraqi Army control within next 3 months (probably sooner).

    We are doing the house cleaning prior to hand over and introducing the new tennants (Iraqi Army and MOI’s Special Police Commandos) to the local residents.

  23. Craig says:

    Not only was the ‘biggest air assault since the invasion’ absent of any bombing, I saw a report that no shots were fired. Another example of the republican government manipulating the news for their own purposes (in this case, wanting to get out a story of Iraqi troops playing a leading role).

    The halfway retraction here hardly is enough.

  24. Barry says:

    James Joyner: “Has the Normandy Invasion ended? After all, we still have troops in Europe.

    Just stopping by, to see how James was doing. Same old same old, I see.