Operation Swarmer: Less Than Advertised
Time‘s Brian Bennett and Al Jallam explain, “How Operation Swarmer Fizzled.”
[C]ontrary to what many many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war. (“Air Assault” is a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What’s more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.
Digby thinks the initial breathless reporting reflects “the pathological need on the part of the cable networks to go back to the glory days when Bush was commonly compared to Alexander the Great every chance they get.”
Richard “Wretchard” Fernandez sees the Time report as the press looking for defeat every chance they can: “And how does the press account for the absence of American casualties and the feeble performance of the fabled and invincible Resistance in Samarra itself, where in years past dozens of Americans had died in combat and into which Iraqi government forces dared not go? A ‘fizzle’.”
Dan Riehl finds this nugget from the article:
With the Interior Ministry’s Samarra commando battalion, the soldiers had found some 300 individual pieces of weaponry like mortars, rockets and plastic explosives in six different locations inside the sparsely populated farming community of over 50 square miles and about 1,500 residents. The raids also uncovered high-powered cordless telephones used as detonators in homemade bombs, medical supplies and insurgent training manuals.
Dan notes that, “All of those items are precisely what has been being used to kill American soldiers. Clearly this was an area holding significant stockpiles for the
insurgents terrorists.” True that. The problem is that, while militarily helpful, this was a very routine operation. Calling a big press conference and getting the press excited about “the largest air assault since…” is bound to generate some “this was big sham” stories once it proves less than that.
Christopher Allbritton dubs this “Operation Overblown” and contends,
“Operation Swarmer” is really a media show. It was designed to show off the new Iraqi Army — although there was no enemy for them to fight. Every American official I’ve heard has emphasized the role of the Iraqi forces just days before the third anniversary of the start of the war. That said, one Iraqi role the military will start highlighting in the next few days, I imagine, is that of Iraqi intelligence. It was intel from the Iraqi military intelligence and interior ministry that the U.S. says prompted this Potemkin operation. And it will be the Iraqi intel that provides the cover for American military commanders to throw up their hands and say, “well, we thought bad guys were there.”
It’s hard to blame the military, however. Stations like Fox and CNN have really taken this and ran with it, with fancy graphics and theme music, thanks to a relatively slow news day. The generals here also are under tremendous pressure to show off some functioning Iraqi troops before the third anniversary, and I won’t fault them for going into a region loaded for bear. After all, the Iraqi intelligence might have been right.
That strikes me as a fair assessment. As I wrote when learning of the operation, “highly visible action is sometimes necessary for maintaining the will to fight on one’s own side.” But for that to be effective, one can’t oversell the operation in advance. If P.R. is one’s goal, then lowering expectations, not raising them, is the smart play.
But Operation Overblown should raise serious questions about how good Iraqi intelligence is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by earnest lieutenants that the Iraqis are valiant and necessary partners, “because they know the area, the people and the customs.” But when I spoke to grunts and NCOs, however, they usually gave me blunter — and more colorful — reasons why the Iraqi intelligence was often, shall we say, useless. Tribal rivalries and personal feuds are still a major reason why Iraqis drop a dime on their neighbors.
That’s not exactly surprising.