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.

Allbritton adds,

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Calling a big press conference and getting the press excited about â??the largest air assault sinceâ?¦â?? is bound to generate some â??this was big shamâ?? stories once it proves less than that.

    Excuse me, but did you have some evidence that it wasn’t the largest air assault. The fact that the press is so clueless on military matters that they can’t distinguish between an air strike and an air assault is somehow the fault of the military.

    I think it highlights the “big sham” on MSM reporting in Iraq more than anything else.

  2. James Joyner says:

    yaj: Don’t deny that the story was poorly reported–by the military contributed to that. The bottom line is that this was a minor exercise and not worthy of a big press conference and operation name.

  3. dj elliott says:

    Reality vs hype/spin.
    Note: the military provided no more initial releases than normal.
    I think the press just had a slow news day.
    That and a high vis reporter from the print side is in town and scooping the ussual MSM suspects.

    I sent this to CNN/Fox:

    [Cut-and-paste comment deleted after multiple postings of same]

  4. dj elliott says:

    Operation Swarmer is a piece of what is going on. look up what else is going on in adjacent Districts. Salah ad Din and remainder of Baqubah Province will be turned over to the Iraqis soon.
    But first, a little house cleaning.

    As for the press, I have never seen them get a story right. And I am a Retired USN Intel Spec (22 years). I think I need to go back to ignoring their BS. They get my Irish up.

  5. anjin-san says:

    Your right dj, the press does have trouble getting it right. They said Bush won the 2000 election.

  6. dj elliott says:


    The problem is that the President is not directly elected. We vote for representatives to the electoral college and they are not all required to split their vote on percentage lines or even vote as the population they represented voted.

    Put that together with a low percentage of US population that bothers to vote and you will have problems. (Iraqi vote had a larger turnout percentage than ours.)

    US Presidents elected by a minority of the vote eligible citizens in not a new thing.

    If you want to fix it then push for an amendment to the constitution requiring direct nationwide popular vote for president.

    While you are at it you might sue both Democrat and Republican Parties for their unconstitutional primary system.

    By the way, have you read the constitution. It is a very short document that has much ascribed to it (by radical of all flavors) that is not there. Just like the Koran.

  7. Herb says:

    The entire Operation seemed to be a figment of the MSM Imagination. The MSM is now touting the war as a Civil War and will not be happy until they are proven right either by facts or the usual MSM fiction that they lay before us on a daily basis.

    This entire Iraq operation is starting to look like Vietnam all over again when all the mal-contents, hippies, yippies, flower children and drug user was out marching and causing great harm to our troops, The one thing no one mentions is the number of killed and wounded caused by those who demonstrated against the war.

    It is truly a shame that we still have an element amoung us that is doing everything possible to bring the entire USA to its knees.

  8. just me says:

    I think the problem is that the media just wants either an exciting news story or bad news, because bad news is much more fun to cover than good news.

    I also think way too many liberals and press members are stuck in Vietnam, and desire for this to be just like Vietnam, as much for the “controversy” as for anything else.

  9. anjin-san says:


    I missed the part in the constitution about it being cool for Harris to put in the fix to deliver FL to Bush.

  10. anjin-san says:


    By the way, your little comment about the Koran is pretty cute. So I guess the implication is that if someone disagrees with your politics, they are a possible enemy sympathiser, or somehow not patriotic. What do you do for a living, teach fascism 101?

  11. dj elliott says:

    Koran, bible, constitution, saints etc.

    Power hungry politicians of all colors, creeds, and beliefs have twisted every document, belief or philosophy ever created in their pursuit of power.

    “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    Democrat, Republican, or whatever. Our elected officials and those they appoint are in power.

    That is why I believe in term limits.

    I also consider priests and press to be politicians in disguise. And lawyers a form of parasite.

    If you want to change the constitution, get it amended. The Supreme Court is the wrong venue.

    Read the portion of the constitution on Judicial powers.
    It is an imperfect system.

    You might want to compare 2000 to the Jefferson/Burr mess in the early days…

  12. dj elliott says:

    Just to clarify my reference to the Koran/constitution.

    – Look at what the radical/fundamentalist Muslims claim is Islam. Compare to the writings of the Koran.

    – Look at what the radical left/right says is constitutional or not. Compare to the constitution.

    Same type of corruption.
    Just like Stalin and Hitler were two sides of the same coin.

    I consider myself Libertarian.

    As to my former profession, read my previous posts and think literally vice trying to interpret it. Precision in speech was part of my training in-order to reduce the GIGO factor.

    If I were to interpret your “fascist” reaction, like you have with my statements, I would have to note that you have all the signs of a guilty conscience.

    Do not assume… Open your mind, research and find out. And always check your assumptions and work. The ID and your preconceptions will always tell you that you are right, even when you are not. Smart people are always doublechecking their facts and assumptions and avoid jumping to conclusions.

  13. anjin-san says:


    Before you use up too many more pixels telling us how bright you are, you might want to learn how to use a “?” at the end of a sentence that poses a question.

    Truly intelligent people generally have better things to do then tell total stranger how smart they are. Apparently you do not.

  14. dj elliott says:

    If you think my punctuation is bad, you should see my writings without a spell check.
    As to how smart am I, not very.
    I was dumb enough to spend 22 years of my life protecting and defending your right to make a fool of yourself (or not) in over 43 countries.
    My perspectives are not entirely US due to that time overseas.
    And I believe that knowledge without practical experience can be dangerous. Between theory and implementation, things change.
    I tend to be outspoken about the mid-east because I spent soooo much time there.
    There is much that I do not comment on because, I do not know.
    When I was a teen, I knew everything. The older I get, the more I realize that I have scrapped the tip of the surface of the iceberg of knowledge.