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Operation Overblown

BAGHDAD Operation Swarmer is turning out to be much less than meets the eye, or the television camera, for that matter.

Iraqi and Coalition forces launched Operation Iraqi Freedom’s largest air assault operation in southern Salah Ad Din province March 16. Named Operation Swarmer, the joint operation’s mission was to clear a suspected insurgent operating area northeast of Samarra.

Operation Swarmer included more than 1,500 troops from the Iraqi Army’s 4th Division, the U.S. 101st Airborne Division and 101st Combat Aviation Brigade. The Soldiers isolated the objective area in a combined air and ground assault.

More than 50 Attack and assault aircraft and 200 tactical vehicles participated in the operation. Troops from the Iraqi Army’s 4th Division, the “Rakkasans” from the 187th Infantry Regiment and the “Hunters” from the 9th Cavalry Regiment assaulted multiple objectives. Forces from the Iraqi 2nd Commando Brigade then completed a ground infiltration to secure numerous structures in the area.

Initial reports indicate a number of weapons caches were captured, containing artillery shells, IED-making materials and military uniforms. Iraqi and Coalition troops also detained 41 suspected insurgents.

That sounds exciting! But according to a colleague of mine from TIME who traveled up there today on a U.S. embassy-sponsored trip, there are no insurgents, no fighting and 17 of the 41 prisoners taken have already been released after just one day. The “number of weapons caches” equals six, which isn’t unusual when you travel around Iraq. They’re literally everywhere.

(Digression: Just to clear some things up, “air assault” does not equal air strikes. There are no JDAMs being dropped, and there are no fixed-wing aircraft involved at all, except maybe for surveillance. An air assault is the 101st Airborne’s way of inserting troops into a battlespace. There is so far no evidence of bombardment of any kind. Also, it’s a telling example of how “well” things are going in Iraq that after three years, the U.S. is still leading the fight and conducting sweeps in an area that has been swept/contained/pacfied/cleared five or six times since 2004. How long before the U.S. has to come back again?)

As noted, about 1,500 troops were involved, 700 American and 800 Iraqi. But get this: in the area they’re scouring there are only about 1,500 residents. According to my colleague and other reporters who were there, not a single shot has been fired.

“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.

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.

So I guess it’s fitting that on the eve of the third anniversary of a war launched on — oh, let’s be generous — “faulty” intelligence, a major operation is hyped and then turns out to be less than what it appeared because of … faulty intelligence.

UPDATE 2400 GMT +0300: Time.com has posted the magazine’s official version by Brian Bennett, my colleague who was on the operation today.

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Comments

What does the “average” Iraqi on the street think of this type of endeavor…are the motives and results (or the lack thereof) really that transparent. I understand that Rep. Steve Israel raised a bloody fit with the administration over this “show” and the White House hasn’t granted him an audience to explain its side. They just send Scotty out to blather the same BS about Blah, Blah, Blah

Wow. This is the first place I’ve heard that Operation Swarmer is Overblown. Even Juan Cole doesn’t have anything about it, yet anyway. I figured that starting a slaughter was the US idea of cooling down a civil war, but this actually makes more sense. They’ll bill this as a victory, then do a couple more victorious, “wide open spaces with no opponents” fights, and then start bringing troops home to much brass bands and flag-waving in time for the (US) elections. I think the real, as opposed to publicized, Iraqi intelligence about the number of insurgents in the area was probably quite good.

MSNBC touts this “huge” operation as netting “dozens” of insurgents. I read the actual article and see 40 persons detained, 10 of those later released. So, net 30 captured. Dozens? Yeah, I guess technically, since 2 dozen plus 6 is plural dozens (barely). Geez, the MSM is SO in the tank for Bush it’s revolting.

“Yeah, I guess technically, since 2 dozen plus 6 is plural dozens (barely).”

Right! This madministration has been so careful with its wording (levees were ‘topped,’ not ‘breached,’ but houses are still under water). Reminds me of when I get asked by my son to do something. “In a second,” I say. He says, “Well? It’s been five minutes.”

And I say, “I didn’t say which second, did I?”

Ed

Pat Lang says this is a “small operation” that would not have been given a name in Vietnam (see http://turcopolier.com/sic_semper_tyrranis/.

I have to say that I am relieved. I was close to tears last night thinking that— well just bad things.
It is information like this that drove me to use this blog for my thesis. Thank you.

I have to say that I am relieved. I was close to tears last night thinking that— well just bad things.
It is information like this that drove me to use this blog for my thesis. Thank you.

I serverd in Iraq three times already and I believe every word of this article. =]

It’s called politics.

I serverd in Iraq three times already and I believe every word of this article. =]

It’s called politics.

1. This is the 4th joint US-Iraqi AAslt op in the last 6mo.
2. AAslt is what the 101 does. This is normal ops.
3. Original press releases from Centcom and subordinates was no different in details or amount than previous reports.
4. My best guess is that it was a slow news day and the MSM needed a lead. So they hyped an operation after having ignored the previous ones. And now that it is becoming apparent that they are overhyping it, they will start the blame game.

Wow, reminds me of the Potemkin levees during Katrina.

It will never become apparent that they are overhyping it. The lack of enemy is win/win for everyone. We don’t kill innocent people and our soldiers don’t get hurt. The corporate media gets to wave the flag over a huge victory, which was the plan all along. I was suprised to read this paragraph above:

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. 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!

It suggests that the corporate media wasn’t instructed what to do with this whole thing from the jump. They’re a crucial part of the mission, which is truly aimed at the American public.

I love a good conspiracy theory. Anybody on this blog got one?

Um, hello, dig deeper. Operation Swarmer is also an in-house “demonstration” of Global Hawk technology.

I’m sure you know all about Global Hawk but this is the first big full-scale demo. Move the officers to UAE/Qatar, put the chopper and the Delta teams in the big bases—then you can pull out 50k troops in time for the elections.

Look for Pentagon/Congressional briefings on-going or next week about Global Hawk, etc. I’m sure there will be a few leaks.

So, yeah, it’s more of a live-fire excercise than a real op.

Any retard could have figured out it was Operation PR the moment they announced it. Let’s have an air assault to an area where we have two major bases and we’ve put a sand berm around the major local city in December. Then the only video shows soldiers hustling around the desert with one room adobe shacks here and there. What a joke. Maybe they could take 1,500 guys and secure the airport highway. That would be useful. Unfortunately it would also take courage.

Any retard could have figured out it was Operation PR the moment they announced it. Let’s have an air assault to an area where we have two major bases and we’ve put a sand berm around the major local city in December. Then the only video shows soldiers hustling around the desert with one room adobe shacks here and there. What a joke. Maybe they could take 1,500 guys and secure the airport highway. That would be useful. Unfortunately it would also take courage.

Re-title: Operation Stinker.

Hype began with the 101st Airborne.

AP clarified its reporting today, saying that the 101st called Op Bullshit “the largest air operation since the beginning of the war.”

The 101st “corrected” its mistake today, long after the saturation news coverage had done its dirty work.

One more note about the reporting of this incident.

I work in radio news in a medium market city —in other words, I am far from the madding media circus.

We subscribe to AP wire, and the AP and Fox audio news services.

Other than the correction on the size of the operation, the news pumped out by AP and Fox seemed to indicate that the large-scale operation was going well. Much was made of the 30 suspects detained, though the 10 suspects released was also mentioned.

The Fox news piece I heard was full of audio supplied by the Pentagon from its own video. Fox didn’t mention the source. AP did mention the source.

There are lots of us out there who want to get past the spin from all sides and just put out some solid facts.

But when AP and Fox are barely distinguishable from each other, and the weblogs take a day or two to catch up on the facts, I don’t see how us little guys can have any hope of getting it right.

Honest to God, I trust almost nothing anymore.

try to think of the positive … I’m just glad to hear that no got hurt.

The interesting thing on FOX news was the insert of a moment of 9/11 in their film. With no comment. Just a subliminal message. What a bunch of trash

Skepticism is your only defense. I don’t believe this has changed much over the years - but
keep in mind the INITIAL SOURCES for news of this sort: the White House and its adjunct, the Pentagon.

Were any of the weapons they found Iranian? That’s Bush’s new angle is that IEDs now use Iranian components.

BTW what do you think about the US ambasador to Iraq negotiating with Iran? To me that sounds positive.

Just another public relations campaign to take the emphasis off the 3 year anniversary of the mistake in Iraq by our idiot in chief. When will the American people storm the White House and physically remove these people?

My husband is in the unit involved and because its not over yet i havent heard from him the real deal on the ground but i agree this is one more thing to show how ready the iraqis are to take over. there are about 20,000 soldiers from the 101st there now and they are due to come home around september of this year, I’m sure the media will show lots of homecoming pictures and washington will use this big number of troops coming home for the elections, just like they did when my husband left as other soldiers were leaving in the fall. this operation may have been a photo op, but soldiers were still thrown out into a know unstable area into harms way and even if the op isn’t “real” there are real IEDs and bullets flying out there.

We can change things we can vote out all of the neo cons in the Senate turn it Blue instead of Red, the same with the Congress. Boycott Fox and write letter to thier company that runs ad stating alsong as the runs we will boycott their products. The we can seek impeachmect of the Bush Cartel.

This is a relief. I was afraid the Screaming Eagles were going to do a Fallujah. Better that they waste fuel and time on a PR stunt.

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Hi there! Thanks for stopping in. I'm Christopher Allbritton, former AP and New York Daily News reporter. In 2002, I went stumbling around Iraqi Kurdistan, the northern part of Iraq outside Saddam's direct control, looking for stories. (Some might call it "looking for trouble.") In March 2003, I made it back in time for the war, becoming the Web's first fully reader-funded journalist-blogger. With the support of thousands of readers, we raised almost $15,000. You can read my dispatches here. It was one of the moments in journalism when everything worked. It was a grand -- and successful -- experiment in independent journalism.

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