On Scene: How Operation Swarmer Fizzled
Not a shot was fired, or a leader nabbed, in a major offensive that failed to live up to its advance billing…
…The press, flown in from Baghdad to this agricultural gridiron northeast of Samarra, huddled around the Iraqi officials and U.S. Army commanders who explained that the "largest air assault since 2003" in Iraq using over 50 helicopters to put 1500 Iraqi and U.S. troops on the ground had netted 48 suspected insurgents, 17 of which had already been cleared and released. The area, explained the officials, has long been suspected of being used as a base for insurgents operating in and around Samarra, the city north of Baghdad where the bombing of a sacred shrine recently sparked a wave of sectarian violence.
As I said yesterday, something was fishy about this operation. If our forces in Iraq were truly looking to strike at the heart of the insurgency based on intelligence cueing, something clearly went wrong.
The intelligence could have been bad. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that's happened.
The insurgents might have been tipped off and fled before the combined force troops arrived, which would be very bad news. If there was a leak in operational security, it almost certainly had to have come from someone in the Iraqi forces. If we can't trust the Iraqi forces not to leak our operational intentions, it doesn't matter a hill of ants how well trained they are.
It's not unlikely that Swarmer was a politically timed event to quell criticisms of the readiness of Iraqi forces as many media outlets are suggesting.
It could also be that the operation was simply designed as a "dry run" practice maneuver, and that military Public Affairs got carried away in publicizing it.
Whatever happened, it didn't happen according to the script. Military public affairs got the story wrong, and the independent media got it even wronger.
Times notes that "contrary 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."
The operation was an air "assault," not an air "strike" as many news outlets reported. An air assault is an airborne insertion of ground troops, these days usually accomplished with helicopters. An air strike involves aerial bombing. There were no air strikes in support of Swarmer.
The official Army News Service press release stated, "More than 1,500 Coalition troops and Iraqi security forces along with 200 tactical vehicles and 50 aircraft have launched the largest air assault operation since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003."
Army public affairs might have anticipated that this message would be misinterpreted. It takes familiarity with the military to immediately grasp the difference between an assault and a strike.
But on the other hand, three years into a war, you'd think the major media outlets would have someone familiar with the military on staff to sort these kinds of things out.
In any case, the operation was an over-hyped flop, and military public affairs isn't explaining it, and I have yet to hear or read anyone in the mainstream media asking hard questions about what the heck happened.
I really, really don't want to spread gloom and doom, but the worst case scenario--that some Iraqi supposedly on our side leaked the operation--has to be explored. If Iraqi troops are tipping off the bad guys, there's no way this "stand up, stand down" strategy will work.