Saturday, March 18, 2006

Swarmers and Farmers

I just ran across this Times article on Operation Swarmer:
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.


  1. You can take it to the bank that the insurgents were warned ahead of time. We don't make a move in Iraq that the locals who have a need to know about our movements don't know about.

    And the op just doesn't sound that big -- maybe a battalion, a battalion plus of the 101st. As Pat Lang pointed out, Back in the Day the only people who would have gotten excited about a movement that size would have been the S-3 guys who planned it.

    The whole thing has PR Stunt written all over it.

  2. Of course it was a PR stunt. That was telegraphed when the initial announcements emphasized that this was a local commander initiative, and the WH had no prior knowledge of the operation.

    Not to sound pessimistic, but I suppose there will be repeats of this sort of activity as the mid-term elections grow closer. And I'm sure people other than some US reporters and citizens were watching, carefully noting just how we handled the entire thing...

  3. fbg461:54 PM

    Just caught MOH winner Jack Jacobs on MSNBC re: "Swarmer":

    Small operation,probably planned out at the btn/bde level that got hyped up the line.

    Accomplished little. Obviously bad intel.

  4. It's small operation, yeah, but no, it couldn't have bene planned at Bn or Bde level because of the cross-transfer of troop elements from three different Divisional elements (101st, 1st Cav, 4th Inf) this was most likely devised and coordinated at CENTCOM. You can be sure this was established as a showpiece.

    If you read GEN Paul Easton's piece in today's NY Times you'll get the idea that independent thinking at Brigade or Batallion level is not accepted.

  5. Swarmer accomplished its real mission: a flurry of news coverage to give the American public a vague idea that we're still kickin' ass over there. They don't care about the details, the post-game, or anything else: they just want to know we're attacking, and blowing stuff up. Or so the PR spin doctors believe.