The Real Surge: Preparing for Operation Phantom Thunder

Executive Summary

  • This Iraq Report describes planning and preparations for a major Corps offensive in central Iraq, Operation Phantom Thunder, which began on June 15, 2007.
  • Phantom Thunder aims to eliminate major enemy safe havens around the capital in order to secure the population of Baghdad and its immediate suburbs.
  • Insurgents have moved car bombs, weapons, and fighters through the areas surrounding Baghdad since 2006.
  • Phantom Thunder consists of simultaneous clearing operations in and around Baghdad.
  • U.S. commanders have been planning and preparing for Phantom Thunder since February.
  • U.S. and Iraqi troops moved into Joint Security Stations and Combat Outposts across Baghdad in order to reconnoiter neighborhoods and secure critical terrain.
  • U.S. commanders gradually encircled Baghdad by placing U.S. forces in the belts.
  • Operations within the belts reconnoitered enemy strongholds, established U.S. bases and outposts for a campaign in the “belts,” and disrupted the movement of insurgents and arms into, out of, and around the capital.
  • Commanders inserted “surge” troops to close gaps in the belt in the final stages of preparation.
  • Operation Phantom Thunder commenced on June 15, 2007, after months of preparation and setting the conditions for the offensive.

Topic 1: The Operational Concept and Setting the Conditions for a Corps Offensive

  • Securing the population requires establishing security within the city of Baghdad (2).
  • Securing Baghdad requires securing the ‘Baghdad belts’ (2).
  • The new Corps offensive developed by General Odierno, Operation Phantom Thunder, consists of “multiple, simultaneous, offensive operations around Baghdad in order to disrupt enemies surrounding the city” (3) while maintaining a constant troop presence within the city.
  • Planning, preparations, and setting the conditions for the June 15 Corps offensive began in January (2-3).
  • As the five new brigades arrived in Iraq, two of the new brigades were deployed to Baghdad and the remaining three were deployed to the belts around Baghdad (4).
  • To set the conditions, operations commenced “to reconnoiter terrain, map enemy behavior, prepare our forces, seize key positions, establish basic trust relationships with the population, and weaken the enemy where possible” (4).

Topic 2: Overview of Preparatory Operations from January to June 2007

  • American troops began operations in January to disrupt Al Qaeda strongholds in and around Baghdad, in areas such as the Haifa Street, Balad Ruz, and Yusifiyah (5).
  • Operation Enforcing the Law dispersed U.S. troops to Joint Security Stations (JSSs) to reconnoiter neighborhoods and clear the enemy from key positions (5).
  • U.S. brigades expanded the areas in which they operated, particularly in southern and western areas of the city (5).
  • General Odierno concentrated “U.S. forces in two rings around Baghdad,” one along the perimeter of the city and the other twenty-thirty miles distant, in the “belts” (5).
  • This deep encirclement of Baghdad “aims to prevent the enemy from moving freely around Iraq or from sector to sector around the city during the offensive” (5).
  • Other operations, including efforts to capture or kill members of Al Qaeda, rogue militia leaders, and arms smugglers, also took place from January to June in preparation for Operation Phantom Thunder (5, 8).

Topic 3: Preparing the Inner Cordon and Net

  • To secure the population of Baghdad and set the conditions for the Corps offensive, two new “surge” brigades were added to increase troop density in Baghdad (8).
  • Commanders also dispersed pre-surge troops to JSSs and Combat Outposts (COPs) throughout Baghdad, particularly in the Ghazaliyah neighborhood in Mansour (2nd BCT/ 1st ID), the Adhamiyah District (2/82 ABN), and the Rashid Security Districts (4th BCT/1st ID) (8-9).
  • These districts contained important insurgent strongholds. Insurgents also moved into and out of Baghdad from these districts (9).
  • The brigades in these neighborhoods created a cordon around the perimeter of Baghdad by blocking entrance and exit from these districts (9).
  • From February to June, the five brigades in Baghdad continued reconnaissance and clearing operations (9).
  • Operations in Baghdad from January to June essentially created “a net of U.S. and Iraqi forces within Baghdad” (10).

Topic 4: Preparing Baghdad’s Outer Cordon

  • General Ray Odierno, commander of combat forces in Iraq, deployed U.S. forces to reconnoiter the belt area south of Baghdad: Arab Jabour, Yusifiyah, and Iskandariyah (10).
  • He deployed three new brigades to belt areas this spring, to interdict weapons and fighters flowing through the belts. These operations created an outer cordon around Baghdad. (10).
  • Operations to prepare the outer cordon disrupted insurgent movement throughout the belts, trapped those insurgents expelled from Baghdad, and disrupted the flow of insurgents into the city (10).
  • General Odierno established a new Division Headquarters, Multi-National Division-Center (MND-C), before fighting in the belts. MND-C oversees forces and operations in the southern and eastern belts (13).
  • U.S. Forces also sought to reconnoiter and disrupt Al Qaeda transit routes and Iranian weapons flows along the Tigris and Euphrates River Valleys south of Baghdad (13-16).

Topic 5: The Final Pieces of Preparation and the Beginning of the Operation

  • The last (8,000) of the surge combat troops arrived in late May and early June (16).
  • Some of the last of these arriving units were among the most important, as they added air power and occupied significant holes in Baghdad’s belts through which the enemy had moved (16).
  • In late May and early June, Marines effectively “closed the gaps in the belt west and northwest of Baghdad,” and “the maneuver elements of the 3rd Infantry Division and its aviation assets” plugged holes east and southeast of Baghdad” (16).
  • In addition, Coalition partners will provide additional units in the coming summer months. A brigade from Georgia will take up positions in Wasit Province, near the Iranian border (16-17).
  • Operation Phantom Thunder began in June: MND-N, MND-C, and MND-W brigades began simultaneous clearing operations in the belts surrounding Baghdad (17).

Possible Implications:

  • Operation Phantom Thunder is the first coordinated campaign against the insurgency in Iraq. It has a greater chance of success than discrete operations.
  • Multiple, simultaneous operations throughout the belts should limit the movement of insurgents, who have been able to flee to other areas for safe haven in the past.
  • The number of U.S. casualties is likely to rise because U.S. troops are attacking enemy strongholds in Iraq’s most volatile provinces.
  • If the offensive in the belts is successful, Baghdad will be more secure because fighters and weapons will not flow freely from the suburbs to the city.
  • Engaging the Iraqi population in counterinsurgency efforts during clearing operations in Baghdad and the belts challenges the insurgency in Iraq.
  • A series of follow-up operations may occur in Baghdad or elsewhere in Iraq after Operation Phantom Thunder.
  • The Corps designed Phantom Thunder to last for several months, and it will take time to determine whether it has succeeded.