Phantom Strike Operations Target Terrorist Safe Havens in Iraq
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2007 Iraqi and coalition forces launched combat offensives dubbed “Operation Marne Husky” today and “Operation Lightning Hammer” yesterday to eliminate enemy sanctuaries in Iraq.
Operation Marne Huskey is an aviation-based combat offensive that plays a key part in Multinational Corps Iraq's overall “Operation Phantom Strike” and will target militant safe havens and weapons smugglers to choke the flow of bombs and weapons reaching the Iraqi capital, military officials said.
"The combination of aviation and ground forces will allow Task Force Marne the ability to target areas that the enemy deems as safe," said Army Lt. Col. Robert Wilson, executive officer of 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. "We're leveraging the ability of the helicopters with the infantry soldiers to take the fight to the enemy and promote security for the people of Iraq."
The operation is designed to disrupt insurgents who fled the towns of Salman Pak and Arab Jabour in front of earlier U.S. offensives. Marne Husky is a change for troops in central Iraq in that the unit with primary responsibility is the aviation brigade.
Instead of conducting linear maneuver across the battlefield, the operation will consist of a series of sustained air assaults, coordinated from the sky and employing numerous platforms operating in synch. Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters will deliver soldiers to where they're needed within 30 minutes of identifying a target under constant support from Kiowa and Apache air weapons teams, officials said.
Intelligence has become a huge asset in Task Force Marne's area of responsibility as both Sunni and Shiia Iraqis come forward with tips and the U.S. positions its own internal assets to gather information. Marne Husky will use combat aviation capabilities to press that advantage, expanding the U.S. reach as it quickens response times to restrict extremists' maneuverability in the area, officials said.
In operations yesterday, Operation Lightning Hammer kicked off with a powerful barrage of artillery fire and air strikes on carefully selected targets in Diyala province, sending al Qaeda a strong message that they have no safe haven there, officials said.
More than 300 artillery munitions, rockets and bombs were dropped throughout the night and into morning, blocking al Qaeda movement and suppressing suspected al Qaeda targets. This barrage set the stage for subsequent nighttime air and ground assaults into the Diyala River Valley by U.S. aviation units, officials said.
These forces combined with other units already conducting Operation Lightning Hammer missions elsewhere in Diyala and Salah ad Din provinces, totaling about 10,000 coalition forces and 6,000 Iraqi security forces.
"Enemies of Iraq will not get a chance to rest or hide in Diyala province," said Army Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, deputy commander for operations, Task Force Lightning and Multinational Division North. "We are moving forward together for the benefit of the Iraqi people, and this operation proves the growing strength of Iraq's partnership with the coalition.”
Elsewhere today, coalition forces raided three buildings in Kirkuk while hunting an al Qaeda leader known for extortion, kidnapping, weapons trafficking and directing car bombings. Ground forces detained two suspected terrorists during the operation.
"Whether al Qaeda in Iraq is using Iraqis or foreigners to conduct their brutal attacks, we will target those criminals who terrorize the Iraqi people," said Army Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, Multinational Force Iraq spokesman. "Our operations are degrading the ability of the terrorists to operate freely."
In other operations today:
-- Coalition forces continued to attack Baghdad's car-bombing network, targeting an individual who has attempted to coordinate carjackings and use the vehicles and drivers as suicide bombers. As the assault force approached the target building, four armed men maneuvered to fighting positions on a nearby rooftop. Coalition forces engaged the men, killing all four. Inside an associated building, ground forces found a cache of weapons and terrorist media material.
-- North of Muqdadiyah, coalition forces raided a suspected safe-house complex while targeting a foreigner who provides weapons to al Qaeda. Coalition forces engaged and killed three armed men when approaching the building. When the ground forces called the remaining people out of the building, one man resisted and made threatening movements toward the assault force. Coalition forces engaged the man in self-defense and killed him, officials said.
-- Soldiers from the 8th Iraqi Army with U.S. Special Forces advisors conducted a raid in eastern Najaf and detained a former battalion commander of the Jaysh al-Mahdi militia suspected of leading an independent extremist group. The former commander's cell is suspected of conducting aggressive insurgent attacks using explosively formed penetrators throughout southern Iraq during late 2005 and early 2006. After leaving the militia group, he allegedly formed an independent cell of more than 150 extremists that is believed to have conducted attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces. Officials also believe his cell took part in an August 2006 battle against coalition forces in Diwaniyah.
Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers uncovered a weapons cache and captured two suspected insurgents during raids in eastern Baghdad yesterday. Soldiers detained two suspects and recovered two large civilian trucks, six rifles, a homemade silencer, 308 sniper rounds, two bolts and a bandoleer of ammunition in an operation in the New Baghdad district of the Iraqi capital.
(Compiled from Multinational Force Iraq, Multinational Corps Iraq and Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Arabian Peninsula news releases.)