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Iraq Report: Phantom Strike and Lightning Hammer

3:01 PM, Aug 14, 2007 • By BILL ROGGIO
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Yesterday, Multinational Forces Iraq announced the start of two major operations--Phantom Strike and Lightning Hammer. Operation Phantom Strike "consists of simultaneous operations throughout Iraq focused on pursuing remaining AQI terrorists and Iranian-supported extremist elements," while Operation Lightning Hammer is directed at al Qaeda in Iraq and allied insurgent groups that escaped Baqubah and are organizing north of the city in the Diyala River Valley. These operations are the continuation of the Baghdad Security Plan and Phantom Thunder, the operations in Baghdad and the Belts that established a security presence in areas from which Iraqi and Coalition forces were absent throughout 2006.

Operation Lightning Hammer.jpgFiring teams "Gunny" and "Storm" from the 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field
Artillery, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division fire an
M109A6 Paladin, a self-propelled howitzer, into the Diyala River Valley
in support of Operation Lightning Hammer.

In a response to Lightning Hammer, al Qaeda in Iraq is attempting to disrupt Coalition supply lines. A suicide bomber detonated a fuel tanker on the Thiraa Dijla Bridge in Taji. At least ten civilians were killed and six wounded in the attack, with an unknown number of people missing in the water. The bridge, which was heavily damaged, spans a canal and serves as a vital link from Taji to Diyala province, as well as from Baghdad to Mosul. U.S. and Iraqi forces have been using Taji as a staging point.

While the full scope of Lightning Hammer, which consists of elements of two Iraqi divisions, four U.S. infantry brigades and a U.S. combat air brigade, has yet to be determined, the operations against al Qaeda and the Shia terror cells have picked up the pace over the past week.

Attacking the Iranian-Backed Shia terror cells

The announcement for Operation Phantom Strike made clear that the Iranian-backed elements of the Mahdi Army, as well as the Qods Force-created Special Groups terror cells, are major targets. Since the announcement of Phantom Strike, Iraqi and U.S. troops have hit these Iranian-backed groups especially hard in Baghdad and Najaf, the two strongholds of Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army.

Coalition forces killed four "rogue Jaysh-al-Mahdi" (Mahdi Army) operatives and captured eight more during a raid inside Sadr City. Multinational Forces Iraq has made its position explicit--killing Mahdi fighters is as good as capturing them. "The purpose of the raid was to capture or kill an extremist militant and his operatives," the press release stated. The cell has attacked both Coalition forces and Iraqi civilians. "These militants are also known to have ties to illicit materials smuggled from Iran that have been used in extra-judicial killings." No Coalition forces were killed or wounded during the attack, despite taking small arms fire and being on the receiving end of two IEDs.

On August 13, Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured 12 Mahdi Army operatives during "synchronized intelligence driven operations" in Baghdad. Iraqi troops captured a brigade commander, battalion commander, two company commanders and one leader of an extra-judicial killing cell, along with seven other Mahdi operatives. "The brigade commander is responsible for five groups under his control," Multinational Forces Iraq stated. "Reports indicate that he transports IEDs from Iran into Iraq and recently ordered an IED attack that caused the death of two U.S. Soldiers. The suspect also reportedly ordered his JAM members to set up illegal checkpoints to hunt down and assassinate Sunni citizens." Also on August 13, Coalition forces captured "a key financier of Special Groups terrorists" during a raid in the Bayaa district in Western Baghdad.