Speculation on "Thunder" and "Lightning"
(Speculation alert) Operation Thunder was supposed to be the code-name of a security sweep by 40,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen in the Baghdad area. The existence of a parallel or separate operation, codenamed Operation Lightning has been announced to the public in connection with the arrest of one Saddam's intelligence generals, now believed to be a mastermind in the insurgency.
In their biggest coup of Operation Lightning, Iraqi and U.S. soldiers arrested a former general in Saddam Hussein's intelligence service who was also a member of his Fedayeen secret police during a raid in western Baghdad, the scene of some of Sunday's heaviest fighting. ''He now leads the military wings of several terror cells operating in the west Baghdad neighborhood of Ghazaliyah,'' the military said in its announcement about the former general.
The blatant implication, if this is not all disinformation, is that Operations Thunder and Lightning are related. Supposing that to be the case, in what way? And in what way are the Baghdad sweeps related to US offensives along the Euphrates river line, such as Operations Matador and Newmarket? The Lightning/Thunder pair may be a high-low mix of attacks, with one going after the high value insurgent leadership targets and the other aimed at disrupting their rank and file street fighters. (Perhaps the real codenames aren't Thunder and Lightning, but it is certainly useful to think that operations against the insurgency in Baghdad are logically going to be divided along high-low lines.) If this represents the actual model then the low-end operation will resemble nothing so much as a roundup of neighborhood gangsters, a task within the capability of the fledgling Iraqi forces. The high end operation will probably focus on attacking on leadership targets. The support for both is rumored to involve up to 10,000 US troops, which to put it in perspective, is ten times larger than either Matador or Newmarket.
Iraqi forces launched their biggest security crackdown since the fall of Saddam Hussein with the start of Operation Lightning on Sunday, a sweep by 40,000 Iraqi troops who will seal off Baghdad and hunt for insurgents. Backed by the 10,000 U.S. troops in the capital, Iraqi soldiers will block major routes into Baghdad and search the city district by district, looking for foreign Arab fighters and Iraqi guerrillas, Iraqi officials say.
A "Lightning" type operation will almost certainly involve
specialized Iraqi and American units, possibly in composite groups. Perhaps one of
these units bagged the Saddam ex-general. (The model of combining US and
indigenous personnel for hunting the enemy has a long pedigree, from Kit Carson
scounts to MACV-SOG). Uniformed American combat troops will probably provide the muscle for any
quick reaction to enemy action.
Announcing the security operation in the press will give little practical advantage to the street gangsters, who unlike their leadership, are rooted to the spot by poverty and the need to stay within their protective environment. They've got nowhere to go. Any conventional police roundup has little chance of catching the nimbler and more lethal insurgent leaders and key fighters, who will have fallback safehouses, vehicles and traveling money. But a roundup will be largely effective against the small-timers. It is the high-end operation which can get to the hardcases. Announcing the crackdown may even be calculated into spooking the insurgent leaders into movement, because shifting safe houses normally creates risks and leaves a trail of overlooked documents.
One goal of a high/low approach will be to split the rank and file from the insurgent leaders on whom they rely for handouts. If a normal army travels on its stomach, an terrorist insurgency travels on its wallet. It is no accident that insurgent leaders are nearly always captured with hundreds of thousands of dollars. By combining a police roundup with a targeted hunt for leadership, the coalition may hope to force a temporary dispersal until the enemy can rally and re-establish contacts, knowing this will create more opportunities to exploit. The insurgents are probably aware of what the coalition intends; and assaults on Iraqi police units are almost certainly spoiling attacks, launched to slow down the security operation and allow key assets to escape. After Fallujah and the battles along the Euphrates, the enemy knows better than to stand and hold ground. The enemy's best bet is to slip the punch and attack unprotected lines of communication, such as civilian targets, convoys supporting the security operation or targets highly visible to the press.
Each side is doggedly pursuing a chosen strategy. The insurgents are fighting their terror/media campaign while the coalition may be "tearing down the mountain", an approach described in Mark Bowden's Killing Pablo -- which described how the drug billionaire Pablo Escobar was finally caught when the US forces and civilian groups deconstructed the drug lord's network of lawyers and political backers until he was reduced to hiding in woodland sheds -- except that it is being applied to the Iraqi insurgency. It is a contest of will and methods being played for the highest of stakes.