Monday, May 30, 2005

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.


Blogger desert rat said...

Right on the money!
Looks like the indigs are ready and willing. What a long slog it's been, but Rummy may have just been right all along.
Maybe Chalabi held the key the whole time? I understand the King of Jordon is looking to squash his conviction in abstentia.
In any case, this could be the break through we all have been hoping for.

5/30/2005 05:37:00 AM  
Blogger Chester said...


Interesting. I was thinking that Thunder and Lightning were the same op, and the confusion was in translation. I've also seen reference to a "thunderbolt" . . .

I had not considered that they are two separate ops. I will look for confirmation of this in the press.

5/30/2005 07:17:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

"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", "
I read some whiner article in the 'Times, I think, late last nite, that related how put upon the Sunni's were by this intrusion, that might well be Sadr-Based!
...and most certainly had
"strong ties to Iran."

5/30/2005 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

I forgot: It might also hasten the arrival of
(hope springs eternal in the MSM)

5/30/2005 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Davis said...

Yes, doug, it was the NYT that gave us this journalistic gem, One man in Amariya telephoned The New York Times to say that people in his neighborhood believed that the sweeps were inspired and led by the Badr Organization, a shadowy militia group founded in Iran that is an offshoot of one of the two governing Shiite religious parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. I gues they stay by the phone so they can monitor al-Jazeera at the same time.

5/30/2005 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Great positive thinking in your analysis Wretchard, exactly why so many come to the Belmont Club.

While the NYT chooses Sunday of Memorial Day to lead their editorial page with "The Death Spiral of the Volunteer Army" - you choose to lead with the positive aspects and results of our efforts.

If we were to modify the allegory of the blind men and elephant, each describing a different part as the whole, and instead of the elephant we talked of an eagle on the hunt - the NYT would be writing about the ruffled feather on the eagle's wing, and you would be writing on the view from the eagle's eyes - not invulnerable, but certainly not frightful and weak and at a loss for what to do next.

5/30/2005 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Solomon2 said...

I just published a long post on Iraqi matters at my blog.

5/30/2005 02:02:00 PM  
Blogger TallDave said...

Great analysis, thanks for sharing.

5/30/2005 05:37:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

I submit that Solomon2's link is well worth the read. A well written and easily understandable recitation of the situation.

5/30/2005 06:49:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

Good piece Wretchard. As desert rat notes the indigenous people are playing a major role in neutralizing the terrorists. Also, it helps to have the Iraqi Government publish confession of terrorists and their killing of Iraqis on TV. It shows how dirty these terrorists play.

Btw, I was of the same impression as Chester, the Operation Thunder [or Thunderbolt] just got lost in the translation and it morphed into Lightning. It really doesn't matter. The Coalition's offensive is really hurting the terrorists.

5/30/2005 09:13:00 PM  
Blogger rayratemp said...

I'm thinking the situation reads like the INF is playing the role of safari beaters, thrashing around in the tall grass. They're doing valid work in scooping up thugs and their weapons. But I think the coordinated effort involves our overwatch - stir up the jihadists, see who scurries and where they go to, listen in on radio and cell traffic, use video surveillance drones and SIGINT to identify and locate their leadership layers & their locations - and pounce on'em.
And by pressing at both the top and bottom layers of the terrorist forces, create even more chaos in their ranks to exploit.

5/31/2005 01:21:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

If Wretchard gets sick, we can all just contribute info, and let Tony turn it into a work of Art.
...we'll have to figure a way where the Eagle has no connection whatsoever to the NY Slimes, however.
I missed the
"Death Spiral of the Volunteer Army"
What will I do to keep up my morale w/o it?

5/31/2005 03:00:00 AM  
Blogger Papa Bear said...

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.

It's long been a military maxim that "amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics". Adapted to terrorist warfare, this becomes "amateurs look at terrorist networks; professionals look at financial networks"

Without cash, the insurgency dries up. Where is the cash coming from? Find the financial supporters and deal with them, and worldwide terrorism is crippled.

I believe the terror war is a proxy war by currently unidentified (at least publicly) individuals, groups, and nation-states. It is designed to make the US bleed from a thousand cuts, force us to spend billions of dollars on counter-insurgency that would otherwise go to convential military readyness, and ultimately weaken the US economy to the point where we lose our hyperpower status. At that point, the hidden finance sources may act more openly

5/31/2005 06:36:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Without cash, the insurgency dries up. Where is the cash coming from? Find the financial supporters and deal with them, and worldwide terrorism is crippled.
the deep game right now is about figuring out how to make cheap catalysts, semi permiable membranes and molecular lattices for hydrogen storage.

There are no labratories in the USA now that are not working on some aspect of alternative fuels.

5/31/2005 08:20:00 AM  
Blogger Doug Santo said...

Hard for me to believe that operations the size and scope of Thunder and Lightning (T&L) occurred simultaneously through chance. T&L are likely related to one another, were probably in the works for some time, and were likely planned to be launched simultaneously. Thunder to be announced to provide a media boost to Iraqi forces; Lightning to be exposed to the public when such exposure would benefit either operation. Lightning appears to be the crux of the joint op with success measured by the number of kills or captures of senior enemy leaders. Longer-term success would be disruption of enemy cells.

Matador and Newmarket (M&N) likely came about to exploit enemy weaknesses revealed via Iraqi sources. The intelligence likely came during planning for the larger Op’s. The intelligence must have been strong enough to convince commanders to factor M&N into the larger operational plan and possibly delay implementation of the larger plan. Successful completion of M&N would drive enemy forces into the larger net of T&L and improve chances of success.

The bulk of enemy operations have devolved to largely uncoordinated suicide attacks against weekly defended or undefended targets of opportunity. Planning for operations like these may be take 2 or 3 days and involve small teams of 5 to 10 operatives. The personnel involved in the suicide attacks seem to be bottom-of-the-barrel recruits and unfortunate innocents tricked or coerced into taking part. Tactics employed suggest little or no involvement from higher up the chain. Some suicide bombings may reasonably be assumed to be spoiling attacks to ease pressure on senior enemy leaders, but in most cases these suicide bombings would not distract US or Iraqi forces committed to operations against terrorists/insurgents.

I believe terrorist/insurgent leaders are under significant pressure. They must remain mobile. They must limit their contacts with junior operatives. They must limit how they communicate with associates. They must be prepared to flee at any moment. They must buy the loyalty of many involved in their cause. Under these circumstances detailed operational planning and coordinated attacks beyond local neighborhoods are almost beyond their ability. I don’t believe collapse of the terrorist/insurgent infrastructure is imminent, but such collapse is coming.

Doug Santo
Pasadena, CA

5/31/2005 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

Doug Santo,

Most of what you posted seems to be right on target. The only question I have is that (from what I have read) these recent attacks appear to be more coordinated than the attacks have been in the past (in general.)

5/31/2005 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger TallDave said...

Omar over at Iraq the Model adds some native perspective.

If the Iraqis can secure Baghdad, that may mark the beginning of the end for the insurgents. An Iraqi-secured capital, coupled with the coming constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections, could be their death knell.

5/31/2005 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Doug wrote: "work of Art." Here's one from 'Blue Chip' at LGF, wrt NYT article exposing CIA air ops:

"As I bent over to pick up some dog shhh on my front lawn with a page from the NY Times, the dog shhh said “Get that piece of shhh away from me!”"

[Vulgarity modified.]

5/31/2005 03:56:00 PM  

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