WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, June 25, 2007) - The plus-up of forces into Iraq is over. The surge of operations has begun, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq told Pentagon reporters in a teleconference June 22.

Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said the series of operations under the overarching title "Operation Phantom Thunder" is designed to protect the Iraqi people, ease reconciliation among the religious sects, defeat al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremists, and continue developing Iraqi security forces.

Phantom Thunder is a corps-level offensive aimed at defeating extremists in Iraq, the general explained. "It is an open-ended operation that will extend through the summer and will be done in conjunction with civil-military operations to support political and economic efforts," he said.

All of the elements of the surge are in place, the general said. Twenty U.S. brigades and regimental combat teams are in place in the country. Six brigades are in Baghdad proper - the focus of the surge -- and eight are in the belt around the Iraqi capital. Two Marine units guard the western approaches to the city.

"There are also four combat aviation brigades and a Marine air wing in support, all with many other combat enablers such as precision air support and artillery," Lt. Gen. Odierno said. "This provides us tremendous capability to do simultaneous and sustained operations and to maintain pressure across the entire theater on extremists. More importantly, it allows us to operate in areas where we have not been in a long time."

All of the operations under Phantom Thunder are done in coordination with Iraqi security forces and coalition partners, he said.

"We have already begun attacking the enemy from multiple directions in a way that I believe he will not be able to resist," the general said. "Our pursuit will be agile and relentless. Our goal is to force the enemy to fight from positions of disadvantage while we maintain the initiative."

Phantom Thunder consists of carefully synchronized operations at division and brigade level to clear al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiia extremists in, near and around Baghdad. "It also includes aggressive shaping operations by our special operations forces focused on al Qaeda in Iraq and other special groups," he said.

The intent of Phantom Thunder goes back to the handbook of defeating an insurgency - separate insurgents from the population, then put in place political and economic initiatives to buy time and space for the Iraqi government to move toward political accommodations, Lt. Gen. Odierno said.

There are already results, he said. To the west, the Marine's 6th Regimental Combat Team is well into the process of establishing Iraqi police precincts in Fallujah, where violence has significantly decreased during the past few months. The leathernecks found a very large cache with more than 25,000 gallons of nitric acid. The city of Ramadi, which up until a few months ago was considered lost, is returning to normal. "Attacks in Ramadi are at a two-year low," he said.

South of Baghdad, the Multinational Division Center began Operation Marne Torch against al Qaeda safe havens along the Tigris River. The coalition has not had forces in the area in two years. "This is an area known for producing car and truck bombs that are sent north into Baghdad," Lt. Gen. Odierno said.

Coalition and Iraqi forces already have eliminated and detained more than 100 enemy fighters. Forces in the area are slowly and deliberately clearing the area of enemy while reaching out to the local populace.

"Of note, the citizens there are coming forward, providing tips to coalition forces, which has helped us to find and clear many (improvised explosive devices)," he said. "Some of the highlights from Operation Marne Torch: 17 caches found and cleared, 288 structures cleared, several Iraqis added into our biometric database, 46 captured insurgents, 18 of which are considered to be of high value."

In the city, "some parts of Baghdad are doing well and seeing progress, while others still have high levels of violence," Lt. Gen. Odierno said. Coalition focus is clearing and controlling the security districts of Adamiyah in the northeast, Rashid in the south and portions of Mansour in the northwest.

"These are the areas where we're seeing the majority of violence inside of Baghdad," he said. "These are areas where sectarian fault lines exist, convergence of (al Qaeda in Iraq) and Shiia extremists."

Building joint security stations and combat outposts - the building blocks of the strategy in the capital - continues.

"In some neighborhoods, such as Ameriyah, we have had residents come forward to coalition forces and express their weariness of (al Qaeda in Iraq) and a desire to band together to form neighborhood watches," he said. "The government of Iraq is actively publicizing the joint security stations to Baghdad citizens and providing telephone numbers to report suspicious behavior and tips, and they continue to be very high, as we continue to get many tips."

In the city, three rocket and mortar cells have been taken down in the past few days, and a list of material taken from caches includes 21 107-mm rockets and more than 100 artillery shells. In Rashid, 750 gallons of nitric acid, and four truck and car bombs were found. In Sadr City, troops have found five mortar systems, 54 mortar rounds, and three 107 mm rockets. Also in Sadr City, coalition forces took down a particularly active indirect-fire cell.

In Multinational Division North, three brigade combat teams operate in the belts north and east of Baghdad, and three more brigade combat teams work elsewhere in the division's area of operations. Operation Arrowhead Ripper is concentrated in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, to defeat enemy fighters in the city and secure the population by conducting detailed, deliberate clearing operations.

"What we have found so far is a determined and entrenched enemy who's trying to stand and fight, and we have continued to use ... close-air support, artillery, and helicopter air weapons teams with success," Lt. Gen. Odierno said.

The general said senior al Qaeda leaders in Baqubah abandoned their followers.

"So far within Baqubah, there've been many successes: four weapon caches have been found and cleared, three truck and car bombs have been captured and destroyed, over 25 deep-buried improvised explosive devices have been found and cleared, and 10 booby-trapped houses were rendered safe." Al Qaeda terrorists rigged the houses with thousands of pounds of explosives to try to kill coalition forces as they attempted to enter.

Lt. Gen. Odierno stressed that these are the early days in the operation, but added that there are encouraging signs. Baghdad murders this week are down to 33, from 93 a week in January, and coalition forces are finding more caches.

"In some places, the enemy has decided to stand and fight, and they are paying dearly for this mistake," he said. Also, large-scale car and truck-bomb attacks are down "because Iraqi security forces are doing their job," Lt. Gen. Odierno said.

Coalition and Iraqi forces have detained 721 detainees so far, with 50 classified as leaders of cells and high-value targets, he said.

Most encouraging, Lt. Gen. Odierno said, is that Iraqis are stepping forward.

"One of the things we do as part of our foot patrols among the population centers is monitoring graffiti to gauge public sentiments," Lt. Gen. Odierno said. "In the mixed and volatile Rashid district of Baghdad earlier this week, there were two sentences spray-painted on the wall in Arabic. The first said: 'Yes, yes, to the new security plan' and the second said, 'No difference between Shiia and Sunni.' Obviously, this is only one anecdote, but a small step in the right direction."

Tactical Details

Two coordinated operations in Mosul June 22 targeted a Kurdish extremist known for helping al Qaeda in Iraq facilitate foreign fighters and conduct financial and media operations, military officials reported.

While troops maneuvered through a targeted building, an armed man engaged them with small-arms fire, endangering the force and the innocent family members. Coalition forces defended themselves, the women and the children by killing the armed terrorist.

Troops identified the terrorist as a member of the al Qaeda in Iraq network who recruited and transported foreign fighters into Iraq to participate in suicide bombings and other terrorist activities, officials said. Coalition forces detained seven other suspected terrorists during the raids for their alleged involvement in the network.

In Baghdad, coalition forces conducted an operation to capture an al Qaeda in Iraq senior leader in the area. As forces entered the building, a man continuously made hostile attempts to evade the ground forces and ignored the translator's instructions to comply with the forces' orders. Reacting appropriately to the perceived hostile threat, officials said, coalition forces shot and killed him.

Inside the building, coalition forces detained 10 suspected terrorists, including two who have alleged close ties to al Qaeda in Iraq senior leaders. Coalition forces also destroyed a vehicle used in transporting weapons and personnel for terrorist activity, officials reported.

West of Tarmiyah, coalition forces targeted an individual suspected of helping foreign fighters enter Iraq. The ground force captured the individual and three more suspected terrorists allegedly tied to the al Qaeda in Iraq foreign fighter network.

Coalition forces raided a building northeast of Habbaniyah in search of an al Qaeda senior leader there. The ground force detained eight suspected terrorists for their alleged involvement with the senior leader.

"Al Qaeda in Iraq members continue to threaten the safety of Iraqis with indiscriminant violence, even deliberately endangering their own family members," said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman. "Al Qaeda's operatives, many of them foreigners to Iraq, do not represent the will or the desires of the Iraq people."

In other operations June 22, officials reported that attack helicopters from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade engaged and killed 17 al Qaeda gunmen after ground forces from the 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team saw the men attempting to circumvent Iraqi police who were conducting security operations southwest of Khalis.

During Operation Sledgehammer June 22, transition team paratroopers from the 25th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team and Iraqi security forces found 10 82mm mortar rounds, 10 102mm mortar rounds and two improvised explosive devices while searching offices of a cleric's organization.

Eight individuals were detained during the combined search operation conducted by the Iraqi army, the Hillah Special Weapons and Tactics Team, and coalition forces in Jabella. The operation is designed to disrupt militia influence and violence.

Three operations conducted northwest of Baghdad June 22 by 1st Cavalry Division troops resulted in the detention of seven suspected insurgents.

"We are tightening the noose on the IED cell members in our area of operations, and disrupting their operations," said Lt. Col. Peter Andrysiak, deputy commanding officer of the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team. "We have been able to increase our troop presence in the more remote areas of our sector because of the increased number of 'surge troops.'"

In the early morning hours June 22, scouts from the 8th Cavalry Regiment raided a suspected insurgent location in an isolated farm house in the Taji area. All seven suspected insurgents were captured in the house. The cell is believed to be responsible for planting bombs on Highway 1 and other locations area.

In a village in Abu Ghraib, 5th Cavalry Regiment Soldiers conducted an air assault operation to conduct cordon-and-search operations at several homes suspected of housing insurgents.

A resident questioned at the scene claimed his home had been taken over by insurgents, but that they left when they heard the aircraft. At the home, a small cache was found, including a hand grenade and a pistol.

During operations conducted June 21 by troops attached to the 1st Infantry Division, two caches were discovered during clearing operations in the eastern portion of the Rashid district of the Iraqi capital.

Troops from the 38th Infantry Regiment seized a cache consisting of 12 AK-47 assault rifles, 15 AK-47 magazines, 12 60mm mortar rounds, four 82mm mortars, 60 anti-personnel mines, a mortar tube, a machine gun with 150 rounds, 12 motorcycle batteries, switches, wires, black powder, fuses and rocket-propelled-grenade boosters.

Meanwhile, Soldiers from another company within the regiment located a cache nearby that contained 15 RPG rounds. Coalition explosive ordnance disposal units destroyed both caches.

Early morning raids June 21 by 1st Cavalry Division troops in northwestern Baghdad targeted terrorist cells believed to be responsible for improvised explosive attacks within the region. Multiple suspects, as well as weapons and equipment, were detained during the raids.

In other news, 37th Field Artillery Soldiers conducted an air assault raid on a residence determined by intelligence sources to be an insurgent safe house near the town of Shammar Jarba. Four suspects were detained for questioning, including those suspected to be responsible for attacks on Highway 1, as well as assisting in IED attacks in the Taji area.

Near the village of Awad, scouts from the 8th Cavalry Regiment conducted a dismounted raid on a suspected insurgent safe house. Inside the home, the Soldiers detained five suspects, including one suspect believed to be responsible for coordinating car bomb attacks against coalition forces in an area west of Taji. The troops also seized a high-powered rifle with a scope, a pistol, a rocket-propelled grenade scope and a flare gun.

West of Kem village, Soldiers from the regiment conducted a dismounted raid on another suspected safe house. Nine suspects were detained in this operation.

Also June 21, 2nd Infantry Division Soldiers recovered a cache and detained three suspects during a security operation in eastern Baghdad. The Soldiers recovered 11 AK-47 rifles, an Enfield rifle, a 9mm pistol, two pellet guns, a knife, a bayonet, a weapon sight and an undisclosed amount of money.

Residents in the area were complaining about an increase in militia activity and an increase in small-arms fire within the sparsely populated area. Coalition forces, based on tips from residents, conducted the operation to impair the ability of militia members to target innocent civilians.

"This is a great example of U.S. forces helping the Iraqi people and trying to quell violence in areas that have seen increased security and are trying to return to normalcy," said Maj. Sean Ryan, a 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team spokesman.

Operation Arrowhead Ripper continues as Iraqi security forces teamed with Task Force Lightning units to clear Baqubah and surrounding areas.

"We are shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqi Security Forces in this fight," said Army Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek, commander of Operation Arrowhead Ripper. "The weeks ahead are absolutely key in not only holding and retaining the ground that is cleared in partnership with coalition forces, but also in building trust and confidence with the citizens of Diyala."

In support of the operation, attack helicopters from 82nd Attack Reconnaissance Battalion provided assistance to Iraqi and coalition ground forces, killing at least 13 al Qaeda operatives and destroying an al Qaeda compound during the second day of the operation.

In a separate engagement during the operation June 21, Soldiers discovered an empty school complex rigged with explosives in Baqubah, the capital city of Diyala province. An investigation of the area determined the school and surrounding buildings had been abandoned.

Coalition forces destroyed the school due to risk to the community, but were unable to disable the explosives because of instability. Ground forces effectively coordinated a precision-guided munitions strike and destroyed the school.

After a search of a house June 21, Soldiers from 37th Field Artillery Regiment seized two suspected insurgents after finding $1,500 in U.S. $100 bills and multiple forged identification cards in the home.

The house had been targeted for search because of its alleged involvement as a lookout point for IED attacks on coalition and Iraqi security forces. Coalition forces demolished the home June 22 to prevent its further use by insurgents.

Coalition forces intercepted an ambulance carrying seven suspected al Qaeda operatives attempting to circumvent security elements operating in Baqubah on June 19. The ambulance was stopped by Soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division's 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, who are conducting missions in the area as part of Operation Arrowhead Ripper.

Soldiers checked the ambulance and found a driver and six men, who appeared to be in their 20s and 30s. Two of the men were injured.

"Using emergency service vehicles to move fighters and equipment is a common tactic of al Qaeda in Iraq," said Col. Steve Townsend, commander of 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. "We are controlling ambulances and other service vehicles in the city to ensure they are being used legitimately."

Also on June 19, Iraqi and coalition forces discovered pipe bombs, artillery shells, and 200 to 400 pounds of explosives during a raid at a house in west Mosul.

Gunmen engaged the Soldiers with small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire but were turned away by coalition attack helicopters armed with rockets.

Four hours later and 50 miles to the south, Iraqi Soldiers raided a suspected explosives storage house in the village of Heschel. The Soldiers detained one suspect and discovered more than 200 pounds of TNT, as well as other bomb-making materials.

Shortly after midnight, Soldiers detained a key suspected al Qaeda financier who had been operating in Mosul.

Since the beginning of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, combined forces have killed at least 58 al Qaeda operatives, detained 40 others, discovered 16 weapons caches, destroyed 28 improvised explosive devices and 12 booby-trapped structures, military officials said.