Monday, March 20, 2006

Getting it Completely Wrong

Not long after Operation Swarmer began near Samarra last Friday, Time magazine correspondents Brian Bennett and Al Jallam were on the scene, claiming that the air and ground assault had already "fizzled."

"But contrary to what many many television networks erroneously reported, the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war. ("Air Assault" is a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact, there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What’s more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders."

What apparently fizzled was the reporting of Bennett and Jallam. Most of the TV networks I watched (FNC, CNN and MSNBC) got the terminology right, describing the operation as the largest "air assault" since the invasion of Iraq three years ago. And, BTW, "air assault" refers to the movement of troops into an operations area specifically by helicopter, something Bennett and Jallam omitted from their dispatch. Using the correct definition, Swarmer was the largest air assault in Iraq in more than three years.

But more importantly, the Time correspondents were also wrong on the scope and impact of the operation. Their impressions of Swarmer seemed based on observations from the area where they landed near Samarra; it's a bit like landing in Normandy on June 20, 1944, and deciding that there wasn't a war going on. By the time Bennett and/or Jallam landed on Friday, the action had likely shifted; what they saw at the LZ was a small security force, left behind to occupy the landing zone and adjacent areas. Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraqi troops were combing a 10 x 15 mile area, looking for insurgents and weapons caches.

What's (curiously) missing from the Time report is how long their correspondents stayed on the ground, and how much territory they bothered to cover. It's easy to jump off a Blackhawk, observe a lack of activity, pronounce the operation a failure, then climb back on the chopper for the hop back to Baghdad.

Was Swarmer a failure? Here is the initial CENTCOM press release, and an update issued on Sunday. Based on the amount of IED materials discovered so far, it's hard to dismiss the operation as a bust. Those captured caches represent dozens of fewer IEDs and VBIEDs along the roads of Iraq, and fewer coalition casualties. For that reason alone, I'd say Swarmer was a success, even if the boys from Time were unimpressed.

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