March 16 - March 22, 2006
Iraqi Security Forces and their Coalition partners launched Operation Swarmer in southern Salah Ad Din province on March 16, 2006. The operation was conducted to clear a suspected insurgent operating area northeast of Samarra.
Operation Swarmer began with soldiers from the Iraqi Army's 1st Brigade, 4th Division, the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade conducting a combined air and ground assault to isolate the objective area.
Attack and assault aircraft provided aerial weapons support for the operation and also delivered troops from the Iraq Army's 4th Division, the Rakkasans from 1st and 3rd Battalions, 187th Infantry Regiment and the Hunters from 2nd Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment to multiple objectives. Forces from the 2nd Commando Brigade then completed a ground infiltration to secure numerous structures in the area.
U.S. and Iraqi troops went into the area on the same U.S. helicopters and used gunships for support. Facing very light resistance in the early stages of the operation there were no airborne weapons fired. Forcers then landed the aircraft near the objective areas and quickly secured the areas.
More than 1,500 Iraqi and Coalition troops, over 200 tactical vehicles, and more than 50 aircraft participated in the operation. Of the 1,500 troops more than 850 were Iraqi soldiers and commandos along with more than 600 U.S. soldiers from the Task Force Band of Brothers.
Operation Swarmer followed closely the completion of a combined Iraqi - Coalition operation west of Samarra in early March of 2006 that yielded substantial enemy weapons and equipment caches.
Samarra is the center of the so-called Sunni triangle and has been home to insurgent activity for much of the occupation period. This insurgent activity escalated when a major Shi'ite shrine was bombed in Febuary 2006, sparking massive waves of sectarian violence in Iraq.
The operation was billed by the DOD as being the largest air assault since 2003 which gave many in the media and the public an impression of a more significant operation than it actually was. Air Assault is a term for a helicopter-borne infantry assault but many confused it with something along the lines of a “shock and awe” campaign that had taken place at the start of the war. In fact, the air power used in Operation Swarmer was mostly to ferry troops to their targets and not for bombings. Operation Swarmer was one of the very few operations in Iraq that received large media attention and some critics claimed that the Defense Department deliberately attempted to make the operation out to be bigger and more important than it actually was. They pointed to the fact that Swarmer began close to the three-year anniversary of the war as well as the low public opinion numbers on the U.S.’s handling of the war at the time of the operation. In a briefing during the operation, White House spokesman Scott McClellan denied that the timing of the operation was in any way related to lowered U.S. public support for the Iraq war.
The name Swarmer was derived from the name given to the largest peacetime airborne maneuvers ever conducted, in spring 1950 in North Carolina. Soon after this exercise, the 187th Infantry was selected to deploy to Korea as an Airborne Regimental Combat Team to provide General MacArthur with an airborne capability.
High ranking commanders in Iraq commented that throughout Operation Swarmer there was virtually no resistance from insurgents. The operation swept an area of 250 square kilometers for insurgents and weapons. The large desert area is not very populated and therefore required the large airborne assault.
It was reported that the operation resulted in 104 suspected insurgents being detained and questioned and 24 weapons caches discovered. Enemy caches captured were said to have yielded significant amounts of weapons and IED-making materials: Six shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles; more than 350 mortar rounds and three mortar systems; 26 artillery rounds; a variety of bomb-making materials and other military items; more than 120 rockets; more than 3,200 rounds of small-arms ammunition; 86 rocket-propelled grenades and 28 launchers; six land mines; 12 hand grenades and 40 rifle grenades; and 34 rifles and machine guns of various types.
The following items were among the IED-making materials discovered from the operation:
. More than 500 feet of explosive detonating cord;
. 50 explosive blasting caps;
. 25 130 mm artillery rounds packed with plastic explosive;
. Various remote initiation devices, including cordless phone base stations and washing machine timers.
In addition to the weapons and munitions, terrorist training publications, Iraqi Army uniforms and videos were recovered. The video footage portrayed U.S. troop locations in Iraq, the rigging and detonation of a car bomb, a suicide bomber and equipment taken from Iraqi Police.
On March 21, 2006 an unmanned aerial vehicle crashed in Salah ah Din province as part of Operation Swarmer. The Air Force MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, based with the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, was being flown by a pilot at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., when the aircraft crashed. Army and Air Force personnel recovered the wreckage and returned it to Balad Air Base.
Operation Swarmer wrapped up on March 22, 2006 without any reported casualties and all of the tactical objectives met, Multinational Force Iraq officials said.
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