As has been reported in media outlets across the world, the United States launched what it is describing as the largest air assault since 2003 with more than 1,500 US and Iraqi troops using over 50 helicopters and 200 vehicles moving into the area north of Samarra. The assault, dubbed “Operation: Swarmer,” is expected to last several days and was officially launched to eliminate “a suspected insurgent operating area.” The operation has been described as necessary by US and Iraqi officials in order to prevent insurgents from developing a stronghold like they had in Falluja.
While there have not been any reports of civilian casualties from the raid, an air raid on Wednesday north of Baghdad killed eleven women and children after planes bombed a home. “Operation Swarmer” and Wednesday’s raid come a day after a new analysis of military data shows a significant increase in air operations. This trend was first observed back in December of 2005, but military data reviewed by Knight Ridder has shown an in crease of more than 50% in daily bombing raids and jet-missile launches. From October of 2005 to February of 2006, the US dropped bombs or missiles on Iraqi cities on at least 76 days, up from 49 a year earlier. The use of helicopters in “Operation Swarmer” is also a departure from previous assaults on insurgents with the large-scale troop deployments used in assaults on Fallujah, Ramadi, and Najaf being replaced in recent months by a strategy that makes extensive use of helicopters to position troops. As talk in the United States continues about some form of limited troop withdrawal, it is widely expected among military and political analysts that the United States will shift to the use of air power to combat the Iraqi insurgency in Iraq.
The timing of the raid has been criticized by Iraqi politicians and Democratic politicians in the United States, coincides with the third anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), a national antiwar coalition organizing protests around the country, has criticized both the expansion of the air war as well as “Operation Swarmer,” charging that it is simply part of a continued policy of killing. In a press statement, UFPJ said that the use of US aircraft in “supporting” the assault was simply a euphemism for bombing. Their statement went on to say that “when bombs are dropped, innocent civilians are killed.”