2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – Two weeks into Operation Marne Thunderbolt, al-Qaida in Iraq extremists are on the run. The operation is targeting AQI sanctuaries and weapons stockpiles in southern Arab Jabour.
More than 40 enemy targets were hit Jan. 10 during one of the largest U.S. air strikes since the war began. Targets included known weapons caches and improvised explosive device locations, hit by a bomb blitz where more than 40,000 pounds of bombs were dropped in the first ten-minute wave.
The targets resulted from months of intelligence gathering. Much of the intelligence came from Concerned Local Citizens in the area, "protecting their own, protecting their towns," said Col. Terry Ferrell, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
Ferrell said the purpose of the strikes was to eliminate the enemy's "defensive belt" of buried IEDs and caches designed to deny coalition and Iraqi security forces movement in the area.
"We take this operation and we continue to look for the enemy where he may want to move to; never giving him a chance to rest or believe that he has ground that he can say that he owns," Ferrell said.
Marne Thunderbolt is part of Operation Phantom Phoenix, a nationwide sweep of Iraq targeting AQI and other militant groups. The aim of Marne Thunderbolt is two-fold; to flush out remaining AQI elements and to create conditions for security and stability in the region.
"As we expand with the Iraqi security forces and the concerned citizens and we go into new communities, we will maintain a presence and we'll establish that presence," Ferrell said. "The key here is establishing that forward so that they, too, can grow and have the same successes ... that occurred in Al Buaytha, northern Arab Jabour, and Hawr Rajeb and so forth."
Troops from the 2nd BCT, 3rd Inf. Div. continue to push forward on the ground, working with the ISF and CLCs to ensure freedom of movement in the area. More than 30 extremists are dead and 15 weapons caches have been found and destroyed during operations to date.