By Tech. Sgt. Tara O'Brien
Combined Air and Space Operations Center Public Affairs
SALMANPAK, Iraq -- B-1B Lancers, F/A -18 Hornets, Iraqi forces and the US Army Third Infanrty Division cleared out an al-Qaida stronghold 30 miles southeast of Baghdad late Sunday night and early Monday morning. Coalition aircraft dropped more than 30,000 pounds of bombs on former al-Qaida territory in Salman Pak, Iraq.
This was all part of the on-going Operation Marne Thunderbolt which is part of "Operation Phantom Phoenix", an overarching operation to defeat extremism throughout Iraq. This particular mission targeted an area where al-Qaida laid obstacles, in the way of improvised explosive devices, and took up safe haven at the same time. They also used the land to traffic weapons and send fighters up into Baghdad.
The United States Air Force and Army teamed up with Iraqi forces to clear that area of IED's and weapons caches in order to move ground forces into the area.
"The enemy is back on their heels and the Army is chasing them North and South," said Col. Peter Donnelly, commander of the 18th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Group. "The Air Force is here to stay and clear the way for those Army troops on the ground as long as there is an enemy threat.
F-16 Fighting Falcons, out of Balad, came in during the operation to take out several house-born IED's in the area. This is where al-Qaida is starting to focus their efforts in hopes of blindly attacking ground forces when they go in to clear and secure buildings. Air Force efforts eliminated this threat in the area.
"The United States Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, and coalition forces are keeping-up pressure on the enemy forces to meet General Petraeus' objectives to secure Iraq and set the conditions for freedom for the Iraqi people. Operation Marne Thunderbolt is one example of this," said Lt. Col. Joe Katuzienski, U.S. Air Force air strategist deployed in the Middle East.
Sunday's mission required meticulous mission-planning to ensure not only its success but to minimize collateral damage. Col. Donnelly said the operation was specifically scheduled at night for a reason. "This helps to reduce the potential for collateral damage which is a top priority for the military and since the locals adhere to a strict night curfew, this makes a night mission more safe and effective."
With the area cleared, the 3rd Infantry Division and Iraqi forces can now move in and secure the land in order to set up a control base.
"We want a permanent presence down there," said Donnelly. "We need to provide an environment that will lead to security in that region which will assist in defeating al-Qaida and its objectives." Operation Marne Thunderboldt kicked off on Jan. 1 and its continuing success will keep the operation moving forward until all objectives are met.