Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Learned Behavior

More good news about post-major combat operations Iraq:

"On the strategic level, we were expecting an horrendous month leading up to the Iraqi elections, and that has begun," retired Army Col. Michael E. Hess said.

Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst of Middle Eastern military affairs, said he is especially worried that the insurgents' next move will be an actual penetration by fighters into a base. "The real danger here is that they will mount a sophisticated effort to penetrate or assault one of our camps or bases with a ground element," he said. . . .

The attack also indicates that the insurgency is growing more sophisticated with the passage of time. One of the basic principles of waging a counterinsurgency is that it requires patience. "Twenty-one months" -- the length of the occupation so far -- "is not a long time to tame the tribal warfare expected there," said retired Marine Lt. Col. Rick Raftery, an intelligence specialist who operated in northern Iraq in 1991. "My guess is that this will take 10 years."

Another principle, less noted but painfully clear yesterday, is that insurgents also tend to sharpen their tactics as time goes by. Over the past 20 months, enemy fighters have learned a lot about how the U.S. military operates and where its vulnerabilities lie.

"The longer you are anywhere, the more difficult it becomes," said Hess, who served in northern Iraq in 1991 and in Bosnia in 1996. "They have changed their tactics a lot in the year-plus."

Several experts noted that insurgents appear to have acted on accurate intelligence. Kalev Sepp, a former Special Forces counterinsurgency expert who recently returned from Iraq, noted that the attack "was carried out in daylight against the largest facility on the base, at exactly the time when the largest number of soldiers would be present." . . . .

A byproduct of such a strike is that it tends to drive a wedge between U.S. personnel and the Iraqis who work on the base. "I think that this tells us first that our base facilities are totally infiltrated by insiders who are passing the word on when and where we are most vulnerable to attack," said retired Marine Col. Edward Badolato, a security expert.

Not all experts were pessimistic. Retired Army Col. John Antal said he expects more spectacular attacks in the coming weeks, but mainly because "the enemy is on the ropes and desperate to stop the elections."

But others were throwing up their hands. "This sure isn't playing out like I thought it would," said retired Marine Lt. Col. Jay Stout, author of a book about the 1991 Persian Gulf War against Iraq, in which he fought. He said he is no longer confident about what the U.S. strategy in Iraq should be.

"We have few choices: We can maintain the status quo while trying to build an Iraqi government that will survive, we can get the hell out now and leave them to kill themselves, or we can adopt a more brutal and repressive stance."

His choice? "I don't know the right answer -- I gave up guessing a few months ago."
And in other news:

The explosion, which came at noon, was at first believed to be caused by a mortar round or rocket that pierced the white canvas tent that serves as mess hall at Forward Operating Base Marez, near the Mosul airport.

But in an online assertion of responsibility for the attack, a radical Muslim group described "a suicide operation." Military officials said the cause of the blast was under investigation, and some security experts said the extent of injuries indicated that it was possible a bomb had been planted inside the hall. . . . .

Mortar rounds fall frequently on the post -- sometimes a half-dozen a day. This week, one insurgent group, the al Mustafa Brigade, boasted of firing 15 60mm mortars toward the Marez base, posting video of men in ski masks manning the tubes.

Most of the time, the explosions are shrugged off by soldiers as little more than a nuisance. Most are fired quickly and at random by insurgents who leap from cars in the city's busy streets without taking necessary measurements.

When mortars do strike buildings on the post, the information is usually kept secret to avoid tipping off attackers about the accuracy of their strikes. U.S. officers worry, however, that insurgent informants on the post may be passing targeting data to attackers on the outside to help them refine their fire.
I read in an article yesterday that this facility has been targeted and attacked some 30 times, yet the concrete and steel structure to replace it is still not finished. You'd think after the 22d or 23d mortar . . . .

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