Wednesday, June 11, 2003

War in the Shadows

The Washington Post is reporting that "attacks on American troops are growing in frequency and sophistication across central Iraq, a crescent of discontent and hostility where many Iraqis remain opposed to the U.S. occupation of their country". This area is sometimes referred to as the "Sunni Triangle" and is the heartland of the former Ba'ath regime.

"On Sunday night, a U.S. soldier was killed at a checkpoint near the Syrian border. The assailants first requested medical assistance for a passenger in their vehicle and when the soldiers approached, they fired handguns at them. U.S. troops returned fire, killing one and capturing another. At least one assailant fled in the vehicle, according to the U.S. Central Command. The soldier has not been identified."

According to the post 8 Americans and dozens of Iraqis have been killed in small skirmishes over the last two weeks. "They were probing us, seeing how we reacted. That's how we would have done it," Staff Sgt. Jaime Carrasco said. "They knew how to use their weapons."

But the US Army was never a devotee of the defensive. CENTCOM launched OPERATION PENINSULA STRIKE, centered around Balad, Iraq in an area about halfway to Tikrit on the road north from Baghdad, which on the map, appears to be marshy terrain of the kind that characterized the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. The Americans, too, struck in two stages. They gathered intelligence on their targets and struck with "air assault teams, ground attack squads, raid teams, river patrol boats", capturing about 400 suspects and numerous weapon systems and ammunition. An intelligence assessment team is processing the captives. Interestingly, Operational Peninsula Strike was organized in coordination with Iraqi policemen, with no massive loss of operational surprise.

The interesting thing about Operational Peninsula Strike is that it was not directed at the obvious targets of a blind military machine such as those in the immediate neighborhood of the attacks on US forces. The US forces seemed to have a pretty clear idea of where to strike in what must have been an inaccessible and remote area.

The thing to watch now is tempo. A continuing US attack with increasing frequency means that they are exploiting the field intelligence effectively.