Monday, July 07, 2003

The Four Teams

The murder of a 1st Armored Division soldier at Baghdad University after he bought a soft drink and the American response provides confirming datum on the nature of the fight against the Ba'athists in Iraq.

  • The resistance is organized into at least three, and now possibly four cells, each distinguishable by a modus operandi. The first cell specializes in close-range shots with a small caliber pistol to the back of the head of the victim.  Three victims have fallen to this attack: an American soldier shopping in Baghdad on June 27, 2003 and a British cameraman on June 29th. The second cell is built around a sniper called The Hunter. Two and possibly three US soldiers have been shot by a man at long range probably using a specialized weapon with a telescopic sight. The third cell or cells, which are far less specialized, use remotely controlled exposives or rocket-propelled grenades to attack isolated vehicles. The fourth, and newly organized cell used mortars to attack a US Army base on July 4.
  • The American forces are well aware of the nature of the threat against them. By employing counter-ambush tactics, a US patrol killed 11 attackers who were attempting to waylay them with rocket-propelled grenades. The US response to the murder of the soldier on the Baghdad campus is also telling. They had probably analyzed the earlier murder on June 27th and immediately "flooded the zone" with searching troops when a similar incident occured in the hopes of catching the assassin as he walked away.

The pattern of operations clearly indicates that the resistance does not consist of unschooled farmers or imams who resent the American presence. The techniques of small-caliber assassination and long range sniping indicate their perpetrators are professional killer, probably ex-secret policemen trained by Soviet techniques. The use of mortars is strongly reminiscent of the Hezbollah's attacks in Lebanon. Even the use of remotely controlled exposives is a skill far beyond the normal training of an ordinary Iraqi ex-Army veteran. In a strange way, this is very good news because it indicates that the opposition is very narrowly based.

But it is the tempo of attacks that is most revealing. There's a gap of several days between attacks of a given method. This strongly suggests a limited number of teams. The Hunter, for example, operates in built-up Baghdad, as does the small-caliber pistol cell. The rocket-propelled grenade teams operate north of the city, in the area between the capital and Tikrit. The intervening period is probably used to identify a new target, reposition and set up a new attack. The probable goal of the Ba'ath is to kill one American a day, and more if possible.

The Response

The American response seems to have taken two forms. The first is an attempt to find the cells from the center. The killer teams need central direction and money. The US sweeps, namely Peninsula Strike, Desert Scorpion and Sidewinder, have been aimed at catching parts of the command apparatus who know the names of these Ba'athist killers. The second response is more tactical. One the road, the patrols have been stalking the would-be ambushers. Although nothing has been announced, the US is probably fielding buddy teams, where one team provides an overwatch while the other moves. There are probably US snipers engaged in counter-sniper stalks around Baghdad. Ground commanders are probably engaging in counter-surveillance: that is, spotting people who are watching US troops. Patrols are probably randomly and evasively routed.

The US is probably retasking a lot of technical assets too. The aerial surveillance and computer-controlled video cameras are probably going to be used to provide blanket coverage of any place an incident occurs. There are reports of a very high performance image recognition system which can track individual faces through cheap, networked video cameras.

And of course, there are informers. The US has seized several hundred Ba'athist cadres in recent weeks, and doubtless some of them are going to be doubled. When you come right down to it, the informer game runs on money. And America has more money than the Ba'ath.

Yet by and large the Ba'ath are failing to stop a single American initiative. Oil production continues. Iraqi policemen continue to be trained. Reconstruction continues. Although the Ba'ath killers are able to create the regular incident, their enemy continues to sink his roots deep into their soil. Saddam's men are shoveling sh..t against the tide. America will win. And the Ba'ath will die.