Friday, April 30, 2004

Deus Ex Machina

The dramatic arrival of Major General Jassem Mohamed Saleh  with the newly formed Fallujah Protection Army, to which the USMC is supposed to hand over control of Fallujah, must rank as one of the most surprising episodes of the war. The Washington Post said:

The surprise agreement in Fallujah, which was authorized by Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, is intended to give more responsibility to Iraqis for subduing the city while attempting defuse tensions by pulling Marines back from front-line positions. ... The Marines will be replaced by a new militia called the Fallujah Protection Army, which will comprise 900 to 1,100 Iraqis who served in the military or other security services under former president Saddam Hussein, Marine officers said. The militia will be commanded by a group of former Iraqi generals, the officers said.

"They will bring in former Iraqi soldiers who are committed to fighting and maintaining the peace in Fallujah," said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, a battalion commander who was briefed on the deal. "They'll pick up from us," Byrne said. "The plan is that eventually the whole of Fallujah will be under the control of the Fallujah Protection Army. The goal is that anyone should be able to come into the city without being attacked."

The obvious question of where the Fallujah Protection Army came from is only slightly less interesting than how General Saleh came to head it. This article from the Egyptian Al Ahram describes the ongoing formation of the new Iraqi Army, made up quite literally, of a Kurd here, a Sunni there, and a Shi'ite in between. Many of the units they are to command are being trained in Jordan. More are being trained there and equipped by Australia.

The coalition authorities in Iraq this week appointed the leadership of Iraq's new army. A Kurdish general who organized the Kurdish fighters since 1973 will head them, with a Sunni Arab as the chief of staff and a Shia as his deputy. Each had already left Saddam Hussein's army before the last war, unlike dozens of officers who are now being trained to join the new army.

"They are my friends," says Saad Baryas Al- Waaly, 37, which is also why he will not furnish any details. But the former army doctor who is now working in a civil hospital in Najaf does acknowledge that quite a few of his former colleagues are now being trained in Jordan and Iraq. They will be the new officers in an army that is supposed to consist of around 40,000 men.

One of the unresolved questions about the new Iraqi Army is not only its command structure, but its size, allowable weaponry and ethnic composition. Many have argued, quite plausibly, that a lightly armed 40,000 man army is far too small to secure a country as large and lawless as Iraq, which is surrounded by terrorist hotbeds on every side. However that may be, some Jordanian trained units have been fighting beside Americans in Fallujah for a while. The invaluable Darrin Mortenson of the North County Times describes some of them.

When a loud crack sounded from the adjacent building in Fallujah on Thursday, the frontline Marines chalked the blast up to their noisy new neighbors and waited for the report of another "kill." The new Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force soldiers hidden in the house next door had just fired on a man carrying an AK-47 assault rifle in a neighborhood where U.S. forces have declared there are "no friendlies." As the violent stalemate in Fallujah bags a third week, the appearance of specially trained Iraqi snipers this week was a welcome development for Marines at the front ---- and an opportunity for the Iraqis and their U.S. Army Special Forces advisers to prove that not all Iraqi troops will cut and run when the shooting starts.

"They're doing all right ---- damned good shots, actually," a U.S. Special Forces adviser said Thursday, refusing to give his name. He said his small team of Iraqi Counter Terrorism Forces, part of a larger group of tough Iraqi volunteers who recently returned from four months of training in Jordan, were on their way to becoming a lethal weapon against the insurgents of Fallujah and elsewhere in the beleaguered country.

But although the 82nd Airborne had been training the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps around Fallujah for months, the provenance of the Fallujah Protection Army is still unexplained. One of the most difficult operations of war is relieving a unit in contact with the enemy. It first of all requires the existence of the relief force. News accounts which suggest that this-still-to-be formed Fallujah Protection Army (FPA) will take over from the Marines, said to be evacuating "front line positions" within a few days, are only slightly less incredible than a report that Batman, the Hulk and Wolverine have joined the Navy to see the world. The news up this point has raised more questions than it has provided answers. The key points which may become clearer in the coming days are:

  • the relationship between the FPA and the forming Iraqi Army;
  • the relationship between the FPA and the enemy holed up in the 'Golan' neighborhood;
  • the combat role and time-to-establishment of this force.

The most likely scenario is that the FPA will be given charge over city areas free from heavy fighting and assigned general police duties. Those who perform meritoriously in this on the job training could be given regular ranks in the new Iraqi Army, a common relationship between paramilitaries and regulars. But forming militias, especially from local toughs, has always been a tricky business. There is plenty of money to raise militias against the enemy, but left unchecked, they can become lawless gangs unto themselves.

The one certain thing is that return of sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30 will not see the end of conflict. The numerous insurrections, regional wars and massacres during the Saddam era are proof of the volatility of the Land Between the Rivers. And unless America can use its military power and wisdom to hold these fractious elements together, or transform them into a functioning society, it will remain a basket of snakes ready to strike at all and sundry.

Thursday, April 29, 2004


This map from the Times of London gives a fair, but dated overview of the fighting in the Fallujah area. It is basically a lower resolution version of Global Security's 1:10,000 aerial photograph of Fallujah with an overlay. If you consider Fallujah a rectangle lying on its side, the map shows the US firmly established in the lower right hand about two thirds of the way up the box and more than halfway right to left. Although the Times map shows the US line still south of Highway 10 (an east-west road that cuts the rectangle in half about two thirds up) as of April 7, the northward march of clashes basically suggests that the Marines now hold the city everywhere south of Highway 10, that is, the lower two thirds of the city right up to the banks of the Euphrates.

It suggests that the enemy is basically confined to the northwest corner neighborhood of 'Golan', a slum area of winding streets. I would guess -- purely guess -- that the Marines hold the southern half of Highway 10 and everything east of the main road which leads up from the Mayor's compound to the northern city wall. The tactical motivation would be obvious. The Marines, and especially the snipers, would have clear fields of fire across these thoroughfares and use them to cut off the enemy stronghold from the rest of the city both to the east and to the south. To the north the Marines hold the 8-foot high railway embankment, which is about 200 meters parallel to the north city limits.

It was along Highway 10 that the Blackwater contractors were ambushed and their mutilated bodies hung from the Euphrates bridge not far from the 'Golan'. Now that fighting has revealed the enemy numbers and heavy armament actually present in town, it is obvious that the contractors escorting a convoy through Fallujah were as doomed as an enemy patrol entering the gate of Fort Bragg. The decision by the Marines not to rush in and recover the contractor's bodies, for they which they were heavily criticized, now seems absolutely justified in hindsight. Even a company strength unit would have been in serious trouble had they taken the bait.

With this basic layout in mind, we can now understand Darrin Mortensen's account in the North Country Times. The Marines must have raided south into the 'Golan' from their positions on the railway embankment and returned north. The second, less successful probe which resulted in the heavy engagement of a Marine platoon and the destruction of a mosque minaret was actually about 100 meters inside the city's northern boundary by cross reference to the Times of London map. It is around the northeastern corner of the 'Golan' that the recent fighting, including the AC-130 strikes have taken place. An article by the New York Post describes an engagement near the Fallujah railway station, which should be in the northeast corner of the 'Golan'.

April 29, 2004 -- Marines, backed up by jet fighters, attack helicopters and an aerial gunship, fought furious battles yesterday with Fallujah terrorists - who used women and children as shields. For the second day, black smoke and flames billowed into the sky and earth-rattling booms shook the Iraqi city as the fighting erupted on three fronts in the Sunni stronghold.

The clashes began when a Marine sniper unit came under fire from guerrillas unloading weapons from a cache near the train station. The rebels, using women and children as shields, fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the Marines. The troops took fire from three buildings and responded with machine guns, rockets and missiles. Video footage showed a Marine sniper, using a rifle with a long-range scope, firing at targets from behind a barricade. In the afternoon, the Marines called in two helicopters: a Cobra and a Huey gunship to rescue the sniper unit pinned down near the city's train station.  After the snipers were extracted, U.S. forces dropped 10 laser-guided bombs, including a 1,000- pounder, against buildings the terrorists were firing from, said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, a U.S. military spokesman.

We can guess that the "snipers" were possibly USMC designated marksmen positioned south of the train station, between the rail line and the city, engaging the enemy on the northern city wall. The use of civilian human shields shows there are still significant numbers of noncombatants in the area and the removal of the weapons from a cache on the northern wall suggests they are repositioning weapons into a central redoubt deeper into the neighborhood. Although the hard core of resistance is penned up in the northwest corner, large areas of the city may harbor stragglers. The joint Marine-Iraqi police patrols will probably patrol the neighborhoods behind the forward USMC positions to establish Iraqi Governing Council control over these areas.

If my map analysis is right it reveals an astonishing success by the USMC. The enemy is now largely in a square about 2,000 meters on each side, with the river to one side and the open railway area to the other, facing the city streets both south and east. On the other hand, the enemy has been compressed to the point where a further advance becomes very dangerous. The Associated Press describes the neighborhood which the Marines must now take in order complete the job.

In the ancient slum at Fallujah's heart, Marines rely on high-tech equipment, night vision and the fearsome AC-130 gunship. But their Sunni foes have their own advantages - the labyrinth of alleyways that offer deadly ambush sites shielded by a civilian population. The Golan slum, home to some 40,000 people, has seen three days of intense combat, with Marines fighting mainly from the air with precision weapons. If they enter in force, it will mean deadly urban warfare. U.S. forces are so concerned that when Marines begin moving through Fallujah on patrols with U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces on Friday, they will skip Golan.

Golan - named after the strategic Golan Heights that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 war - is the oldest part of Fallujah, its tight alleyways and old, ramshackle houses pressed between railroad tracks and the muddy Euphrates River. An estimated one-third of Fallujah's 200,000 people have fled the siege this month, but not many from Golan. Most are too poor to afford alternative housing.

Marines say Sunni Muslim guerrillas are also concentrated in that part of the city, and a key concern is to avoid harming civilians wedged in the middle. Troops on the northern fringe of the neighborhood stare down fighters just a street away. A satellite photo of Fallujah shows a city with wide roads, neatly-organized blocks of houses and open spaces, and in the northeast corner Golan, a knot of streets too narrow for tanks and heavy armor. To fight the insurgents but keep casualties down, U.S. forces have turned to the air, using laser-guided bombs and other munitions to hammer at insurgents holed up in buildings.

The urban terrain from the ground will look something like this (this is a link to photos taken at Jenin but it should be somewhat representative of the kind of construction and the crazy angles that Marines may have to deal with. The final reduction of 'Golan' may not be long in coming. The Associated Press, in an article entitled Marines Prepare for Fallujah Pull Back reports:

Marines in Fallujah began packing up gear and loading heavy trucks Thursday, saying they had been ordered to leave the southern industrial zone that they have held for weeks and pull away from the city. It was not immediately known if the move represented a withdrawal of Marines from their siege of the city or if other Marine forces were being rotated in to replace the withdrawing 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

Those readers who have been following the map so far will immediately recognize that the southern industrial zone has been in the Marine rear for weeks. This "withdrawal" could just as well be a redeployment of units to the northern boundary of the city or preparation for a cross-river assault. But it might be a real withdrawal all the same for there are real dangers to assaulting the 'Golan'. The defended area is now small enough for the enemy to have turned it into a wonderland of explosive devices. The fairly light construction of homes within the slum means the walls are principally an obstruction to sight rather than to fragments and bullets. Combat in 'Golan' will be like a shootout in a cardboard maze. Enemy machinegunners can fire through walls or blast fragments right across fragile homes at advancing Marines.

But the physical fragility of the enemy redoubt may perhaps is the single reason the USMC might not need to assault the area at all, except in its most final, weakened stages. The battle for this urban maze will be largely a battle for line of sight as it probably has been from the beginning. The press reportage of USMC sniper-spotter teams has mentioned but not emphasized the fact that they possess imaging devices, comms and computers (and probably range finders) apart from their rifles. Their most damaging function has perhaps not been shooting (although that has been bad enough) as much as observation. One can almost imagine enemy movements being correlated from several observers onto a very detailed intel map. The physical characteristics of Fallujah, but especially the lightly built 'Golan' means that enemy safety depends utterly on visual concealment, not reinforced concrete fortification. Once an enemy position is known, it is extremely vulnerable to high angle downward attack. There is nothing between a Jihadi unit and an AC-130's Gatling guns except a sheet of galvanized iron roofing: he is dead once his position is known. I will venture to speculate that a subsidiary goal of the limited air strikes has been to open fields of view to observers.

That fact makes it very desirable for the US to encourage surrenders, both civilian and otherwise, because of the information they can provide, besides getting them out of the way. This goes a long way toward explaining why the Jihadis have chosen to keep their wounded in the fetid confines of the slum rather than allow them to be treated in a Fallujah hospital. They fear what may be revealed under questioning. But the dynamics of the siege mean that US will continue to gain the upper hand until a breaking point is reached. In a struggle in which visual information is paramount, the US will continue to throw a curtain of blackness over the enemy even as it enhances its own acuity. As the batteries of the enemy night vision equipment and radios drain out or are lost, the defense will grow ever more blind. The moon will begin to wane in 10 days and the hopes of the Jihadis with it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Thrust and Parry

A very poorly written CNN dispatch describes an attempt by Marines to maneuver forces into Fallujah to gain positional advantage on the defenders. 

The Marines went and occupied two buildings. They were occupying those so that they could look out for suspected Iraqi insurgents. Snipers posed some positions on the other side and deeper into the city. They holed up in those buildings for about four or five hours. Then in the words of one Marine, "All hell broke loose." Iraqi insurgents had massed around the two buildings occupied by Marines, and they opened fire with mortars, with rockets, with automatic weapons fire. While we were inside that building, we saw rockets smashing into the sides of the buildings, rockets smashing through the windows.

We heard mortar rounds landing nearby, exploding and setting neighboring buildings on fire. After about an hour and a half, the Marine commander gave the order for his troops to pull back, and that they did with the help of two U.S. tanks that were also called in to assist. The Marines withdrew from two alleys and returned to one section of their base.

The firefight, though, continued for a good two hours after that. [There were] very heavy exchanges of gunfire; U.S. Marine Cobra attack helicopters were called in. They were firing off missiles, and also we're told a mortar platoon from further back in the rear was firing off 8-millimeter mortars, and those impacted in a number of buildings behind us, setting them on fire and sending plumes of black smoke into the air. Also, there was a mosque ... here; it had a minaret 50 to 60 feet high. Marine commanders say they were taking sniper fire from that minaret. That minaret has now been leveled by U.S. military ordnance, missiles and mortars. There's nothing left at all of that minaret. ...

Although the reader may shake his head at the "8-millimeter mortars" -- smaller than pistol caliber, this operation sounds much very similar to one mounted a few days previously, described in Darrin Mortensen's much more coherent account in the North County Times, though this time with less successful results.

The Marines, members of Camp Pendleton's Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, sneaked out of the houses they've occupied for nearly three weeks at 1 a.m. Saturday. They slowly and quietly crept south house to house toward a mosque where gunmen gather almost daily to lead attacks against American troops. They said their mission was originally a probe ---- a secret move behind enemy lines to check out their defenses and identify enemy positions as targets for a possible Marine offensive.

On Saturday, after inching their way through buildings and homes full of broken glass and household goods scattered on the floors after weeks of warfare, the Marines set in near the mosque and waited all day until almost dark. "It was ghostly," said Cpl. Christopher Ebert, 21, of Forest City, N.C., after he and the others arrived back in their defensive position together and safe Saturday night. "We only had about three hours to go and then these six guys showed up." After the six armed men entered the mosque, the Marines radioed what they saw to Fox Company commander Capt. Kyle Stoddard, who watched the mosque from atop a building some 400 yards away. Moments later, at 7:10 p.m., Stoddard and others listened to the burst of fire as the insurgents ran out and Marines opened fire at close range. The deadly ambush  was over in an instant. "We got 'em!" Jamison yelled. "They're dead!" 

The tank and the other squad battled back a hasty counterattack from the southeast. Insurgents fired mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and drove three vehicles down the street with gunmen firing rifles at the Marines. Two of the vehicles were disabled, and Marines said they believed their occupants were dead or wounded. Within an hour, the insurgents seemed defeated or had fled the area. The Marines said they then searched the mosque, searched the bodies, and lined them up in the street before they beat an uncontested retreat back to their positions in the north.

In both cases the Marines moved into positions under cover of darkness. In the first case, the Marines ambushed an anticoalition force before being subjected to a heavy counterattack, which they likewise defeated. In the more recent case, the Marine position was discovered and attacked. In both cases, the Marines had armor and supporting fires ready to punish the counterattack and cover a planned withdrawal. The enemy defense was in both instances based on mobile tactics, with coordinated defensive actions by teams equipped with machineguns and RPGs. Mortensen described what may have been the same battle reported by CNN.

Two Marines were killed and at least 13 more wounded in Fallujah on Monday in a bloody street battle fought close enough that the combatants tossed grenades and fired pistols at each other, officials said. ... The battle began as several recent battles have: after Marines left their lines to move deeper into the city. According to 1st Sgt. Bill Skiles, the senior noncommissioned officer of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, a platoon of about 40 Marines advanced about 200 yards beyond their lines before dawn Monday to clear buildings of snipers. After the troops sneaked into their positions, the insurgents surrounded them on three sides, Skiles said, and opened fire on the houses in which the Marines were hiding, getting close enough to toss grenades through the windows.

He said the Marines were also pinned down by rebel snipers shooting from several buildings, including a nearby mosque that was later demolished by tank fire. "They waited a few hours after we went in and then they attacked," said a stunned and angry Skiles several hours after the fighting Monday, staring off and shaking his head slowly from side to side as he repeated his words: "They waited, and then they attacked." Duty and Skiles said most of the Marines killed or wounded Monday were hit with shrapnel from grenades tossed by rebels into open windows. At least two of the Marines were also shot, said Duty, whose boots were black with the blood of his comrades as he recounted the fight. Duty said he had to fire his pistol at gunmen just to get into the building where Marines lay bleeding, still fighting off insurgents, some of whom were only 10 yards away.

In terms of the number of men involved, Marine casualties were heavy, with 2 KIA and 13 wounded out of 40. The enemy adapted to the probing tactics by mounting even heavier mobile counterattacks, probably in company plus strength, supported by sniper fire. Both the Marine attack and the enemy defense have followed the anticipated pattern.

The Marines will probably exploit the uncoverable yardage of Fallujah to feint from several directions, essentially forcing the defense to continuously run around within the perimeter. They can feint continuously, especially during the hours of darkness. Anyone who has experienced running around nighttime streets knows that unit cohesion will gradually evaporate and bits of equipment will be mislaid. And then there may be long-range fire from American assets. Because the Marines have the initiative, they can enforce a rest plan while Anti-coalition forces cannot. A semi-mobile Grozny style defense will probably not work in Fallujah; it will wear out against a cunning, fencing Marine Corps. At some point, the enemy will feel the need to pull into a continuously defended, but shrunken perimeter.

Mortensen's earlier story indicated the Marines were returning to positions north; since it is known that they already hold positions south it seems clear that the enemy is now squeezed from two sides and is probably contained in the northeast corner of Fallujah, an area full of meandering streets and mosques. The enemy would prefer a linear American advance, hoping as in the case of Jenin, to mine buildings and blow them up as Americans occupy them. Not wanting to oblige, the USMC is mounting relatively small probes forcing the enemy to react. The current Marine strategy is ripping up the mobile defense. The company plus unit which attacked the platoon is probably no more. However, it will not be long before the enemy must retreat into a continuous perimeter, as his manpower dwindles to the point where a mobile defense is no longer viable. The remaining enemy forces are probably in the battalion plus range. And then the ghost of the Shuri line will rear up, in which there were no other option but to go directly into the teeth of the defense. The density of the defense displayed in the recent encounter may mean that time is near.

The important thing to know now, and Marine commanders are probably working to find out, is where the enemy plans his last stand. When that is prepared, the enemy will probably abandon most of the territory he now holds and collapse his remaining manpower into the stronghold. During that withdrawal he will be somewhat vulnerable, although the presence of civilians frustratingly precludes any kind of aggressive pursuit even when the retreat is underway. There, in that redoubt, he will present the whole panoply of mined buildings, IEDs, strongpoints, spider-holes and pillboxes, all in continous and interlocking line. Then there will be nothing for it but to reduce it by overwhelming fire.

The analogy of the Shuri may be especially apt, since it was on Okinawa that a large number of civilians were caught in the battle and whole families jumped from cliffs in obedience to the dictates of their Emperor rather than surrender. From the fighting up till now, it also seems likely that the enemy at Fallujah, probably stiffened by hard core jihadis, will fight to the last like Imperial Japanese Army and will take as many civilians as possible with them. It was probably in anticipation of this that the US has made special efforts to create a negotiation process. Although much maligned, the links with community elders is probably the only hope for averting a large number of potential civilian deaths.

In the end it is possible that the US will have the worst of both worlds. It lost the opportunity to "bag" large numbers of the enemy when it slowed down the pace of operations on Fallujah, allowing them a slower tempo to adjust their lines. And in the end, it may have to inflict hundreds or thousands of civilian deaths as the Jihadis fight to the last. But in exchange, the slowdown destroyed the political momentum of those who had hoped to provoke a widespread insurgency all over Iraq and provided an opportunity for thousands of civilians to move into areas of the city which have been unaffected by the fighting. History will tell whether the gamble was worth it. But now that the US has chosen a slow tempo of attack, with all its drawbacks, it may fairly claim all its benefits in compensation. Because the jihadi enemy has no offensive capability left, the US can even enlist starvation as a siege weapon or resort to hostage rescue tactics such lacing the water supply with emetics or using see-through-the-wall technologies in the final stages to whittle the enemy down.

In the terrible calculus of urban warfare, in which thousands of lives have historically been expended for negligible yardage, the USMC has done very well, despite the complications of the campaign. (At Jenin the IDF lost 23 men for 47 enemy in a much smaller area. The total enemy force was estimated at 250 and did not have the mortars, machineguns and even anti-aircraft weapons present in Fallujah.) The enemy has boasted that he will repel the Marines like the Sixth Army at Stalingrad  -- no chance of that -- but the final and hardest chapters remain to be written.

Fallujah Update

An AC-130 struck two sites in Fallujah about 150 meters apart resulting in secondary explosions. It is possible that the USMC, after probing consecutively, has thrown the enemy a curve ball and attacked the mustering sites where the Jihadis were briefing and arming their mobile task groups for the night, the locations deduced from movement patterns gleaned from previous engagements. The other possibility is that the USMC has identified preparations for the final redoubt and struck at their magazines. The creation of a continuous enemy line would require consolidating munitions, especially explosives, into the defensive area to wire it up completely. The distance of 150 meters between attack points is consistent with a defensive area about 300 yards square. The loss of munitions is irreplaceable to the enemy and probably reduces their effectiveness as much as attrition in men.

If the Marines follow up, the enemy may be forced to continue a plan now in shambles right over a cliff. Hence, it is possible the enemy will develop a sudden appetite for a truce to gain time to rebuild their scattered positions. Alternatively the Marines themselves could ease up the tempo, handing the enemy another unexpected change of pace, to haul more civilians out of the area and snipe at the stragglers as they regroup. Either that or launch more and possibly multidirectional probes. The enemy has no good moves left, only the evil choices of continuing a mobile defense with dwindling numbers and weapons or consolidation in a bastion with much a much reduced magazine capacity. Of course, the trapped men are probably hoping for a diversionary attack from their cohorts in the rest of the Sunni triangle, but that is a forlorn expectation. Killing those four Blackwater contractors was an expensive proposition.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

The Ceasefire Begins

When the Marines began encircling Fallujah the Belmont Club remarked that the the last historical parallel was the the showdown between Blackjack Pershing and the Moros at Bud Bagsak. That analogy may be appropriate in more ways than one. One overlooked aspect of Pershing's Bud Bagsak campaign was that it included the Philippine Scouts, a unit consisting of both Filipinos and Americans in the engagement. If one looks at this painting commemorating Bud Bagsak (ironically available from the an Islamic terrorist website) one will see the depiction of a Filipino Scout in khaki bayonet fighting a kris-wielding Jihadi beside an American who fires his .45 automatic in one of its first combat employments. Those with a taste for history will recall that Scouts, whose motto was "Anywhere, Anytime" would go on to win the Medal of Honor against the Moros and the formation would fight alongside US divisions in Bataan, where they held out against the Imperial Japanese Army for nearly six months when pure British formations in Malaya collapsed in weeks. Three would win the Medal of Honor there, including Jose Calugas.

The Boston Globe is reporting that US Marines will begin joint patrols with Iraqis in Fallujah as part of a new ceasefire attempt in that city. More likely, it will be the first instance of US and Iraqi troops going into combat together.

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- As US officials grappled with whether to attack this insurgent stronghold, US and Iraqi negotiations announced yesterday that US Marines will start joint patrols with Iraqi police and civil defense forces in Fallujah on Tuesday morning. ... After Tuesday, anyone carrying a weapon openly ''will be considered hostile and will be dealt with accordingly," Ambassador Richard Jones, the second-highest US civilian official in Iraq, said after the negotiations at the Marine base here.

The new "ceasefire", coming after consultations by the President, and the command decision to start the patrols involving Abizaid, Sanchez and Bremer, indicates a willingness to clean up Fallujah despite any consequences in conjunction with Iraqi forces.

The joint police patrols seemed a riskier strategy, designed to put an Iraqi face on security. It is unclear whether Fallujah residents will be any more welcoming this week to police than in the past, when police have been routinely attacked. That's one reason for the rule against carrying guns, said Jones, but another is to reassure Iraqis whose biggest concern is security.

He said he hoped the ban on carrying weapons would soon apply across Iraq, where nearly every family has a weapon. ''I don't care if they have them in their houses," he said. ''The problem is carrying them in the streets." About 500 police and members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps have reported for duty in the past week, US officials said. About half the police are from Ramadi, the provincial capital and a traditional political rival of Fallujah's.

It's unclear whether the recruits have any experience, Coleman said. ''I didn't ask that question very hard. I just said, 'Bring people with good character.' " Jones added, ''We'll see how many show up."

It atmospherically recalls Pershing, greeting newly arrived officers and sizing them up for toughness, before putting them on a steam launch to Jolo with a month's pay, a detachment of Scouts and the promise that the launch would be back to collect whoever survived. The Marines snipers may now have open season on any armed men in the Fallujah streets, where Americans and Iraqis of  'good character' will find it tested as never before. The Iraqi nation will be born or fail in Fallujah, but if they succeed, the words "Anywhere, Anytime" will be translated into Arabic.

The Eye in the Sky

Whether or not the President decides to attack the holdouts in Fallujah, the next months will see a gradual increase to US military capability in the shape of armed UAVs. One system specifically tailored for Iraq is the Viper Strike-Hunter combination. The Hunter UAV is a long endurance, fairly high altitude platform which has been extensively used in Iraq. It is able to remain overhead unseen by the ground observer for hours. With the Viper-Strike munition and others like it, the armed UAV solves the time-lag problem in air targeting.

Right now the ability to “park” a UAV over a trouble spot is one of the systems’ greatest advantages, said Dyke Weatherington – deputy of the UAV planning task force in the defense secretary’s office – in a recent interview. “These systems ... park over the bad guys, watch them continually, never give them a break from (our monitoring) their activities and severely limit their ability to mount an effective threat,” he said. ... "operators would see targets of opportunity with UAVs but have to call in manned aircraft to attack them, Weatherington said. “In many cases, we either couldn’t get strikes to the target in time or the manned aircraft couldn’t find that target the UAV had found,” he said.

By arming the UAV the ability to "park" over the the enemy and destroy him becomes fused into a single platform. US forces, seeking to improve on the Apache-Hellfire combination that Israel has used to target the Hamas leadership, adopted the Viper Strike glide weapon because it can drop nearly straight down silently, making it ideal for use in mountainous areas and urban canyons.

Another class of armed UAV aimed particularly at patrolling roads and counter-ambushing forces which mine roadways is the Dragonfly-Metal Storm combination. The Dragonfly airframe is extremely small, a UFO-like object the size of motorcycle and is of very advanced design that allows it to deploy like a helicopter yet range out like fixed wing. But it will carry a multibarreled 40 mm Metal Storm grenade launcher.

The Dragonfly DP-4X is a man-portable, remotely controlled, Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) UAV that is approximately 85.5 inches long, 32 inches wide, 44 inches high, has a rotor span of 118.5 inches, and weighs approximately 140 pounds. ... Dragonfly Pictures Inc. chief executive officer, Mr. Michael Piasecki, said the integration of Metal Storm's unique, lightweight, electronic, multi-shot weapon system complemented DPI's 'systems' approach in preparing the new Dragonfly DP-4X as a weaponized UAV helicopter.

The Metal Storm system is an Australian designed weapon which consists of stacked rounds in a set of barrels which can be fired electronically at unbelievable rates. A system like the Dragonfly might be armed with a two barrel launcher with eight 40 mm rounds (I'm guessing here) all of which could be fired in a fraction of a second. It could be all over for an enemy unit before they even react.

But airframes and guns are not as impressive as developments in sensors and software. The US is deploying the 21st century equivalent of the Civil War balloon to Baghdad. The Martin-Lockheed Aerostat will stay aloft continuously, and it opens the possibility of "replaying" traffic movements from a God's eye point of view. Combining sensors like synthetic aperture array radar and persistent platforms will increase the risks of mortaring targets in Baghdad dramatically. The real breakthroughs could be in software. There have been reports that recognition software has advanced to the point where it can recognize individual faces from the air. This, from Aviation Now (hat tip: The UAV Blog):

Intrigued by the possible applications to UAV surveillance video, the UAVB conducted a test last year at Eglin using streaming video from a Pointer UAV. A captain's face was entered into the computer as a search item, and the UAV was launched. "It starts beeping on this clump of trees," Cook said. "And they had to drive the UAV about another two miles before they could get close enough [to see] there was a vehicle underneath the trees." The captain whose face had been loaded into the computer was sitting in his truck eating lunch. "It found his face through the trees, through the windscreen, in the shadows of the trees, and we went, 'Wow, we need to explore this,'" Cook said.

Dubbed DIVOT (Digital Imagery and Video Object Tracking), the software later was put to work on pre-recorded video taken by a Predator UAV in Iraq. The system was provided with imagery of certain objects, then told to identify them in another video. "The scene is a flat desert with some black clumps on it," Cook said. "And when the Predator is about 10 miles away, it starts beeping on one of the clumps. And it takes probably five minutes for the Predator to fly close enough where you can finally make out with the human eye that it's even [an object], let alone the one that we told it to find."

Even current systems are probably unbearable to anticoalition forces. On April 24, a rocket attack was directed against Taji Airforce base, killing 5 Americans, suggesting an effort to strike back at the tormenting Eyes in the Sky. In one sense, the prodigious American technological engine assures a near chronic imbalance between US military capability, which has increased exponentially and the slow, uncertain and labor intensive process of political transformation. The contemptuous ease with which US Marines ambushed and killed 11 insurgents in Fallujah without resort to any wonder weapons illustrates a hidden peril in the Iraqi campaign. It is sometimes observed that allies fighting alongside US troops, and the Iraqi police may be no exception, develop a dependence on the American way of war without the American means. One can sympathize on a certain level, with an Iraqi policeman who hesitates at entering a Fallujah 'mosque' to serve a warrant, at considerable danger to himself, when the incomprehensible Americans could demolish it in a second were they not perplexingly constrained by rules he could never understand. It also creates the temptation in this politico-military theater to reduce politics to the junior partner of the very capable military. The interesting thing about recent US operations in Iraq has been the incorporation of explicitly political elements into the tactical campaign itself.

U.S. officials are still pursuing two other efforts to defuse the crisis short of house-to-house urban combat. On one hand, they are offering millions of dollars to help rebuild the city in an effort to coax Iraqis to join them in disarming the insurgents and policing the city. On the other, they are conducting selective strikes aimed at thinning the ranks of the insurgents. Early Saturday, Marines called in AC-130 "Spectre" gunships and killed about 30 Arabs at an encampment along the Euphrates River after two people were spotted setting up a mortar.

"I can rubble that city and reduce it to crushed stone and walk over it quickly. But that is not the ideal, it may be the worst thing to do," said Col. John Coleman, chief of staff of the 30,000-strong 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, in charge of military operations across Anbar province, where Fallujah is located. "I don't want to be owning Fallujah with some Marines downtown who are getting potshots everyday because we took no Iraqis with us."

This fusion of politics and warfare, long forgotten by modern armies, is a process that would be strangely familiar to Julius Caesar and the emperor-generals of the ancient world who treated with brigands and conquered chieftains, laying and raising sieges, threatening destruction or granting clemency, offering bribes and accepting service. And it is strangely emblematic of the current struggle -- the camels, the sand, and the antedeluvian hatreds -- resolving themselves beneath a constellation of American robotic aircraft.

The Hammett Citation

Reader RH has located the Dashiell Hammett lines that I quoted, with errors, from memory. They are from a Sam Spade story entitled "Too Many Have Lived". It's a verse from a book Spade finds in a prospective client's house. The poem was written by a man Spade his hired to find. The correct verses are:

To many have lived 
As we live 
For our lives to be 
Proof of our living. 
Too many have died 
As we die 
For their deaths to be 
Proof of our dying.

In Hammett's verse, the certitudes of life and death exchange places. The detective goes down the fog-curtained "mean streets" of San Francisco to find his client as much as himself. There, in the labyrinth of lunch counters, frosted-glass fronted offices and walk-up apartments with men in undershirts playing cards, guns on the table, Sam Spade keeps looking for something he isn't letting on. And yeah, why not? In the days when I could still cycle a century, I'd go up into the hills and climb them, rank on rank, until at the end of a dirt road perched on a high ridgeline with nothing but another blue line of mountains across the wide valley. Maybe that was the moment I was thinking of when I heard of Tillman's death, looking out at the far horizon and asking 'Yeah, why not?'. I think we have all had such thoughts, but Tillman went the distance.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Pat Tillman RIP

We are affected by the deaths of heroes not because we know them, but because we know ourselves. Millions who never knew Pat Tillman, what he wore or drank or drove, will want to believe they could not as he did, walk away from a small fortune to face pain and death to defend his home and country. Yet that is not the truth. A hero in the shroud of mortality reminds us that we are separated only by our capacity to dare.

Too many have lived as we have lived
for our lives to be worth the living.
Too many have died as we will die
for our deaths to be worth the dying.
-- Dashiell Hammett (from memory. I cannot find the source.)

No More Groupement Mobile 100s

In 1954 a motorized infantry regiment consisting of 3 battalions of crack French soldiery, led by highly experienced officers and NCOs, equipped with light armor, artillery and an abundance of automatic weapons was virtually annihilated in the Vietnamese Central Highlands. The French column had been expecting an ambush. They had light spotter aircraft overhead. Air support was on call. Where action was expected, they dismounted infantry to scout ahead. Before undertaking the road march, the French had divided their weapons so that each battalion was a miniature combined arms unit, ready to fight in a perimeter. But it only made things worse. Groupement Mobile 100 was destroyed by the 803rd Vietminh regiment. It was one of the final blows in a disastrous campaign which cost the French more than 170,000 troops and the loss of their Indochinese possessions. This was the legacy of Vietnam.

Across the world in North Africa, the French faced another foe and met it with different methods. Unlike the Vietnamese, the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) fought in the Arab way. In place of conventional maneuver they used political warfare and terrorism, often directed against the Algerians themselves, inflicting a kind of self-mutilation that would stop only when their insistent demands were met. Indeed, large scale French intervention was prompted by the FLN massacre of 123 civilians at Philippeville. The French, for their part, responded by fighting an intelligence war, repeatedly striking at the leadership structures of the FLN. Amazingly, they broke the FLN and forced it to seek sanctuary in Tunisia and Morocco. But although it had won a military victory, the FLN continued to deny Algeria any degree of stability. Finally a Charles de Gaulle seeking the French presidency struck a deal and evacuated Algeria. French military losses exceeded 18,000. The FLN had killed 12,000 -- nearly as many of their own as French soldiers -- in internal purges. Nearly 80,000 noncombatants died and France fled.

A generation obsessed with Vietnam was blind to the fact that the Algerian war provided a far more powerful model of offensive action against the West than Indochina. It was always impossible for Giap to transport his coolies and NVA regiments overseas, but it was clearly feasible, indeed only a matter of time before the Arabs extended their operations overseas. And extend it they did. The methods of assassination, terrorism, intimidation and political warfare rapidly became internationalized, reaching Europe as early as 1972 during the Munich Olympics. It took easy root in the secret societies of the Middle East and spread outward from there. When radical Islamism found its confidence in Afghanistan and its money in Saudi Arabia, it found its weapon in terrorism: the Arab Way of War. From the very beginning the plan of campaign was never strictly military. It was always politico-military, tuned to the internal weaknesses of the Western enemy. The French had been understandably evicted from Indochina by being militarily beaten by the Vietnamese. But the French had been ousted from Algeria -- part of Metropolitan France -- despite beating the FLN; that was the lesson and legacy of Algeria.

Taken in this context Osama Bin Laden can be forgiven for believing that the defensive phase of Islam's war against the West has long ended. He considered it to be in its final offensive stages, so far advanced that a strike against New York City, the Pentagon and White House was perhaps overdue. Osama draws confidence from his belief that the new Arab Way of War has never been defeated, not in Algeria, Soviet Afghanistan nor in Somalia. The possible withdrawal of Honduras, the Dominican Republic and perhaps Thailand from Iraq truly shows the power of his methods. Most conventional military establishments are simply incapable of surviving on the terrorist battlefield, their armed men no better than civilians. But the withdrawals solve nothing. Radical Islamists know there is no reason in principle why they cannot follow retreating European forces to their home ground and rout them there, where they will if anything be more hamstrung, using the immense Islamic immigrant communities as their base. For the first time in 600 years, Western Europe stands before an Oriental enemy it cannot defeat on the battlefield. The commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, Lt. General John Vines contrasted the GWOT to Vietnam. This, he says, is a "national war for our survival as a nation". Europe knows this too but are subconsciously already beaten.

The sole obstacles to the wave of darkness are the Anglosphere -- and ironically for the Europeans -- Israel. The strongest proof against the irresistibility of terrorism is Israel, which is often dented, but never seriously hurt by Arab Way of warfare. Indeed, at each clash the terrorists whine at being unfairly worsted because the Israelis have shown themselves capable of dealing out punishment an order of magnitude greater than they suffer. Israel is particularly irksome because it diminishes the psychological aura the Islamists work so hard to achieve. How can terrorism plausibly defeat America if it cannot beat a handful of Jews? And America too, is a deadly enemy. Already militarily invincible and capable of immense adaptation, it has already solved the military problems the French faced in Vietnam. Never again can a regimental force be marshaled against an American unit, like NVA Regiment 803. Now America is facing the challenge of a modern Algeria, the prototypical terrorist war. Waging a covert war across the globe, America is likely to succeed, like the French, in destroying the terrorist leadership cadres. Terrorism remains confident that America will be politically defeated though even here doubt grows, because America is also groping for a model of political warfare to use against its enemies. But maybe Osama is right. The Democratic Party continues to conflate one challenge with the other; to see in Iraq another Vietnam; and to offer up in Kerry not a John Kennedy but another Charles de Gaulle.

Thursday, April 22, 2004


The Coalition may resume operations in Fallujah in "days not weeks", following a ceasefire that could more aptly be called a slowdown as each side repositioned itself. The anti-coalition forces responded to a call for disarmament by turning in a load of broken weapons and firing a rocket propelled grenade into the collection center set up to receive arms. The truce had been more honored in the breach than in the observance, with enemy forces consolidating within the town and launching attacks from mosques and the Marines responding with fixed wing, helicopters and snipers. In the parallel war of press releases, the Islamists have responded to the recent charges by the coalition that they have been using ambulances and mosques for military purposes by declaring these have been targeted directly.

The allies have brought more Iraqi security personnel into the fight while anticoalition forces have responded by a further campaign of intimidation against Iraqi police, recently killing forty at 3 police stations with bombs. US forces have attempted to crack down on the Sadr's forces outside of the holy cities and anticoalition forces outside Najaf proper.

In the 1st Infantry Division's north-central area, Big Red One soldiers conducted a series of raids against safe houses near Balad, used by militia loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Kimmitt said. The raids resulted in the detention of six targeted individuals and 15 other men. The 1st Cavalry Division's Task Force Baghdad captured 18 enemy personnel and confiscated a large amount of ammunition over the past 24 hours. In the western zone, three attacks took place against coalition and Iraqi security forces. Kimmitt said coalition forces continue to see anti-coalition forces fighting from fortified positions, misusing mosques as weapons storage sites and using them as command and control nodes. Outside Fallujah, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force continues aggressive patrols and offensive operations outside Fallujah. The Marines had to halt the movement of humanitarian assistance into Fallujah due to attacks on coalition forces. They have since resumed, military officials in Baghdad said.

Possibly the most damaging weapon employed against the Fallujah insurgents has been the the disruption caused by the fighting and the "truce". Bits and Pieces noted that Fallujah waxed on the smuggling trade occasioned by the decades long sanctions. It has remained a smuggler's haven on the route to Syria largely because of its position as a nexus of highways and its position as a crossing on the Euphrates. The closure of the western highways from Baghdad probably one reason why the community "elders" have been urging the insurgents to lay down their arms. The enemy has attempted to break the containment of Najaf and Fallujah by launching diversionary atrocities elsewhere, a standard Islamic tactic worldwide, the largest being a multiple car bombing in Basra, which led to the death of more than 50 Iraqis, including schoolchildren. Sadr's agitators have blamed the blasts on British missiles.

Yet if the atmospherics are indicative, the US does not seem to want a new round of high intensity fighting in Iraq. From a statistical point of view, the current situation represents a return to November, 2003. In retrospect, the situation then was as bad, given what we know now, only not as obvious. Even then, the US was in a battlefield shaping mode, standing off from the principal hotbeds of Iraqi trouble. It had never entered Fallujah or Najaf in force, contenting itself to building up Iraqi security forces and maintaining the security over the road network and key infrastructure. A secret war with Syria was already under way on the border, probably mirrored by a similar one at the Iranian crossings. But the boils had never been lanced nor may they be in the near future. For now the movement is positional. 

Iraq is in its way a microcosm of the the unresolved strategic issues in the larger GWOT -- the role of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and Pakistan -- in the context of our changing international alliances. The recent but under-reported engagements between "our" Saudis and Jordanians and the enemy has provoked a massive response. Both the Jordanian and Saudi security establishments have been attacked with huge bombs, including an attempt with VX gas. A recently concluded offensive against the Al Qaeda in Pakistani tribal areas is part of this pattern. There is no essential difference between the attacks on the Jordanian intelligence headquarters and an isolated Iraqi police station except scale. The principles are the same. The search for an "end point" in Iraq simply mirrors the global ebb and flow of the fight. We bear the Ring though we do not know the way.

Bits and Pieces

Sorry about the light posting today.

Just a few interesting tidbits. This Global Security has an archival link to an Iraqi yellowcake program (uranium enrichment) which was located at Al-Qaim, Iraq. Because the map on the site doesn't show international boundaries, it was not until the recent border battles between the Marines and a battalion sized force of uniformed Jihadis and the revelation that America had been fighting a secret war against infiltrators on the border that I realized that these yellowcake refining facilities were right on the Syrian frontier. I am now beginning to understand why David Kay believed that WMDs may have been shipped to Syria in the lead up to OIF. With the recent VX gas attempts against Jordan, whose provenance is suspected to be Syrian, the plot thickens indeed.

Of a piece is this backgrounder of Fallujah from the Department of Defense. Apparently, the town is an artificial nest of criminals almost entirely created by the sanctions policy which the US had pursued in the 1990s and bloated by the UN "Oil for Food" program. Here's an excerpt, but follow the link to read the whole thing.

While Iraq is laced with antiquities, Fallujah isn't one of them. Just after World War II, the population of the town was around 10,000. The city, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, is on the edge of the desert, and now has about 300,000 citizens. It is a dry and arid landscape, made productive only because of extensive irrigation from the nearby Euphrates River. It was, however, located on the main routes into Jordan and Syria. And in crime, as in real estate, location is everything. The city was on the main route for smugglers, and sheltered a number of very successful crime lords. The area is poor, and the villages surrounding the city still shelter subsistence farmers and their families. The smugglers were a source of money – even wealth – for those in the region. Even government officials sheltered the smugglers, DoD officials said.

When Saddam Hussein took power in 1979, the city received a boost. Many of the people in Fallujah supported Saddam, and many of his closest advisors, highest- ranking military officers and high-ranking members of the Baath Party came from Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit and other areas in the center of the Sunni Triangle. Arab tribes in and around the city also owed fealty to Saddam and became bastions of the regime. Hussein returned the favor by building factories in the city and providing jobs for his chosen people. Fallujah took a number of hits in the first Gulf War. News reports indicate that in one instance, a U.S. bomber tried to take out Fallujah's bridge over the Euphrates. The bomb missed and allegedly killed 200 Iraqis in the city market. Following the Gulf War, the city became an even larger smuggling center, this time with government encouragement, officials said. Saddam encouraged the smugglers to skirt the U.N.-imposed sanctions on Iraq. Since the U.S.-led liberation of Iraq, former regime supporters have allied themselves with foreign fighters who seem to be entering Iraq via Syria, officials said. U.S. officials suspect that members of al Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Islam have cells in the city. Other terror groups have allied themselves with former regime elements and Sunni extremists, making for a very volatile mix.

To an almost literal degree the current fighting in Iraq is the direct consequence of catastrophic policies of the 1990s and to some extent, the failures of the post 9/11 response. It is clear now that Saddam Hussein and his allies never stopped fighting after Desert Storm, they simply continued the offensive by other and covert means. Worse, they funded the offensive from the very sanctions process that the "international community" put in place. Then the prolonged United Nations inspection process, which was the pride and joy of Hans Blix, may have provided the window of opportunity for Iraq to simply skip the yellowcake and the VX over the border.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

A Few Laughs

Things have gotten a little too heavy of late, so its over to a Saudi blogger who is a barrel of laughs. The Religious Policeman talks about the social stresses caused by cellular phones. A sample of his stories:

Mobile phones are legal. Camera phones are not. OK, you say, but camera phones are a minority, what's the problem?

The problem is the march of technology. Ten years ago, PC's had floppy discs and big cubic screens; now CD-RW and flatscreens are becoming the norm. In 5 to 10 years time, all phones will be camera phones, it'll be the standard. So will the muttawa try and ban all phones in Saudi Arabia? It'd be like trying to take an American's gun, or an Englishman's dog. Arabs in general, and Saudis in particular, live for their mobile phones, in a way that other parts of the world would not understand. And we are physically incapable of ignoring our phone when it rings.

Let me illustrate with 3 incidents from the last 4 weeks.

1. My wife and I went out for dinner in the Italian restaurant in the Sheraton. At one point I looked across at a booth where another Saudi couple were holding an animated conversation. However they didn't quite seem "in sync". That's because they were each talking to two other people on their phones.

2. A Saudi was giving a presentation at my place of employment. Screen, PC projector, Powerpoint, the whole thing. Then his phone rang. He didn't switch it off, he answered it. Just as well, it was his Mother! We sat listening for 5 minutes while he explained why he'd not been to see her for two days. I have to say, some of his excuses were ingenious, I'll use them myself sometime. Finally he resumed his presentation, without an apology.

3. I have an Arab (non-Saudi) colleague who is divorced and a womaniser. He actually goes out in Riyadh in an evening and picks up women. How? I haven't a clue, but it's very risky, to say the least. Anyway one lunchtime I had to get in touch with him urgently, so I called his mobile. After 4 rings it answered. The person at the other end of the line was obviously having trouble getting his breath; in fact it sounded like a terminal asthma attack. All I could hear was gasping and wheezing. Then I realized what the "problem" was, asked him to call me back, and quickly put the phone down. I was clearly more embarrassed than he was.

So that's an idea of the priority that we attach to our phones. And when the day dawns that all phones are camera phones, and the Muttawa try to confiscate them, that'll be the day that the revolution starts. You heard it on this blog first.

Zeyad over at Healing Iraq has a review of new Arab blogs. There's one he calls "brainwashed but intelligent". Yet another has devoted itself to the Middle Eastern version of the pop idol contest. It has got everything but the gong and the hook that pulls the disqualified contestant offstage.

The most dangerous thing about the Internet from the point of view of those who would create a totalitarian or theocratic state is that it allows people to see others as men -- who may disagree, or who on reflection decide to fight -- but men nonetheless. The average person is never wholly unaware, as some academics are, of the humanity of other people. Nor is the average person wholly indifferent to concrete evil and imminent danger. Both are real and ancient things, ignored by those who live in a bubble of artificial laughter and contrived wit, but alive to those who meet them in the everyday. The Los Angeles Times article on Marine Corps snipers drives home how these marksmen, who live closer to the enemy than the ethereal postmodernist beings who jeer them, can never seek solace in abstractions. They must glimpse the faces of those they are about to shoot, the horror and necessity of the act combining in the single pull of the trigger, doomed to live in a world of specifics: fighting identifiable evils and performing individual acts of kindness. In this strange universe an Italian rips off a hood and with a final shout proclaims himself undefeated. Todd Beamer crashes an aircraft that others might live. Chief Wiggles raises money for children whose names he knows. And somewhere in a Riyadh a Saudi makes excuses to his mother.

Only the Grand Inquisitors stand apart, disdainful alike of both kindness and human weakness, full of schemes and plots. And of their false truces and cunning offers we should have no part except to answer it with silence (as in Dostoeveky's parable) and to go get a beer.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Mainstreet Iraq 3

Reader DL links to an article at the Naval Institute (publisher of Proceedings) by Captain Peter Layton of the Royal Australian Air Force. Entitled The New Arab Way of War, the article describes a parasitic method of warfare raised to an art. 

The new Arab approach to conflict is an adaptation of the revolutionary warfare of the second half of the 20th century. Assassins using this new way of war now swim among the populations of the world. With cheap, unrestricted global air travel provided by Western technology, they can deploy wherever they wish; there are no front lines or safe rear areas. The assassins make effective use of liberal immigration policies that have permitted large numbers of Middle Eastern migrants to settle in the West. Small numbers of fellow travelers and sympathizers are distributed throughout Western nations, able to be activated to provide local support, protection, and knowledge for deploying assassins. Their command-and-control system relies on commercial communications systems and business application cryptography. This makes their control system strong, redundant, secure, and global and the assassins hard to detect, track, and target. They do not rely on their own technology even for weapons, instead using in situ civilian, commercial equipment for attack.

The new Arab way of war is parasitic. Local supporters acquire weapons and explosives, provide safe houses, arrange transportation, and steal or hire vehicles. Assassins fly in, carry out attacks, and fly out quickly, avoiding arrest. Relying completely on local sources, they can strike deep into the Western heartlands, mimicking the strategic air attacks characteristic of the West.

To those who are concerned about the 'Vietnamization' of Iraq should understand that these methods of attack, the generalized avoidance of state responsibility and the deliberate targeting of civilians are not only characteristic, but the core of this mode of Islamic warfare; that were we not there it would be here and if the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed will come to the mountain.

Intentionally, there is no obvious state involvement. In his attack, the assassin dies or melts into the crowd, providing no proof of who is responsible. This tactic is meant to confuse and frustrate a legally justifiable response, as the Western paradigm based on the 1648 Peace of Westphalia assumes a state-versus-state conflict. Avoiding giving the West a defined, obvious state opponent is a rational strategy peculiar to the Arab way of war.

The Arab combat style imposes small financial burden on its parent societies, allowing long and protracted wars without inflicting economic hardship. Employing only small numbers of personnel with few needs, wars can be financed privately and seemingly remain independent of overt government support. Such entrepreneurs can be hard to trace and impossible to stop.

A major innovation of the Arab way of war is the deliberate targeting of civilians. The assassins' rhetoric makes no distinction between civilian and military targets. Attacking civilians guarantees global attention as the media, reflecting global values, has a horror of the infliction of cruelty on noncombatants. Attacking civilians is perceived by the assassins as the most direct route to influence global opinion and to affect the national will of the nations struck. Attacks usually are conducted with considerable skill, timing, expertise, and precision but are designed to kill absolutely indiscriminately. Given this, the strategic aim of attacks is hard to discern. Violence customarily is conceived as a means to an end, but the essence in this style of war seems to be inflicting terror. Pakistani Brigadier S. K. Malik notes: "Terror is not a means of imposing decision upon the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose on him."

Captain Layton concludes that the enemy is nevertheless vulnerable to a combination of military, cultural and political warfare. As Dr. Condoleeza Rice emphasized in her testimony before the 9/11 commission, the war cannot be won by narrow police methods. Only an application of all the elements of national power will suffice. Layton continues:

The assassins inevitably are from the middle class, with their commanders among the more wealthy members of the country. The middle and wealthy classes have great power in their own societies at the local level, and more real influence with the masses than their usually despotic governments. If the majority of the middle and wealthy classes determined to no longer directly or indirectly support the Arab style of conflict, this would have a significant impact. Without an active support base, and with the possibility of their activities being compromised at any time, assassins' freedom of action would be curtailed severely.

An intense, relentless psychological campaign could be undertaken targeting the middle and wealthy classes of the Middle Eastern nations involved. Mass-marketing methods may offer insight into how to apply long-term, focused psychological pressure. The aim of such a campaign would be to make each individual perceive being held personally responsible and targeted for his or her support of the Arab way of war. The proud, strongly religious societies of the Middle East may be vulnerable to considerable self-doubt about the moral bankruptcy of their actions and their pronounced ethical decline compared to the remainder of the world. This effort would complement the other measures of defense and containment already being undertaken. Consideration also could be given to applying economic pressure, restrictions, and constraints, such as those used against South Africa during the apartheid years.

America is potentially the most powerful media power on earth but it is not at war in Iraq, except with itself. The real tragedy in Iraq is not so much that men die but that we as a society have left them to die without even naming those with whom we are at war. This, from CNN:

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- The body of a Spanish police officer who was killed in a raid on suspected Islamic terrorists was removed from its tomb Sunday night, dragged across a cemetery, doused with gasoline and burned, a Spanish police official told CNN. Police do not know who committed the crime, and an investigation is under way.


Mainstreet Iraq 2

Ron Harris's dispatch on Marines fighting at Al-Qaim, near the Syrian border is a good point of departure to discuss the political and cultural aspects of the war in Iraq because it highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of the campaign so far. From the military point of view American performance has been incomparable. But its political and cultural aspects have been strangely stunted. Part of the problem arises from an American reluctance to wage war on the political and cultural institutions of another society.

The US military dominance of the battlefield and its ability to suppress the activities of criminal gangs has meaning only if it creates the necessary space to peaceably alter the dysfunctional aspects of Middle Eastern society which are the wellsprings of terrorism. What is the use of American military superiority if it simply provides an opportunity for Al Jazeera to spread its propaganda via the newly licit satellite dishes? The normal metrics of military success should also have their cultural analogues. The GWOT cannot be considered won until 90% of the viewership in the Middle East watches something other than Al Jazeera. The campaign in Iraq cannot be considered a success until Baghdad becomes the cultural capital of the Arab world, producing not less than 200 Arabic films a year: comedies, family dramas, stories of Arab boys who have triumphed over adversity to become doctors, scientists and explorers in outer space. Until the day when an Iraqi boy looks at an aircraft and dreams of flying to the moon instead of turning it into a 150 ton bomb the war will not be won. It must be our goal to create a system of education which would make attendance at a madrassa a stultifying experience by comparison: dreaded as a dark place of bad food,  harsh punishments and ignorant men. One of our objects must be to create a situation where a degree at the Al-Azhar Islamic university has as much relative value as a correspondence certificate from the Maharishi University. We must work for the day when the Jihadi ninja suit becomes the working attire of a carnival clown.

And the Marines cannot do this with their rifles or valor alone. The problem, as the Belmont Club has pointed out repeatedly, is the exact opposite of that posited by the Press. It is not the soldiers but the cultural force of the nation that is missing in action. We on the home front have let our soldiers down. It is a disgrace that initiatives such as Spirit of America are forthcoming only after a year into the campaign. It is nothing less than scandalous that al-Hurrah, a coalition television station, is only now taking the airwaves. Historians of the future will wonder how a cultural elite, paid on scales unseen before, could have sent 20 year old boys into battle before settling into sofas and jeering them from afar.

In truth, what US soldiers and Marines have accomplished at Qaim, a border town steeped in lawlessness and depravity, is nothing short of miracle. The fact that in recent engagements, they were alerted to danger by the behavior of the inhabitants and have been approached, however timidly, by the people with whom they cannot even converse is astounding in itself.

Although the military conflict will be won the ground, political victory in Iraq will be won on the American front. Many tens of thousands of Americans must be trained to speak Arabic and to understand the cultural terrain of the Middle East better than the inhabitants know it themselves. Only then can the business, personal and scientific relationships which are the true foundation of nation building take place. And on that day the power of the nation will stride forth to the aid of their sons who have served so long and with such little thanks.

Mainstreet Iraq

Another gem from Ron Harris, an embedded reporter with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, who asks the really tough questions:

"I don't think the American people understand that this is full-blown guerrilla warfare," he said as he stood inside one of the cramped barracks housing scores of Marines in this remote outpost. ...

Any Marine here who fought during the early stages of the invasion of Iraq will tell you that the Marines' mission now is more complex, more difficult and much more dangerous _ even before the recent upsurge in violence in Fallujah, Ramadi and Baghdad. "What you are really facing is what the Marines call `the 3-block war,'" said their commanding officer, Lt. Col. Matthew Lopez, a 40-year-old Chicago native. "On one block you can be doing humanitarian aid. In another block you could be providing security. In the third block you could be engaged in full combat. "In this environment, the transition between those three blocks happens instantaneously." ...

Their mantra is: "Marines: no better friend, no worse enemy." They hope to achieve their mission primarily through civil affairs projects and good public relations. They want to help rebuild schools, sewer systems and other infrastructure, train and equip an Iraqi police force that will be the first line of defense against crime and violence and build an Iraqi militia, called the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, that will back up the police. But to do so, they must establish security in the region, a former Saddam Hussein stronghold where U.S. failure would be good news for a number of factions:

Low-level street thugs, who have no use for law and order. Local crime lords, who have profited for years on smuggling and have held the local population in check through bribery, murder and intimidation _ with the understanding of Saddam. Corrupt politicians and tribal chiefs, many appointed by Saddam, who don't want to see their power diminished. Ideology-driven insurgents, "the Jihadists," the Marines call them, who take advantage of all the other factions to try to drive the "infidel" Americans out of their country. ...

Last year, they took over Karbala, a city in southern Iraq dominated by Shiite Muslims. The battalion provided security and reconstruction, and made tremendous strides with a more accepting population. Iraqis and Marines alike wept when they pulled out. But one month after the Marines turned over their mission there to the Bulgarian Army and returned to the United States, a suicide bomber rolled a car into Lt. Col. Lopez's former office and killed five Bulgarians and two Iraqis.

Doubt has begun to creep into the minds of even the most committed Marines as to the ultimate success of their mission. Staff Sgt. Carl Scott of Pine Bluff, Ark., a veteran of Desert Storm in 1991 and the early push into Baghdad, has heard a number of Marines voice reservations. "Most of these Marines, you can give them an M-16 and one bullet, and they'll go out there and battle to the death," said Staff Sgt. Carl Scott, 39, of Pine Bluff, Ark. "But some are beginning to question why we're here. It's not that they don't want to be here. It's just that in times like this, it's hard for them to find a purpose."

One officer put it more bluntly. "I love my country, I love the Marines and I love George Bush, but Iraq is going to collapse the moment we pull out," he said. "It doesn't matter what we do. It's time to go home." ...

Henderson turns to the interpreter. "Ask her if she will accept a gift until her brother returns," he says, and the interpreter complies. "I can't," she responds, as does everyone else on this day. Their refusal reflects the intimidation and corruption that has stymied the Marines' ambitious efforts. Numerous are the stories of Iraqi policemen who have been kidnapped and killed by those opposed to the Marines' presence.

"Civilians are being found dead and gagged, bound and shot execution-style, beaten, cut and tortured," said Fareed, a defense corps lieutenant working with the Marines to bring stability to the town of Ubaydi. One of the most disheartening failures for the Marines recently was an effort to help a local school. When they approached the principal to see how they could help, she told them that she would like to have the schoolyard paved, and a wall built. The wall was to have been built when the Army was here, but local leaders pocketed the money the Army had given them and never built the wall. Marines started in on the project, lining up contractors and planning the work. But on their fourth trip to the school, they were barred from the property. A staffer explained that the principal was no longer there; she and other staffers had been threatened with death if they continued to cooperate with the Marines.

Read the whole thing. Harris raises totally different issues from the stock polemic raised by the Left or Conservatives. The enemy is not a "freedom fighter" or an "Iraqi nationalist", still less the romantic Islamist with flowing robes, just a plain thug, encrusted with the brutality and corruption of hundreds of years of Arab culture. Neither is the Joe Iraqi of Marine acquaintance the Middle Eastern equivalent of an American just yearning to be free, eager to seize an historic opportunity to shuck off his Islamic chains. The picture is rather one of a people comfortable in their dysfunction, who know no other and yearn for no better.

All throughout the Harris piece Marines ask themselves if this was what Vietnam was like. Not the burial place of imperialist legions so much as the graveyard of youthful idealism. In many ways, the United States has been far more successful than its detractors will admit. It has won the war against Saddam. It may even win the war against organized Islamism. What is in doubt is whether anything can prevail against a six thousand year old culture that gave the world Ali Baba, the Assassins and baksheesh. It is now up against the bedrock of opposition, the hard fabric of Arab-Islamic society itself.

"If you look at it, the Marines who died in Vietnam died for nothing," said one veteran, whose father served two tours in Vietnam. It was a shocking statement, one that only a veteran Marine would dare make in the presence of other Marines. "Look, they were there supposedly so that Vietnam wouldn't become Communist and become a threat to the United States and the world," he said. "Well, Vietnam is Communist. Is it a threat?"

The other Marines mumbled, but there was mostly silence.

Then the discussion turned back to Iraq. Saddam is gone, his sons killed and his regime destroyed. There are no weapons of mass destruction. Why are we still here? Why not leave now? "We owe these people," said one Marine. "We owe them to finish the job that we have started." Plus, he said, with the intense criminal element intimidating the people, the corrupt politicians, the sense of lawlessness, the weak police force and the Jihadists operating in the region, the area could easily become a haven for terrorists.

The other Marines nodded in agreement. Ultimately, the conversation drifted to the upcoming missions. Kilo Company was going out that night to search a house in Karabilah believed to be a center for making roadside bombs. India Company was assigned to do security patrols the next day and wouldn't be back for another 36 hours. Another Marine was headed up to Lima Company, near the town of Husaybah, considered the region's most dangerous location. After a few more minutes of small talk, the men drifted off the balcony and back to their assigned sleeping areas where they would prepare for another day of "the real war."

In the classic scene from Apocalypse Now, Colonel Kurz, played by Marlon Brando, recounts how he returned to a village shortly after having inoculated the children there against disease in an effort to win 'hearts and minds'.  (Hat tip: Gerard Van der Leun of American Digest)

"back there and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile...A pile of little arms. And I remember...I...I...I cried... I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I I was shot...Like I was shot with a diamond...a diamond bullet right through my forehead...And I thought: My God...the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we."

The ultimate difference between Vietnam and Iraq has always been the fact that the Viet Cong could never follow the boys home. But the jihadis will and many are already here, smiling, waving, hating. And they will have nuclear weapons. Failure is not an option.

Sunday, April 18, 2004


Two weeks of intense combat in Iraq have created a number of outstanding situations that cannot continue indefinitely. The most well known is Fallujah, where 3 Marine battalions have stopped short of taking the town outright in favor of a kind of low-intensity conflict, called a truce, featuring negotiations that no one seems interested in. The other is the question of the warrant of arrest for Moqtada al-Sadr and the dissolution of his Madhi Army. Sadr is holed up in the city of Najaf, sacred to the Shi'ites, with a brigade in loose blockade around the city. Another area -- one that has received scant attention from the press -- is the battle on the Syrian border to interdict the ratlines to Fallujah along the Euphrates river. A story by the AP's Robert Burns described this long and largely ignored battlefront.

Maj. Gen. John Sattler, director of operations for Central Command, said a number of Marines have been killed in the process. He said security concerns prevented him from saying how many died, how many are involved in the border-sealing effort or how many infiltrators they caught. "We had an extreme amount of success on the front side, meaning that we did find, fix and ultimately finish a number of cells that were up there that were facilitating" the infiltration, he said. The State Department, meanwhile, said Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a message this week to Syrian President Bashar Assad urging that his government help promote stability in Iraq.

"We know for a fact that a lot of them find their way into Iraq through Syria for sure," he said, referring to foreign fighters who are seeking to kill Americans. "I mean, we know that. The ones we've captured, the ones we've detained, we know how they get here," he said, adding that "to some extent the same thing happens on the Iranian border as well." U.S. officials have frequently cited the Syrian border as a source of foreign extremists who make their way east to the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, and in some cases to Baghdad, and attack U.S. forces.

By tomorrow however, it is likely to be front page news that at least 300 men, a force of battalion size, complete with mortars and uniforms, attacked the Marines near Camp Al-Qaim, less than half a kilometer from the Syrian border, resulting in the death of 5 Marines in exchange for the practical annihilation of the attacking force. (See map)

According to the Marines, the insurgents apparently ignited the bomb as a decoy. A Marine unit responding to the bomb pulled in front of the former Bath Party headquarters here at around 8:30 a.m., where they were met by rocket propelled grenades and machine gun fire. The unit radioed for help, and a second group of Marines trying to reach them were hit by heave mortar fire as they traveled along their normal route into the city. Once the second group of Marines arrived in the city, they were strafed by small arms and machine gun fire from insurgents hiding homes along their route. As more Marines were sent from the nearby base, the day-long battle ensued. All of the slain Marines were killed in the first 90 minutes of the battle, when they went to clear a house and were ambushed by Iraqis hiding in the building.

Late Saturday night, Marine Cobra helicopter gunships were still strafing enemy positions around the soccer stadium near downtown Husaybah while medical evacuation helicopters carried wounded Marines back to Camp Al Qaim. ...

Marines cordoned off the city of about 100,000 residents, halting all traffic in and out except for women and children who were fleeing the fighting. At one point, many of the insurgents reportedly had gathered in a local mosque, and Marines were preparing to bomb the building. They pulled back the attack, however, when they couldn't not get positive identification of the occupants of the mosque. According to Marine snipers reporting to their commanders by radio, some of the insurgents fired at Marines and then hid behind children. "We're trying to get the snipers in position for a shot," Major George Schreffler told the other commanders through tactical radio communications. "They're looking at guys in blue uniforms and others with black clothes and black masks. Some are using children to shield themselves. We will not take shots in which we could possibly hit children."

In a related development, the US announced it was shutting the western highways out of Baghdad, which lead directly to Ar Ramadi and Fallujah -- and onward to Qaim, ostensibly due to lack of security on these routes. However, it has the secondary effect of preventing open movement by nonmilitary vehicles along these routes, clearing the stage as it were, for any following act.

The last two weeks in Iraq have been characterized by almost continuous 'secret' combat, where quiet and low level operations have been continuously underway in Ramadi, Fallujah, on the outskirts of Najaf, in Kut and on the Syrian border. Although reported by the press as mere incidents, disconnected ambushes or random minings, over 80 US soldiers have died in what amounts to a widespread campaign of operations across the entire middle of the Land Between the Rivers. Oliver North reports:

During my first 40 hours on the ground, anti-Iraqi forces haven't stopped shooting at the Marines, making it more difficult to get around. ... In fact, in ar-Ramadi, it's going a lot better than some might perceive. While much of the media's attention has focused on Fallujah, where four American civilians were killed, here in ar-Ramadi, Marines and soldiers are socking it to the enemy. "The fighting has been intense, but we've been kicking butt everywhere we go," is the way one Marine sergeant described it to me

Yet to the outside observer it has seemed a shapeless campaign either because it is shapeless, merely a set of defensive reactions by an overstretched and bewildered US military, or because we are being kept from seeing the outlines of the campaign by CENTCOM itself. Although the media has painted a picture of a command caught wholly by surprise, the Belmont Club noted in The Recursive Battle  that CENTCOM began tightening up on the Iranian border 45 days before the Iranian stooge Sadr launched his attack on the Spanish base. The skirmishes along the Syrian border and on the riverline leading southwest to Fallujah have also been happening for some time. Ron Harris of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on April 13th that a Marine company commander realized he stumbled on to an unreported hot zone.

Gannon was surprised when he saw the heavy casualty reports from the 82nd Airborne, which had been there before the Marines. "I was, like, 'Whoa, why haven't we been reading about this?'" he said while sitting in the small office that is his command center. "What's been going on here? Have they been having some kind of silent war? And, sure enough, they had been."

Indeed, it is virtually certain that Al-Qaim, Ramadi and Fallujah and the road network from Baghdad constitute a single "front" centered on Syria, whose principal axis is the Euphrates itself. Operations in Fallujah cannot be understood without putting it in the context of the wider area. A more balanced assessment suggests that CENTCOM was aware of an offensive in preparation on the anniversary of OIF as strongly hinted by the reluctance by US commanders to rush into recovering the bodies of the mutilated contractors at Fallujah. It is very probable that CENTCOM has had a counteroffensive plan on the books for some weeks now, that while those plans did not entirely survive the first shock of contact with the enemy, they exist all the same. Those who have been following the news stories will have noted that nearly all press accounts have highlighted the activities of MARCENT like a matador's cape, while ARCENT (the US Army) hardly appears at all. Apart from the spotlight on a few carefully chosen locations, such as Fallujah and the outskirts of Najaf, many major US formations have simply dropped out of media sight. That state of affairs can't  last much longer. The recent battle on the Syrian border adds to growing list of crises whose resolution cannot long be delayed.

Personally, I get the sense that US forces are letting a pre-planned set of attacks blunt themselves on its shield and are letting the sword flash out only in limited counterattacks. But of the larger game we know nothing as yet; whether it is deep or simply does not exist. But we will know it soon.