4. US Army in Risky Shift from Offensive to Protective Mode

Some Middle East military experts are looking askance at certain remarks heard this week about a shift in US military strategy in Iraq. Tuesday, June 1, the day a new government was installed in Baghdad, The New York Times reported: “Senior US commanders here are writing orders to shift the military’s mission from conducting offensive combat against insurgents to protecting the new Iraqi government…”

Then, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, who assumed command of the day-to-day military operations of coalition forces, said that protecting the new government and building Iraqi security structure capacity “will probably need to be a higher priority than combat operations.”

In the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military analysts, the change in emphasis if intended to bolster the new Iraqi president and prime minister, Ghazi al-Yawar and Iyad Allawi, makes sense. But if it is the advance signal of a major shift in the military’s mission in Iraq from offensive to defensive, then the US-led coalition force and the incoming Iraqi government too are exposing themselves increasingly to an upsurge of violence on the part of Iraqi insurgents and their Arab and al Qaeda allies.

High-placed military officers told our sources that detaching large-scale contingents to the defense of the regime in Baghdad and the main Iraqi cities would further deplete ground forces which are already stretched very thin in relation to their combat missions. It would leave Iraq’s main highways and oil pipelines insufficiently protected and invite insurgents to seize control of large sections of central road links. Coalition forces would be forced to retreat into the main cities and nearby bases and only be able to travel in large, heavily guarded convoys.

This is precisely the situation that has developed in Afghanistan.

Notwithstanding countless American raids on the Taliban, al Qaeda and their tribal supporters, large sections of the Kandahar-Kabul and Kandahar-Jalalabad highways are blocked by the enemy most hours of the day and out of bounds by night.

Some deterioration is already noticeable in Iraq around two Sunni Triangle cities – Fallujah, since US forces lifted their siege last month, and Khaldiyah, 50 miles northwest of Baghdad, from which they withdrew Tuesday, June 1. Both towns were handed over to Iraqi forces scheduled to blend into the New Iraqi Army. Meanwhile they draw wages from the American administration and have assumed responsibility for security.

American tactical thinking hinges on the assumption that, as the new central government takes hold in Baghdad, Saddam loyalist fighters and Baathists will throw in the sponge and line up with local Iraqi forces to collect US wages. Reluctant to lose their livelihood, they are expected to gradually drive their foreign Arab and al Qaeda allies out of these towns.

The situation in Fallujah, where the experiment is in its fourth week, does not bear this theory out.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s local sources report that a few of the guerrillas did cross the lines and signed up with the local force. But most of the guerrillas, foreigners and al Qaeda, are holding to their positions and control important sections of the city. The only difference now is that guerrilla violence in the town has tapered off in accordance with the truce understandings reached with the US-backed Iraqi forces. But this does not stop them returning to attacks against US military convoys driving on roads 10-15 miles outside Fallujah.

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