Under the impact of the most diabolical terrorist assaults of the Iraq war – the Iraqi death toll in the last two weeks has soared to an estimated in hundreds – US Generals John Abizaid, chief of US Central Command and George Casey, commander of US forces in Iraq, have revamped tactics for coping with the mounting violence.
President George W. Bush, as commander in chief, approved their proposed plan of campaign before he set out on his visits to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan this week.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources in Iraq reveal that the US high command has finally broken with the counter-insurgency approach charted in the fall of 2004 by Lt. General David Petraeus, former commander of the 101st Airborne Division. He also drew up the training programs for the New Iraqi Army based on the fundamental concept that guerrilla forces must be hunted down and fought wherever they are.
Now the generals have come to the conclusion that this strategy is not working. There are two main impediments:
One: Technically, American troops can be deployed for assault, except for being troubled by the insufficiency of fresh troops for the follow-up hunt-and-destroy operations that often drag on for several days. Since Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda terrorists spotted this Achilles heel in the spring of 2005, they have been assiduous in locating the positions of American forces and steering clear of frontal clashes. Therefore, in the last six months, US operations for cleaning out insurgent and terrorist sanctuaries and strongholds were mostly fought against shadows. The enemy had melted away.
Two: US forces and the Iraqi army combined cannot muster enough troops to garrison guerilla and al Qaeda strongholds in the towns or villages that have been captured and purged. Once the US-Iraqi units are gone, the insurgents creep back, and the clean-out has to start all over.
This mode of operation has therefore been turned around. The new strategy hinges on four principles:
1. The US army has abandoned assault operations against guerrilla strongholds – except when there are sufficient American or Iraqi forces for a long-term stay in captured locations. This rule cuts down US offensive operations substantially.
2. Even select targets of high strategic importance are to be attacked only if the US command can earmark in advance enough troops for the purge and long-term occupation.
3. The US command now proposes to divert most of its military assets, including manpower and logistical resources, away from initiating military offensives to the building up and training of the Iraqi army.
4. The halt in most offensive operations and the transition to defensive tactics have shrunk the US presence in a number of regions.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources name some.
US troops exit Mosul, al Qaim and the Sunni Triangle
One is the western side of Mosul in northern Iraq. Sunni guerrilla and al Qaeda forces which fled to safety on the Syrian side of the border are back and in control of much of West Mosul.
Hardly a single US troop remains in the al Qaim province, where from March 2003 American forces fought many a bitter battle to sever the underground highway from Syria into Iraq and eradicate the strongholds carved out by insurgents and terrorists to smuggle in manpower, cash and weapons from Syria.
US forces have likewise exited the Sunni Triangle towns north of Falluja, Ramadi and Ar Rutbah.
Their withdrawal from parts of Baghdad has also left a discernible gap in security while also reducing US casualties.
Our military experts doubt whether the new tactical plan will stand up to the waves of terror engulfing Iraq or contribute much to subduing it. The American redeployment has been too rapid and the tempo of training the different Iraqi units too slow to bring relief any time soon. While US forces have evacuated around one-fifth of the territory they formerly occupied, not a single Iraqi battalion or brigade is as yet capable of operating without US backup, whether air force, armor, artillery, medical units or logistical suppliers of ammo and food.
The Iraqi Baath, still the backbone of the insurgency, has also engaged in some radical rethinking. In the wake of the disastrous bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22 and the danger of sectarian civil war, Baathist underground leaders and commanders are entertaining new thoughts on how to proceed with their campaign against American forces.
These thoughts, printed in a new leaflet, are encapsulated in a 10-point plan. Those points, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iraqi sources reveal, reflect dissatisfaction with the al Qaeda campaign of terror, and complain of a perceived lack of political horizon and popular support.
Baath leaders frustrated by lack of political horizon and popular support
1. The insurgency is turning out to be futile because it lacks the vision of a future Iraq “after the Americans are driven out.”
2. It is pointless to keep on demonizing Shiite Muslims as “apostates,” which Abu Musab al Zarqawi and his al Qaeda persist in doing, because Iraq is then left without a future as a state. An inter-sectarian formula for coexistence is urgently needed.
3. Negotiations must be initiated with fellow Sunni guerrilla groups to determine the shape and character of future ruling institutions. Zarqawi may be invited to these talks.
4. Worst-case scenarios must be compiled. Our Iraqi experts interpret this as referring to a possible Iranian takeover of parts of lraq, which Baath leaders dread most of all.
5. It is senseless to fight on all fronts all the time. Therefore, a scale of priorities must be set. Our Iraq experts find that the Baath is skirting around rather than touching on the menace of civil war.
6. Military action must not be allowed to jeopardize political objectives. This, say the experts, is an oblique rejection of Zarqawi’s method of imposing a reign of terror on the civilian population of Iraq without counting the cost.
7. Al Qaeda’s operations, though often successful, repel the masses instead of gathering them in to support the insurgency. This is the most explicit Baath criticism of Zarqawi and his methods of operation. Its leaders have come to the conclusion that, without popular support, a victorious revolution is beyond their reach.
8. The Iraqi underground must begin talking in terms of a political solution, even if it is grounded in Islam.
9. Cadres must be trained to administer government and public institutions, rather than for sowing terror and fear.
10. The various underground groups operate at odds with one another instead of coming together to create a political circle that might evolve as the insurgency’s political brain.
The authors of the leaflet conclude that the three years of insurgency have produced gains, one of which is seen in the signs of fatigue and defeat in American forces. But they warn that it is far too soon to rejoice. The Americans are highly flexible, they maintain; the instruments, mechanisms and human resources they have fashioned for dominating Iraq are capable of transmuting and adjusting to changing circumstances. The insurgents will then have to deal with fresh challenges.