[Marxism] US officers question Iraq counter-insurgency tactics

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 11 09:54:41 MDT 2004


Iraq tactics take friendly fire
Army, Marine officers see patrols as over-exposed
By Michael Moran

MSNBC
Updated: 4:03 p.m. ET Aug. 10, 2004

In the grim calculus of the Iraq war, August already is shaping up as a 
particularly ugly month for the U.S.-led coalition. Only 10 days into 
August, 25 American troops have lost their lives, 21 of them in combat.

What to make of such figures is a question troubling the nation at many 
levels – in politics, the media, in the military itself and, of course, 
among the families of those fighting in Iraq. Has Saddam’s fall made 
America safer? Was it worth all the deaths and casualties absent weapons 
of mass destruction? Does it matter whether Iraq emerges as a democracy, 
or is it enough to put “our bastard” in place of the one America toppled?

But the debate likely to have the most direct affect on the death toll 
is raging inside the cadre of officers commanding Army and Marine units 
inside Iraq. More than a year of aggressive patrols and 
counter-insurgency tactics have failed to slow the insurgency, and as a 
result an increasing number of officers are questioning the military’s 
core strategy: maintaining a high-profile in Iraq’s cities and villages 
in order to bring security, and ultimately, democracy to Iraq.

Counter-productive counter-insurgency

In fact, many officers are now saying the tactics adopted by American 
forces since Saddam’s regime fell last year are more suited to 
peacekeeping in regions where conflicts have already run their course 
than occupying a nation with an active insurgency. Aside from rare full 
out confrontations with enemy forces, like the battles raging right now 
with Shiite militants in Najaf, the emphasis on being a "presence" in 
Iraqi neighborhoods is being questioned.

“It seems to me we are provoking more than we are deterring,” says an 
officer with the 82nd Airborne Division who is serving in Iraq and asked 
not to be named. “We wind up getting shot at, and then we shoot back, 
and that means people who are just in the way wind up getting killed.”

A growing number of officers advocate pulling American troops back to a 
few large garrisons, from which they can launch missions in strength in 
support of Iraqi security forces. While not yet official policy – indeed 
it is fiercely opposed by some in the Pentagon and the Army -- the idea 
was lent some weight recently by Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s chief 
of staff, who told the House Armed Services Committee last month that 
“exposing more and more of your formation to this kind of warfare may 
not be the smartest thing to do. And we’re looking and working very hard 
to do that through the commanders over there.”

Same goal, different tactic

While it may seem technical, this debate goes right to the heart of 
American strategy in Iraq. On the one side, some officers argue that 
patrols meant to “show the flag” are exposing U.S. troops to too many 
ambush opportunities and allowing the nascent Iraqi security forces to 
opt out of the most difficult missions. This, they argue, will prolong 
the need for U.S. forces.

"I don't see where you're getting out of there soon if you don't make 
the Iraqis do the fighting eventually," says a Marine general who spent 
time in Iraq earlier this year. "And that's just not going to happen as 
long as we have our chin out."

Keith Mines, whose tour as a special forces civil affairs officer ended 
in January, argues that the U.S. must pull back and begin to force 
Iraqis to embrace the country’s new course and take the security 
situation in their own hands. In an essay entitled, “Iraq: The Next 
Stage,” Mines says “coalition forces are not only not stopping most of 
the violence, they are the active force which is provoking most of it.”

full: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5662745/

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