2003 December 12 Friday
Seymour Hersh: Special Forces To Do Major Baathist Manhunt

Seymour Hersh has an interesting article worth reading in full in The New Yorker about a big change in Bush Administration policy toward handling Iraq that revolves around a bigger role for US special forces and former Iraqi intelligence officers.

Americans in the field are trying to solve that problem by developing a new source of information: they plan to assemble teams drawn from the upper ranks of the old Iraqi intelligence services and train them to penetrate the insurgency. The idea is for the infiltrators to provide information about individual insurgents for the Americans to act on. A former C.I.A. station chief described the strategy in simple terms: “U.S. shooters and Iraqi intelligence.” He added, “There are Iraqis in the intelligence business who have a better idea, and we’re tapping into them. We have to resuscitate Iraqi intelligence, holding our nose, and have Delta and agency shooters break down doors and take them”—the insurgents—“out.”

A former intelligence official said that getting inside the Baathist leadership could be compared to “fighting your way into a coconut—you bang away and bang away until you find a soft spot, and then you can clean it out.” An American who has advised the civilian authority in Baghdad said, “The only way we can win is to go unconventional. We’re going to have to play their game. Guerrilla versus guerrilla. Terrorism versus terrorism. We’ve got to scare the Iraqis into submission.”

An analogy with Vietnam is made by some of the insiders that Hersh interviews. Some fear that the hunters will use faulty intelligence engineered by Iraqis who want to manipulate the US forces to use them to settle scores between factions in Iraq competing for power. Some argue that South Vietnamese did the same thing to the CIA and US military in Vietnam and managed to get thousands of non-communists killed by US military hit squads.

Yes, the special forces and intelligence officers could botch their increased authority to do covert operations based on intelligence from Iraqis. But the people Hersh talked with aren't providing the whole story on intelligence efforts in Vietnam. Quite a few years ago (the late 1980s?) I read former US Army captain Stuart A. Herrington's book Silence Was a Weapon: The Vietnam War in the Villages. The book is an account of his time in Vietnam as an intelligence officer in Hau Nghia (sp?) province near the Cambodian border. A few memories from the book stand out. One is that he and other American intelligence officers tried very hard to prevent the South Vietnamese from just killing the Viet Cong and NVA soldiers they captured. Herrington saw that the South Vietnamese, by being so eager to kill, lost the opportunity to gather a great deal of intelligence on Viet Cong and NVA personnel. The work of Herrington and others to get captured communist fighters to switch sides led to the role-up of a terrorist network that was carrying out attacks in Saigon.

The point here is that the quality of the decision-making by the special forces and CIA folks who are being granted so much leeway in Iraq is hard to predict unless one knows the guys sent to Iraq and just how talented and wise they are. The quality of the decision-making will also depend on whether the special forces come under too much pressure to rack up a big body count and show results quickly. Even if there is a single central structure of control by Baathists (doubtful in my view) it can not be broken into quickly.

The Israelis are advising the US forces and are worried that if too many top people are killed then the lower level Iraqi insurgent shooters will just continue to operate but on their own.

There is disagreement, inevitably, on the extent of Baathist control. The former Israeli military-intelligence officer said, “Most of the firepower comes from the Baathists, and they know where the weapons are kept. But many of the shooters are ethnic and tribal. Iraq is very factionalized now, and within the Sunni community factionalism goes deep.” He added, “Unless you settle this, any effort at reconstruction in the center is hopeless.”

Reconstruction in the center may be hopeless anyhow. The only way out might be to break Iraqi up into three pieces.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 December 12 02:42 AM  Mideast Iraq


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