After months of creeping withdrawal from a growing number of towns in the north and west, the American military confirmed that major operations were under way to regain lost territory.
The American military's biggest success of the day was the recapture of Samarra, one of the three most important Sunni cities that have been under effective insurgent control since April, apparently without a shot being fired.
Joint US and Iraqi forces began a seven-hour bombardment of Talafar at 0200 local time (2200 GMT Wednesday).
Fierce fighting around the town of Tal Afar, a suspected haven for foreign fighters about 100km east of the Syrian border in northern Iraq, left 45 dead and more than 80 wounded, a local government health official said.
Some Iraqi government forces are involved in the Sunni Triangle offensive and at least part of the Iraqi government supports the offensive.
"Fallujah and Ramadi have not been dealt with," said Sabah Kadahim, a Ministry of Interior spokesman. "It's time to start."
The Americans cannot reduce the size of their forces for fear that the rebels would make greater advances against the Iraqi forces; the number of American troops is up from 115,000 in February to some 140,000 today, while only 95,000 members of Iraq's security forces, the Americans now say, are ready to take up the slack—a sharp downward revision of the previously cited figure of 200,000. By contrast, the Americans' estimate of 5,000 rebels last year has jumped to 20,000. Plainly there is no light yet at the end of Mr Allawi's tunnel to normality.
In my view the big unknown at this point is whether the central government can develop and field a large army that will stay loyal to it. If the government's military can't develop a substantial fighting capability then the United States has to either stay and fight for years or withdraw and let a civil war between the existing factions settle the question of which strongman will be Iraq's new ruler or even whether Iraq will stay as a single country.
Among those who died were 24 women--as many women as were killed in service during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Vietnam and Korea combined.
The nature of this war is different, said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught, president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation.
"I was in Vietnam after the Tet offensive," she said. "Never was Saigon as dangerous a place as Baghdad is today. In Iraq, you can be at risk anywhere."
Consider the comparison to Vietnam. Granted, the death rate of US troops is lower than it was in Vietnam. But that is partly a function of terrain. The Iraqi insurgents do not have jungles to hide in - except for the concrete jungles in cities. The insurgents have Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that can be exploded remotely. But overall the technological advantage enjoyed by US soldiers today is greater than the technological advantage of US soldiers in Vietnam against the VC. Among the technological advantages of US forces today are highly accurate air support with JDAM bombs, GPS navigation, signal processing gadgets that process gunshot sounds to quickly locate the direction of sniper fire, fancier flak jackets and armor protection of vehicles, and remotely controlled robotic devices. Also, in the post-Vietnam War era the volunteer US Army and Marines have gone through a huge internal cultural change caused in large part by the embrace of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity by officers and enlisted men alike.
The greater capability of the US military to protect itself in Iraq is, in my view, causing many observers to underestimate the size of the insurgency in Iraq. Had the US military of the Vietnam era gone into Iraq the US casualty rates would be greater by some multiple of today's casualty rate. Note that I'm not arguing that the main reason the casualty rate of the US military is lower because the US military is doing such a bang up job of killing the insurgents. The insurgency has grown in size. The insurgency's growth has happened in spite of the fact that the US military is much more able to learn lessons from battlefield events than the Vietnam era military. The US military is bringing all sorts of new technology to Iraq as the war progresses and yet still their casualty rates are rising.
Will Bush now let the US military fight its way into every single Sunni Triangle city and town? Will the Iraqi government's military grow in size while staying loyal to the civilian leaders who are officially supposed to control it? Can large enough portions of Iraq be made secure enough to make elections feasible in January?
Update: Note that the initial retaking of Samarra was done supposedly without firing a shot. At first that might seem like a great success. But if no shots were fired then all the insurgents in Samarra are still alive to plant bombs and snipe from hidden locations. On the other hand, if US forces killed insurgents then that would just motivate their relatives to seek revenge. The US probably can't stop the insurgency without acting far more brutally than the American public would find acceptable.
But commanders acknowledge that as many as 500 insurgents remain in the city. The guerrillas' preference is to strike at smaller U.S. or Iraqi units. In classic guerrilla style, they tend to hide their weapons and blend in among residents when faced with larger forces.
U.S. troops pulled out at the end of the day for lack of a secure base at which to spend the night.
The US forces selected new civilian leaders for Samarra during their day trip. But did those civilian leaders survive the night?
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2004 September 09 07:29 PM Mideast Iraq|