2005 August 27 Saturday
Tom Lasseter Reports On The Dismal Situation In Iraq

Working for the Knight-Ritter newspapers Tom Lasseter continues to write a series of insightful and depressing reports from Iraq. Regular ParaPundit readers will not be shocked to learn that when Lasseter went out on patrols with US advisors and the Iraqi Army he found the Iraqi Army is not ready to fight the insurgency.

Three weeks of patrols and interviews in restive Anbar province suggested that Iraqi security forces will need years of preparation before they're ready to take charge of the complex and violent tribal areas of western Iraq. President Bush has said repeatedly that U.S. troops will withdraw only when Iraqi troops are ready to take over.

Many of the Iraqi troops were in poor condition, unable or unwilling to complete long foot patrols without frequent breaks. They often didn't know what to do in complicated situations, standing back and letting American Marines and soldiers take the lead.

Some of the Panglossian war hawks like to cite figures like how many schools we built. Well, imagine you have the choice of either living in a city with lots of new schools or in a city with a police force. Which would you choose?

Hit, a city of 130,000, has no police force. North of Hit, in Haditha - near the site of attacks that killed 20 Marines this month - the police chief handed over all the patrol cars to the Marines in January.

"He said, "We can't protect these anymore,'" said Maj. Plauche St. Romain, the head intelligence officer for the Marine battalion that oversees Haditha, Haqlaniya and Hit. "He turned in the uniforms and (armor) vests, too."

That police chief was assassinated in April.

Want to know what passes for seasoned troops in the Iraqi Army?

During a recent operation in Haqlaniya, a squad from the Iraqi Intervention Force, one of the more seasoned units in Iraq's army, swept through neighborhoods looking for insurgents. One of the soldiers was so overweight that he had trouble putting on his flak vest.

During a raid on a suspected insurgent hideout, the Iraqis discovered they'd forgotten their bolt cutters. Instead of sending someone back to get them, they tried breaking a lock off an outside gate with the butts of their AK-47s. By the time they were through, they'd made so much noise that everyone in the neighborhood was aware of their presence on what was supposed to be a stealth operation.

When they arrived at their second objective, still without bolt cutters, the men wanted to use grenades to breach the door.

Their supervisor, U.S. Army Capt. Terrence Sommers, stepped in and said they'd risk hurting themselves and would give away their position to insurgents.

The Bush Administration "exit strategy" relies on having a bunch of clowns take over the fighting. The Bush Administration is intellectually and morally bankrupt.

The article also reports on US military advisors who have no interpreters and hence no way to communicate with Iraqi units they supposedly advise. Read the whole article. The mind boggles.

If you want to know how bad things are going in Iraq read all these articles in full.

The US military does commuity outreach based on the false premise that there is a non-enemy community to reach out to.

After a recent meeting with local tribal sheiks in Fallujah, Marine Lt. Col. Jim Haldeman walked to the back of the room and pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.

The gathering was supposed to be an exercise in civic empowerment but quickly degenerated into the Iraqis demanding that they get identification cards designating them as sheiks, which would bar local security forces from arresting them on the streets.

"All of these guys are f------ muj," Haldeman said, using the Arabic term for "holy warriors," mujahedeen, which American troops frequently use to describe the insurgents.

Haldeman figures they all want to slit his throat.

The battle in the Sunni heartland's Anbar province has become a war of attrition and US officers do not expect to win. (same article here)

After repeated major combat offensives in the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and after losing hundreds of soldiers and Marines in Anbar during the past two years -- including 75 since June 1 -- many U.S. officers and enlisted men assigned to Anbar have stopped talking about winning a military victory in Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland. Instead, they're trying to hold a handful of population centers and hit smaller towns in a series of quick strikes designed to temporarily disrupt insurgent activities.

"I don't think of this in terms of winning," said Col. Stephen Davis, who commands a task force of about 5,000 Marines in an area of some 24,000 square miles in western Anbar. Instead, he said, his Marines are fighting a war of attrition. "The frustrating part for the [ American] audience, if you will, is they want finality. They want a fight for the town and in the end the guy with the white hat wins."

Neoconservatives will be angered to learn that the US Marines call their enemies "Mujahedeen" rather than the more derisive "terrorists". You can see an example of that above where Lt. Col. Jim Haldeman calls them "muj". The neocons can't very well blame leftist BBC editors for this choice. So how can they explain it? A leftist US officer corps and leftist enlisted grunts?

Instead of referring to the enemy derisively as "terrorists," as they used to, Marines and soldiers now give the insurgents a measure of respect by calling them mujahedeen, an Arabic term meaning "holy warrior" that became popular during the Afghan guerrilla campaign against the Soviet Union.

Lasseter has spent enough time in Iraq the last couple of years to see the decline in the security situation as his editor notes.

Knight Ridder reporter Tom Lasseter made regular trips to Fallujah in the summer and winter of 2003, interviewing tribal sheiks and residents before the town fell to insurgents. He wrote extensively about the brewing unrest in the region and the misunderstandings and conflicts between residents and the U.S. military units stationed there. During that period he was able to walk freely throughout the town with a translator. He was last in Fallujah without military escort in early 2004 when insurgents overran the downtown police station. After men repeatedly pointed AK-47s at his chest and face, and threatened to shoot him, he decided not to return except with U.S. troops. Insurgents took over the town that April. He reported on troops in Ramadi last summer and wrote about the scaling back of patrols there and low morale among troops. He returned to Anbar province in November, when U.S. troops retook Fallujah in the worst urban combat since Vietnam. Lasseter spent three weeks in the province this month embedded with Marine and Army units in Haqlaniya, Haditha, Hit, Ramadi and Fallujah.

With Fallujah back under partial insurgent control and Ramadi in a similar condition the US military is not big enough to assert control in the Sunni Triangle.

"It doesn't do much good to push them out of these areas only to let them go back to areas we've already cleared," said Lt. Col. Tim Mundy, who commands the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Marine Regiment. Mundy, 40, of Waynesville, N.C., whose battalion is based in Qaim, added: "We're successful at taking some of his equipment and killing some insurgents, but the effectiveness is limited because we can't stay ... we go back to camp and then we get reports that they've come back in."

- In Fallujah, a city that Marines and soldiers retook from insurgents last November in the heaviest urban combat since Vietnam, fighters have begun to return and renew their intimidation campaign.

"As we all know, we have mujahedeen operating in small squads throughout the city," Marine Sgt. Manuel Franquez said before leading a patrol in Fallujah last week, using an Arabic term that means "holy warrior."

One interesting point: The Rand Corporation analysts James Quinliven and James Dobbins argued before the Iraq war that peacekeeping operations need 1 soldier per 50 troops. Therefore the US should have built up a force of a half million soldiers to handle Iraq. It could be argued that the US really only needs to deploy that big of a force in the Sunni Triangle and indeed a disproportionate portion of US troops are deployed there. But the war in the Triangle suggests that even the 50 to 1 ratio understates the size of a force needed. The US is not engaged in "peacekeeping" so much as a counter-insurgency war. The ratio of troops to populace needed might be much higher than the Rand result suggests.

The US military is not going to put down the insurgency. At the same time, Iraqi Shia soldiers have very little motivation to do what the US military lacks the forces to do. The war in Iraq will continue while an increasing portion of the American public gradually learns of the futility of our presence there.

If the Panglossians were correct and the insurgency was on the wane then US casualty would fall. US casualty rates are up near levels seen in some of the worst months since the war began. If the insurgents had shifted their attention way from the Americans and toward the Iraqi government forces then US casualty levels would drop. The levels have not dropped. If the US improvements in tactics and equipment were happening faster than the insurgents improved their methods then the US would again experience a drop in the casualty rate. Again, this has not happened. Iraqi government forces deaths have tripled this year without any decrease in US deaths.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 August 27 10:20 PM  Mideast Iraq


Comments
Stephen said at August 28, 2005 3:44 PM:

Another thing to note is that the administration has stopped pretending that the Iraqi's really love us and that the insurgency is predominantly composed of foreign fighters (recall all those administration fed newspaper stories about terrorists pouring in from Syria?). My guess is that that particular bit of self-delusion will go down in history as the last example of neocon theory evaporating away in the face of reality. Then again, maybe there's one more bit of self-delusion - that a piece of paper headed 'Constitution' will somehow result in the Iraqi people spontaneously downing arms.

Also, it follows that the Iraqi army isn't an army designed chiefly for defending the sovereignty of Iraq, rather its an army that is being trained to kill other Iraqis. That attracts an entirely different type of recruit with an entirely different type of mindset.

M.Robinson said at August 30, 2005 7:02 AM:

Its difficult to see how the US media plays to the 'lies' about Syrian involvement in the 'insurgency'. In Britain the media pushed the government, whereas in the US, a questioning media is termed 'unpatriotic'. In a democratic society one is able to question the 'public servants', and not be labelled a 'traitor' or 'unpatriotic' for wanting answers.
The 'neocons', who are very good at 'conning' the US public, have no scruples in labelling others as terrorists, whereas in actual act it is the neocons, who are the terrorists for causing such a war under the pretext of WMD's, and now the neocons are spreading their propaganda against Iran and Syria.
It is preposterous to the extreme that the US administrations create havoc around the world and then have the audacity to accuse others of 'terrorism'.

M.Robinson said at August 30, 2005 7:02 AM:

Its difficult to see how the US media plays to the 'lies' about Syrian involvement in the 'insurgency'. In Britain the media pushed the government, whereas in the US, a questioning media is termed 'unpatriotic'. In a democratic society one is able to question the 'public servants', and not be labelled a 'traitor' or 'unpatriotic' for wanting answers.
The 'neocons', who are very good at 'conning' the US public, have no scruples in labelling others as terrorists, whereas in actual act it is the neocons, who are the terrorists for causing such a war under the pretext of WMD's, and now the neocons are spreading their propaganda against Iran and Syria.
It is preposterous to the extreme that the US administrations create havoc around the world and then have the audacity to accuse others of 'terrorism'.

Bob Badour said at September 1, 2005 7:30 AM:

Audace! Audace! Toujours audace!


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