December 07, 2003

The Israelification of U.S. Counterinsurgency

The Israelification of U.S. Counterinsurgency Tactics in the Sunni Triangle

Dexter Filkins has an important piece up in today's NYT.

Some key grafs:

"The practice of destroying buildings where Iraqi insurgents are suspected of planning or mounting attacks has been used for decades by Israeli soldiers in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli Army has also imprisoned the relatives of suspected terrorists, in the hopes of pressing the suspects to surrender.

The Israeli military has also cordoned off villages and towns thought to be hotbeds of guerrilla activity, in an effort to control the flow of people moving in and out.

American officials say they are not purposefully mimicking Israeli tactics, but they acknowledge that they have studied closely the Israeli experience in urban fighting. Ahead of the war, Israeli defense experts briefed American commanders on their experience in guerrilla and urban warfare. The Americans say there are no Israeli military advisers helping the Americans in Iraq."

Folks, let's be honest with ourselves. This isn't where we thought we were going to be seven months into the occupation.

Go to the photo essay that accompanies Filkins's article--ask yourself--are you comfortable with such scenes?

Surrrounding entire towns in barbed wire? Issuing identity cards to all residents and said cards being prerequisites for any movement in and out of town?

It all sounds very, you know, un-American.

At least to my ears and I suspect many of B.D. readers, no? And it's most assuredly not the way to win the proverbial hearts and minds of the locals (just ask the Israelis!)

And yet. As Wayne Downing writes in today's WaPo, this is where we find ourselves--and this is how, at this juncture, we must proceed.

Money grafs:

"I believe that American military leaders finally concluded that their restrained tactics were not dampening the insurgency and were never going to win the hearts and minds of the Sunnis as long as the people were dominated by former regime loyalists and the insurgents. So why try? It was time to take off the gloves.

That is exactly what we are seeing: large, well-coordinated cordon and search operations prompted by the best available intelligence; willingness to enter known insurgent strongholds and directly engage the enemy even though these areas might be heavily populated; destruction of insurgents' homes with smart bombs; and sweep operations that round up all likely suspects and turn them over to trained Arab interrogators for determination of their true status -- insurgent or innocent. These aggressive operations, which are very much like those employed by the Israeli Defense Forces, are daring and risky, but it appears this campaign is beginning to take insurgents off the street and, more important, is developing useful intelligence that leads to further fruitful operations.

This is a virtuous cycle for the United States, but time may not be on our side. Will our aggressive tactics produce success before we inflame the entire Iraqi population as well as the Sunnis against us? Will Muslim, and perhaps world, opinion, which has thus far been relatively quiet, turn further against U.S. efforts in Iraq?"

Here's more from our commanders on the ground.

And for an intelligent, nuanced view of the state of Iraq today, go here.

The Economist concludes:

"In a gloomy scenario, the anti-American violence, inevitably catching more and more Iraqis in its train, sparks sectarian violence. The Americans give up hope, and beg the United Nations to come in and pick up the bits.

In a happier hypothesis, an emerging Iraqi leadership, with Shias and Kurds finding a tougher anti-Saddamite Sunni leader at their side, gradually faces down the insurgency—and reaps the benefit of American economic largesse and military firepower. It could yet happen. Iraq is still, just, a better-than-evens bet."

Needless to say, the shorter the time that entire towns are surrounded by barbed wire the better the chances that the 'better-than-evens bet' heads in a positive, rather than negative, direction

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