Sunday, October 7, 2007

This just ain't what victory looks like

In one of the largest firefights this year, at least 25 Iraqis were killed and another 20 wounded by coalition forces. It was yet another instance where the devil’s bargain was struck and American air power was called on to bring the fighting to an end. The coalition claims that the dead were all members of a radical Shiite group that enjoys Iranian backing, but an Iraqi government official insists they were unarmed civilians.

The fighting broke out in Diyala province, west of the capital, Baqouba. Major Winfield Danielson, A U.S. Army spokesman in Baghdad said that the soldiers who were involved in the conflagration came under attack when they were seeking a leader of the so-called “Special Groups” which are offshoots of Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. Sadr ordered his followers to stand down and stop attacking Americans the last week of August, but the Special Groups ignored Sadr’s edict and continued attacking the occupying forces. The suspect they were pursuing is thought to have been involved in weapons smuggling between Iran and Baghdad, where Special Groups militants have been blamed for a recent spate of attacks against American G.I.’s. (American military officials have promoted the idea that the Special Groups receive funding, training and weapons from the Iranian Quds Force, although definitive evidence of this has not been produced.)

Danielson declined to say which coalition unit was involved, nor would he verify the nationality of the coalition forces involved. He did verify, however, that the forces involved did report civilian casualties, including at least two women and one child.

Falih al Fayadh, the director of an office that represents the prime minister in the province, said more than 20 people had been wounded Friday, and that the dead and wounded were residents who'd often been attacked by terrorists.

The locals fired first, Fayadh said, but only because they mistook the soldiers — who came around dawn — for insurgents. Those killed included two women and a child, he said.

"There was clearly a problem with the coordination between the coalition commanders and local police," Fayadh said.

As the coalition forces moved into the area and took up positions, they encountered “heavy fire” and, according to a U.S. military press release, they engaged the enemy. From there it escalated to the point that American air power was called in.

According to the press release, as aircraft arrived, the attackers began to move in on the coalition forces, firing AK-47’s and RPG’s. One militant fighter reportedly was seen carrying what appeared to be an anti-aircraft weapon, and when he disappeared into a building, the aircraft responding discharged their payload and leveled two buildings. About 25 people were killed.

The suspect they were seeking was not apprehended.

Now – let’s take a trip down Reality Lane before I close this post.

The use of air strikes in a counterinsurgency is a deadly serious act. It is always seen as a desperate, last-ditch effort of an army that is losing. Air power, when you are the only side that has it, means asymmetric warfare, and asymmetric warfare is nowhere near a stand-up fight. I would even go so far as to argue that the recent reliance on air power is indicative of the failure of the so-called Surge™.

Right out of the gate, it indicates that we are facing an enemy that, all things being equal, would possibly give us a run for our money in a stand-up fight – indeed, they are managing to almost do so in a bug hunt. As the insurgents develop strategic and tactical approaches to engage the occupiers, all indicators point to increasing effectiveness among the insurgent fighters.

At least that is the impression taken away by the local populations left to clean up the mess and bury the dead.

When the warmongers and chickenhaws get in front of the cameras on your teevee, and insist we are "winning" because “We haven’t lost a single battle!” they aren’t really shooting straight.

The pitched battles will always go to the Americans, because the Americans can call in the air strikes.

Coalition forces. Will. Never. Lose. A. Battle.


But that air strikes are increasingly necessary in order for the Americans to not lose the battle, represents an overwhelming psychological victory. And since we are strolling down Reality Lane, lets just say it – in a counterinsurgency, the psychological victory is the only one that matters.

Air strikes always kill far more civilians than targeted fighters, and this serves to enrage the local populace. This has the net effect of increasing the sympathies of the locals to the insurgent fighters that were the targets of the aerial assault. Air strikes also kill indiscriminately and they destroy vital civilian infrastructure.

Psychologically, air strikes are a boon to the insurgency – promoting the viewpoint that the United States is a bunch of cowards who only dare fight when they can call in reinforcements to kill indiscriminately from five miles high, dropping bombs on innocents as well as insurgents. Morally, it turns the United States into a Goliath that must be fought, and must be slain.

This is the stuff that martyrs are made of, and we are intervening in a culture with a long, strong and proud tradition of martyrdom. Just the folks whose resolve needs a good strengthening, dontcha think?

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