U.S. Jets Strike Fallujah With Five Raids
U.S. Jets Strike Fallujah With Five Raids (Guardian – AP)
U.S. jets struck Fallujah with five air raids in 12 hours, softening up the insurgent stronghold for an expected major assault. Guerrillas responded with a rocket attack Friday, killing a U.S. soldier and wounding seven others, the U.S. military said.
Iraq’s interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, warned that the “window is closing” for a peaceful settlement to avert an offensive on Fallujah, west of Baghdad. U.S. troops sealed off roads into the city overnight.
U.S. commanders said a combined U.S.-Iraqi force would carry out the attack on what is considered the insurgents’ strongest bastion. Prime Minister Ayad Allawi must give the green light for the operation – part of a campaign to uproot insurgents ahead of vital elections planned for late January.
This one’s about to kick into high gear. It’s about time. The troops are ready for it but it could well be a tough one.
For many marines here, that order cannot come too soon. After a long summer of cat-and-mouse games with shadowy insurgents, they are hungry for a decisive battle. “Locked, cocked and ready to rock,” said Lance Cpl. Dimitri Gavriel, 29, who left an investment banking job in Manhattan 18 months ago to enlist, using a popular Marine expression. “That’s about how we feel.”
In the meantime, preparations continue at this makeshift military base. Tanks rumble through a barren landscape littered with shrapnel and husks of old vehicles, while helicopters throb overhead. Detonations shake the ground at all hours – artillery units firing on guerrilla positions, or other military units blowing up old explosives. Occasional enemy mortars explode nearby. American jets soar overhead on their way to and from bombing runs, and at night fires glow on the horizon.
Many of the young marines expected to lead the attack have not yet been part of a major battle. Most of those who took part in the operation in Falluja in April have been sent home. And though some of the commanders here fought the first phase of the war last year, many of the rank and file arrived here for the first time in June. All of them, though, seem eager to prove their mettle and at last confront the insurgency head on. “It’s kind of like the cancer of Iraq,” said Lt. Steven Berch, a lanky platoon commander, speaking of Falluja. “It’s become a kind of hotel for the insurgents. Hopefully getting rid of them will help to stabilize the whole country.”
One would hope. Clearly, ignoring the problem and hoping it would go away hasn’t worked. Still, there are a lot of obstacles.
As usual, intelligence is a major concern.
Iraq’s growing insurgency has no shortage of funds, and it is waging ever more lethal and sophisticated attacks against a US-led coalition still hampered by a paucity of on-the-ground intelligence. “We just don’t believe there’s any lack of funding,” says a senior US military intelligence officer with extensive experience in Iraq. Indeed, the insurgency has gained both tactically and numerically, with Pentagon estimates of core fighters rising as high as 12,000. Tens of thousands part-time backers may join in on any given day. The tenacious resistance highlights the persistent difficulties the US military faces in identifying and tracking down insurgent networks in what senior military officials are increasingly calling an “intelligence war.” “The fact is, we [took] Baghdad in weeks, but we’re going to be fighting an intelligence war there for a very long time,” says Lt. Gen. William Boykin, deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence.
Commanders are building up US forces in Iraq for a campaign to pacify insurgent strongholds such as Fallujah and Ramadi and establish security for January elections. They have delayed the departure from Iraq of some 6,500 battle-hardened troops while fresh units rotate in, which will increase the total to some 145,000. Army officials have said in recent days that additional infantry brigades in the United States could be tapped on short notice if security in Iraq deteriorates.
Yet equally important for quelling the insurgency in the long run is a major push by the Pentagon to expand and overhaul US military intelligence to gain a clearer picture of Iraq’s complex web of local insurgents and foreign terrorists. “We’re going to spend a lot more time in the future finding an enemy – determining who he’s connected to, how he’s trained, how he’s financed, how he’s supported – than we are maneuvering in the battle space,” General Boykin told an Army forum last week. Officials note that weaknesses in the ability of military intelligence to address a budding insurgency were apparent soon after Baghdad fell and continue today. Unlike in traditional conflicts, where the targets are troop formations and buildings easily captured by imagery, fighting an insurgency depends heavily on intimate knowledge of shifting enemy networks and cells that can only be gained from people. “It’s a big human-intelligence problem,” says the senior US military intelligence officer, who requested anonymity.
In Iraq, a shortage developed early on in the small teams of soldiers specialized in gathering human intelligence, or “humint,” as well as skilled analysts. Along with gaps in communications, operations were hampered by a military intelligence system geared more to the cold war than to counterinsurgency, says Collin Agee, a director for Army intelligence. A 2003 survey of US Army intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan found “the cold-war structures and techniques we had were not particularly well suited to the missions,” says Mr. Agee. In one measure of the limits in intelligence gathering, the survey found that 400,000 patrols by US troops had generated only 6,000 reports to the brigade level. “We simply were not being effective,” he says.
Now the Pentagon is undertaking major steps to bolster its intelligence apparatus and manpower overseas to meet what it sees as the long-range challenge posed by terrorists and insurgents. It plans to create a series of new interconnected “Joint Intelligence Operations Centers,” giving regional commanders more control over intelligence collection. And the Army plans by 2007 to increase the number of military intelligence (MI) soldiers by 9,000. Meanwhile, more MI soldiers are being assigned to each Army brigade.
And then there’s this little nuisance:
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned leaders of the United States, Britain and Iraq that another full-scale assault on the rebel-held city of Fallouja would further alienate Iraqis and disrupt elections planned for January. Annan’s warning, contained in a letter sent Sunday, has angered some officials here. “This is an issue for the government of Iraq,” said British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry. “It’s easy for those not in Iraq to underestimate the overwhelming concern the Iraqis have for security. There cannot be an area as big as Fallouja which is allowed to be a base for terrorism.” Some diplomats said Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was “furious” when he received the letter. Iraq’s new U.N. ambassador immediately sought to meet with Annan to argue that the U.N. was interfering. Allawi recently criticized Annan for not doing enough to help Iraq prepare for elections. The world body’s officials say Iraq is not secure enough for more U.N. workers to help organize the nationwide vote.
Annan’s letter underscores a fundamental disagreement between the U.S.-led coalition and the U.N. about how best to bring stability to Iraq. Leaders of the U.S., Britain and Iraq say that retaking insurgent strongholds is the only way to secure the country before the elections. But Annan argued in his letter that another invasion of Fallouja would only create more enemies and spark an election boycott by Sunni Muslims.
In the letter to Allawi, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Annan acknowledged the need to restore security in Iraq but said a political process that included groups not represented in the interim government would be the best foundation for stability. “The threat or actual use of force not only risks deepening the sense of alienation of certain communities, but would also reinforce perceptions among the Iraqi population of a continued military occupation,” he wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Times.
The willingness of key decisionmakers to listen to Koffi Annan, who helped bolster Saddam’s regime and has resisted efforts to improve the situation in Iraq throughout this crisis, is rather minimal. As it should be.