Al Qaeda Forces in Iraq Engaging in Conventional Battles
Al Qaeda is training disciplined units which are engaging U.S. forces in conventional battles.
Sunni Arab militant groups suspected of ties to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia have established training camps east of Baghdad that are turning out well-disciplined units willing to fight American forces in set-piece battles, American military commanders said Thursday.
American soldiers fought such units in a pitched battle last week in the village of Turki, 25 miles south of this Iraqi Army base in volatile Diyala Province, near the Iranian border. At least 72 insurgents and two American officers were killed in more than 40 hours of fighting. American commanders said they called in 12 hours of airstrikes while soldiers shot their way through a reed-strewn network of canals in extremely close combat.
Officers said that in this battle, unlike the vast majority of engagements in Diyala, insurgents stood and fought, even deploying a platoon-sized unit that showed remarkable discipline and that one captain said was in “perfect military formation.” Insurgents throughout Iraq usually avoid direct confrontation with the Americans, preferring to use hit-and-run tactics and melting away at the sight of American armored vehicles.
Lt. Col. Andrew Poppas, commander of the Fifth Squadron, 73rd Cavalry, a unit of the 82nd Airborne Division, said in an interview that the fighters at Turki “were disciplined and well-trained, with well-aimed shots.” “We hadn’t seen anything like this in years,” he said. The insurgents had built a labyrinthine network of trenches in the farmland, with sleeping areas and significant weapons caches. Two anti-aircraft guns had been hidden away.
Insurgents were apparently able to establish a training camp after American combat forces moved out of the area in the fall of 2005, Colonel Poppas said. Sunni Arab militants there belong to the fundamentalist Wahabbi strain of Islam and are believed to be led, at least in part, by a man known as Abu Abdul Rahman, an Iraqi-Canadian who moved from Canada to Iraq in 1995 after marrying a woman from Turki, the colonel said.
This is actually a classic phase of insurgent warfare following Mao Zedong’s model. Insurgents fight in guerrilla mode while they are weak but must ultimately win conventional battles to press their advantage and make major advances. In so doing, they either win or get routed and fall back into guerrilla mode and try to regroup. It worked for Mao in China and for Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.