Precision of Base Attack Worries Military Experts

Precision of Base Attack Worries Military Experts (Thomas Ricks, WaPo, A01)

The major difference between the latest attack and the earlier incidents is that it was an attack on a U.S. base, rather than on troops in transit in vulnerable aircraft. That difference appears to reflect both the persistence of the insurgency and its growing sophistication, as experts noted that it seemed to be based on precise intelligence. Most disturbingly, some officers who have served in Iraq worried that the Mosul attack could mark the beginning of a period of even more intense violence preceding the Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30.

“On the strategic level, we were expecting an horrendous month leading up to the Iraqi elections, and that has begun,” retired Army Col. Michael E. Hess said.
Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst of Middle Eastern military affairs, said he is especially worried that the insurgents’ next move will be an actual penetration by fighters into a base. “The real danger here is that they will mount a sophisticated effort to penetrate or assault one of our camps or bases with a ground element,” he said.

If anti-American violence does hit a new level, pressure is likely to increase on the Bush administration to either boost the U.S. military presence in Iraq or find a fast way to get out. The adequacy of current troop numbers is one of the questions provoked by yesterday’s action, said Charles McComas, a veteran Special Forces soldier who served in Afghanistan before retiring. “Do we have the right forces and enough of them to do the offensive patrolling to reduce the chances of this happening again?” he asked. A private-sector security expert who recently left Baghdad after more than a year there agreed, noting that the United States originally put an entire division in the Mosul area, the 101st Airborne, but replaced it earlier this year with a force about half that size, only to see insurgent attacks increase. “We have replaced a division with a brigade and think we can offer the same amount of security,” he said, insisting on anonymity because his opinions are so at odds with the official U.S. government view.

The attack also indicates that the insurgency is growing more sophisticated with the passage of time. One of the basic principles of waging a counterinsurgency is that it requires patience. “Twenty-one months” — the length of the occupation so far — “is not a long time to tame the tribal warfare expected there,” said retired Marine Lt. Col. Rick Raftery, an intelligence specialist who operated in northern Iraq in 1991. “My guess is that this will take 10 years.”

Another principle, less noted but painfully clear yesterday, is that insurgents also tend to sharpen their tactics as time goes by. Over the past 20 months, enemy fighters have learned a lot about how the U.S. military operates and where its vulnerabilities lie. “The longer you are anywhere, the more difficult it becomes,” said Hess, who served in northern Iraq in 1991 and in Bosnia in 1996. “They have changed their tactics a lot in the year-plus.”

Several experts noted that insurgents appear to have acted on accurate intelligence. Kalev Sepp, a former Special Forces counterinsurgency expert who recently returned from Iraq, noted that the attack “was carried out in daylight against the largest facility on the base, at exactly the time when the largest number of soldiers would be present.” “This combination of evidence indicates a good probability that the attack was well-planned and professionally executed,” Sepp said.

The “more troops” refrain sounds good, although it’s not entirely clear how that would have prevented this incident–even if the troops existed from which to draw. More troops garrisoned in a compound simply make it a more target rich environment. The way to prevent mortar attacks is to take out the mortars, which involves raids into enemy positons and/or blowing up said positions with air or artillery strikes. Given the nature of the mission, I don’t think the political will exists to take such aggressive measures. Further, they may well doom the mission. This paradox is what insurgents and terrorists count on.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    James;

    The compound the tent was in was on top of a hill.
    The tent was the tallest structure on the hill.
    It was visible literally for miles, and could have been attacked from about any angle within range, given the topography of the target and the surrounding area, and the resulting geometry of the shot.

    Indeed, the tent, accorindg to FNC this morning, had been attacked previously, but usually to little to no effect, given the Insurgents are too stupid, or in too much of a hurry, generally to either know how to use their weapons or set their shots. They’d always missed, prevously.

    This time, they got lucky.

  2. Zed says:

    I noticed this latest attack was drawing the question, is there a real strategy the insurgents are useing other that guerilla warfare, it is an intereting question, while I am leaning to believe that they are simple taking advantage of any opportunity that arises, it seems it is becomeing worthwhile to consider a more sophisticated plot going on that wasn’t thought out as much. But again, a strike when you can method could easily begin to look like a strategy were there isn’t really one. A paradox indeed.

  3. Davod says:

    The diplomats have to get their act together and shut down the Syrians and Iranians. If this means kicking some Arab apologists out of the State Department so be it.

    The Kurdish militia should be incorporated into the Iraqi army and given patrol authority in the region. The special forces should work with them on this.

    The region has an illustrious history and this is what should be used to tie the Iraqis together (I know some of the history shows the Turks/Iraqis repelling the Brits and French but that is a small part.) The civil action teams need to be showing the Iraqis films of their history going back to before the Jews, Christians and Muslims.

  4. ken says:

    The “more troops” refrain sounds good…

    So now you are starting to see that more troops are needed in Iraq? It is basic military science 101 that says that for a country the size of Iraq we need to put in from 250,000 to 300,000 boots on the ground in order to provide security. This was known before Bush launched the war, it was known during the last two years of occupation, and now finally it seems to be atarting to sink into a conservative thick skull. Welcome to the reality based community James.

  5. DC Loser says:

    “The diplomats have to get their act together and shut down the Syrians and Iranians.”

    That sentence is self-contradictory. Don’t hold your breath if you expect diplomacy to solve anything there. But realistically the Iranians don’t have to do much now that the Shiites will probably win the election and give them much of what they want.

    “The Kurdish militia should be incorporated into the Iraqi army and given patrol authority in the region. The special forces should work with them on this.”

    The Pesh Merga are already dominant in the Iraqi commando unit that was in Fallujah. Watch out what additional roles they play because the Turks are very nervously watching what’s going on across the border.

    “The civil action teams need to be showing the Iraqis films of their history going back to before the Jews, Christians and Muslims.”

    ROFLMAO….Now that’s a priceless scene, Americans telling Iraqis what they should know about their glorious history. The problem is that security is so bad the CAT are not doing much besides doing security patrols.

  6. McGehee says:

    Now that’s a priceless scene, Americans telling Iraqis what they should know about their glorious history.

    Er, well, it’s not as if the Ba’athists were all that scrupulous about telling the truth about Iraqi history. Or were they the first and only totalitarian regime in human history to take a “hands off” approach to that sort of thing?

  7. DC Loser says:

    “Er, well, it’s not as if the Ba’athists were all that scrupulous about telling the truth about Iraqi history. Or were they the first and only totalitarian regime in human history to take a “hands off” approach to that sort of thing?”

    Nor for that matter, the British before the Baathists, and before that, that Ottomans, and so on and so on……

  8. LJD says:

    So is Ken AGAINST the war and ANY troops there, or is he FOR more troops on the ground?
    Or does he want to see the U.S. fail regardless, to support his political ideals?

  9. anjin-san says:

    Force dispersal seems like a basic concept to pratice in a conflict like this. More incompetence in Bush’s Iraq disaster. What will Rumsfeld’s excuse be this time?

    A question worth asking is are contractors who now manage mess operations making decesions about seating & scheduling of chow for the GI’s based on the bottom line instead of security…

  10. Cassandra says:

    Ken:

    I came over to apologize and admit I was apparently wrong about the mortar attack. Everything I had read indicated that it was a mortar attack, but now they are saying it was a suicide bomber.

    I violated my own rule (never believe the first reports you hear – they’re almost invariably wrong).

    I just wanted to admit that up front.

  11. LJD says:

    Asinine-San:

    Yeah, force dispersal. Every troop can eat their own cold MRE in their own fox hole. Good idea. Way to make life more comfortable for them. There you go supporting our troops again.

    How can Rumsfeld possibly have done anything at all to prevent such an attack? What you’re doing here, as Ken was, is blaming the very troops who were the victims of the attack, for their lack of security. You ought to think about blaming the coward who strapped himself with a bomb…

    You show your ignorance once again… (aside from repeated misspellings) There are no “seatings” in a military chow hall (at least not the ones I’ve been in). It’s not freaking Club Med! The time meals are served varies from intallation to installation. What is common is that troops can have some kind of food any time they want, usually when coming in off patrol or guard duty.

  12. DC Loser says:

    LJD,

    I agree with you about the need for a hot meal. Nothing sucks like eating cold MREs. But I do blame DoD for having the shortsightness to farm out the chow hall operations to contractors. I think better OPSEC is to bring back military run chow halls. I know this is heresy to some, but I saw nothing wrong with the military chow halls when I was active duty. As in Vietnam, our Achilles Heel was having to rely on local labor to support our military infrastructure. I know all the talk about the need to let the Iraqis know they have a stake in this, but where do you draw the line?

  13. LJD says:

    If we had troops serving meals, there would be three times as many troops on the ground; three times as many targets.

    When I was overseas we had hundreds of locals working on base, cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, serving as interpreters. If you eliminated all of those positions, (which you can’t in the case of interpreters) you would not only have to get troops to fill those support positions, but also to support themselves. The infrastructure gets very huge and expensive very quickly.

    You would also put people in harm’s way that do not have the same level of military training to serve in a combat situation.

    I expect that the troops will now have to wear their flak vests during meals. I also expect there will be changes in the way employees are chosen, searched, and allowed to enter the base. All of which require more manpower- combat troops, MPs, etc.

    Most importantly, we need to stop playing games with this insurgency. We need to open a serious can of whoopass. If the Iraqis want us to stay and provide for their security, then they need to step up to the plate. If they will not, we ought to leave, regardless of the outcome. They can enjoy their choice for civil war. Our hands will be clean.

  14. DC Loser says:

    “Most importantly, we need to stop playing games with this insurgency. We need to open a serious can of whoopass. If the Iraqis want us to stay and provide for their security, then they need to step up to the plate. If they will not, we ought to leave, regardless of the outcome. They can enjoy their choice for civil war. Our hands will be clean.”

    What exactly is that serious can of whoopass? The whole problem of the insurgency is that you can’t implement such a plan without alienating local support. That’s the nature of guerrilla warfare. As for our hands being clean, let’s ask which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the Iraqi people ask for democracy, or did we just assume they wanted it. Remember Powell’s Pottery Barn rule for nation building? “If you break it, you bought it.” You don’t just “walk away” from it. Did we ever assume that we would have some tough going? Why all this talk about washing our hands of the situation? It’s our problem now and we got to see it to the end.

  15. LJD says:

    We leased it before we bought it. It’s going to cost a lot more. I’m all for seeing it through & finishing what we started, but it takes some cooperation. If the public is not already alientated, when the hell are they going to work for their own future? I know MANY are, but peace in Iraq rests on their willingness to work with us to expose the terrorists.

    At some point, the Iraqis have to do something! If their police won’t enforce the law, their troops won’t fight, those given jobs by the U.S. want to kill us for it, what do you do? They need to understand we are not the enemy, the insurgency is.

    The sooner they step up to the plate, stop the criminals who are acting like animals, and get their shit together, the SOONER WE CAN LEAVE. That happens by their cooperation with us. Relatively simple I’d say. Perhaps they love us so much, they don’t want to see us go?

    Out of sheer frustration (maybe not just yet, but definitely after Jan 30), if they choose chaos, we should not allow them to make us part of it. If their choice is civil war, maybe they just need to get it out of their system. Who are we to stop them? The U.N. doesn’t seem too concerned.

  16. DC Loser says:

    LJD,

    Maybe we should have thought this through before we broke it?

  17. DC Loser says:

    As for the UN. They’re no dummies. We got ourselves into this and now they know we want their cover to get out of it. The coalition is slowly hemorrhaging (Poland probably will pull out soon) so they have no reason to do anything but sit on the sidelines. This is schafenfreude at work (against us, I might add).

  18. DC Loser says:

    Make that “Schadenfreude.”

  19. LJD says:

    It can be said that it was broken in 1991, when we failed to finish the job, under political and U.N. pressure… The U.N. left us holding the bag.

    Our pilots were getting shot at daily; Saddam and our “allies” were stealing our money; the Iraqi people were suffering. The U.N. gave Saddam all the time and space he needed to get WMDs transferred out to (Syria) where they actually may fall into the hands of terrorists. This is what we get for being the good guys.

    We still have troops all over Yugoslavia and elsewhere. The U.N. is a fraud. The world needs to look beyond their wallets, and step up for Peace. This whole state of the world cooperation is a friggin tragedy, and it’s NOT because of the U.S.

    Yeah, the U.N. are no dummies. Their raking in the cash, charging US for prime office space in New York. Priceless.

  20. DC Loser says:

    “It can be said that it was broken in 1991, when we failed to finish the job, under political and U.N. pressure… The U.N. left us holding the bag.”

    No. It was Bush senior that left us holding the bag. The price for putting together the “coalition of the willing” was that we would stop at throwing the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and that enabled the Saudis and Syrians to come into the coalition. If we had gone to Baghdad then the whole house of cards would have fallen down.

    “The world needs to look beyond their wallets, and step up for Peace. This whole state of the world cooperation is a friggin tragedy, and it’s NOT because of the U.S.”

    Funny we didn’t push that point very hard before we went into Iraq. Back then it was “If you don’t join us we’ll go in without you.”

  21. LJD says:

    “If we had gone to Baghdad then the whole house of cards would have fallen down.”

    What house of cards? The U.S. seems to be the only country concerned with peace and justice in the world.

    “Back then it was “If you don’t join us we’ll go in without you.”

    Still is, and should be. I think the world needs to play a larger role, but if they won’t, what do we do? Sit on our hands?

  22. DC Loser says:

    “The U.S. seems to be the only country concerned with peace and justice in the world.”

    That’s very liberal of you, lol.

    “I think the world needs to play a larger role, but if they won’t, what do we do? Sit on our hands?”

    And that, my friend, is what got us to where we are. ‘Nuf said.

    We’re beating this topic to death…I’m moving on. Talking about Paris Hilton sounds more inviting.

  23. Bithead says:

    That’s IT!
    DC, you’ve NAILED it.
    All we need to do is get Paris Hilton over there, walking around Nude.

    since the branches of Islam taht are attacking us have rule shwich state that a man can’t see women otherbthan his wife naked, we’d have all kinds of suicides of the Islamofacists.

    Why, ths could end the whole conflict in a week!

  24. LJD says:

    How ironic that the right is concerned with international peace, justice, and freedom, and the left is only concerned with domestic economics. Further the dems now claim to be FOR military spending, and FOR tax cuts?

    I guess they learned from Clinton, saying one thing and doing another… like sitting on his hands while Al Quaeda and Saddam massed their threat.