Monday, May 15, 2006

Military Heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Continuing Inadequacy of the Current War Strategy

I think it is important to acknoledge the heroism and adeptness of our military forces in this war. I realize I am a frequent critic of the way this war is conducted and its overall approach. However, this does not mean that our fighting forces are not highly praiseworthy, even though they might operate under a flawed strategy. Actually, the opposite is true. The military deserves even more praise and support for what it does achieve.

With this in mind, via an interesting post on the Counterterrorism Blog, I have learned of a recent article in the Army Times about the special forces organization called Task Force 145 which is tasked with "hunting down Zarqawi...and destroying his Al-Qaida in Iraq organization." Here are some details:
The job of hunting Zarqawi and rolling up his al-Qaida in Iraq network falls to Task Force 145, which is made up of the most elite U.S. and British special operations forces, and whose headquarters is in Balad.

The U.S. forces are drawn from units under Joint Special Operations Command at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. These include the military’s two “direct action” special mission units — the Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, known as Delta Force, and the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, sometimes known by its cover name, Naval Special Warfare Development Group; the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and 75th Ranger Regiment; and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron.
TF 145 is divided into four subordinate task forces in Iraq:

• Task Force West, organized around a SEAL Team 6 squadron with Rangers in support.

• Task Force Central, organized around a Delta squadron with Rangers in support.

• Task Force North, organized around a Ranger battalion combined with a small Delta element.

• Task Force Black, organized around a British Special Air Service “saber squadron,” with British paratroopers from the Special Forces Support Group in support.
As far as their successes, here are some examples:
Just nine days before al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi released his latest video, a special operations raid killed five of his men, captured five others and apparently came within a couple of city blocks of nabbing Zarqawi himself.

Then, the day Zarqawi’s video debuted, special ops forces killed 12 more of his troops in a second raid in the same town.
A slide published by the Defense Department in May 2005 shows 21 senior Zarqawi lieutenants, seven of whom were listed as killed, 13 as captured and only one as “wanted.”
TF 145’s success has been Zarqawi’s loss, a special ops source said. His senior lieutenants used to be foreigners, but not anymore; TF 145 and its predecessors killed or captured them all.

“He doesn’t have a foreigner working for him anymore — most of them are Iraqis. We’ve either captured or killed all of his foreign influence.”

The foreign terrorists still coming into Iraq from Syria, he said, “are suicide bombers only … ‘Muslims on Spring Break.’ They come in through Syria, get a week of training — ‘Here, this is an RPG’ — come down and strap a bomb on them.”
This last of course unfortunately hints at the bigger problem with the war, which despite the heroism and successes of Task Force 145 is still being fought with one arm tied behind our back. Even the members of the task force know this:
Beyond Zarqawi, bin Laden and Zawahiri, there are other targets that JSOC could hit, if it had the authority and resources, the special ops source said.

The U.S. knows of “high-tier” al-Qaida personnel in multiple European countries, he said.

“They’re around the world ... The point is, does the U.S. have the resolve … to go conduct a unilateral operation to get these folks?”

Asked if anyone in JSOC was doing this now, he said, “Not really.”

Part of the reason: Special mission units are already stretched by the mission in Iraq.

“There’s no one left,” he said.
And then there's the role of Iran:
Meanwhile, Zarqawi also hungers for more personnel. “Al-Qaida is trying to get some other people to him through Iran — some planners, some trainers,” the special ops source said.

The Iranian government knows about this, and despite Zarqawi’s violence against fellow Shiites in Iraq, the Iranians have decided to allow the transit of al-Qaida personnel, the source said, calling it “a marriage of convenience.”

JSOC knew of insurgent training camps in both Syria and Iran that TF 145 could hit, the source said, but “politics” had kept the task force from launching cross-border missions.

He said the trainers in the camps did not appear to be Syrian or Iranian military personnel, but members of affiliated groups like Hezbollah. He suspects that these activities were also occurring with the tacit approval of the host governments.
The influence of Iran via weapons shipments and training of al-Qaida has been noted by Debka as well in the blog IRAQ THE MODEL written by an Iraqi on the scene, who found reports in a local Iraqi newspaper (arabic) translated to English by this Iranian dissident site. Here's what's being reported:
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had provided the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq heavy weapons including anti-aircraft missiles, it emerged on Friday.

The Iraqi daily az-Zaman which is published in London and Baghdad quoted credible Iraqi sources as revealing that the IRGC had given al-Qaeda in Iraq, Strela-type SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles, modern explosives, and a large number of personnel arms including Kalashnikovs and BKC machineguns.
Yet another act of war by Iran against us.
The situation in Afghanistan seems much calmer by comparison but, as this detailed Armed Forces Journal article describes, that may be part of the problem. First, let's again acknowledge the successes of the US and allied troops there:
When TF[task force] Bayonet and TF[task force] 31 troops do encounter the Taliban, the results are always the same. “We invariably come out on top,” Higgins said. “We’ve had a number of set battles with these guys where we’ve killed 40 or 50.”
Special operators and conventional infantry officers alike are convinced their strategy is working. By late November, TF 31 had killed approximately 400 enemy personnel, including several midlevel commanders. They had also captured 278 enemy fighters, 66 of whom, including several leaders, became “long-term detainees,” according to charts provided to AFJ.
However, as usual, our forces are restricted by "higher" political considerations:
But if the Taliban’s sanctuary is inside Afghanistan, its “safe haven,” as TF Bayonet commander Col. Kevin Owens described it, is across the border in Pakistan’s virtually lawless Pashtun tribal areas.

It is there, according to Bolduc, that the Taliban’s senior leadership resides, providing the core of what he calls a “shadow government.” The guerrillas also use Pakistan as a source of recruits and bomb-making materials, and as a place to train and rest during the winter, he said. And, of course, Pakistan is the presumed location of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
But at the insistence of the Pakistani government, Central Command prevents U.S. forces in Afghanistan from crossing the border to attack any of the Taliban and al-Qaida targets.

“We — coalition forces — cannot cross from Afghanistan into Pakistan without the express permission of the government of Pakistan, and the government of Pakistan will not give us that permission,” said Col. Barry Shapiro, the liaison officer to Pakistan for Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan, the highest U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan. “The presence of U.S. forces on Pakistani soil from a strategic standpoint would be extremely destabilizing to [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf’s administration, and we don’t need to add that problem to the mix.

“The fact of the matter is that the Pakistanis are in charge of their own territory, their tribal areas, and we have to be very careful to make sure that we’re not creating the perception that we are in control of Pakistani territory, or, for that matter, that the Pakistanis are taking direction from U.S. forces. … Our forces on the ground have to reconcile the tactical advantage of being able to strike targets inside the [tribal areas] against the strategic disadvantages, which would be tremendous.”
And furthermore, there is some worry that the Taleban is simply waiting until US troops leave:
But Bolduc and his assistant operations officer said the absence of significant violence around the elections was part of the Taliban’s strategy, not simply the result of effective security work on the part of the coalition.
The Taliban has to conserve its resources for the time when the Americans are gone, the assistant operations officer said. “That’s why we had a theory prior to the national assembly and provincial council elections that they would not throw significant resources against those elections. And the low incidence of violence and low incidence of disruption to the election we feel bore out that theory, and backed up what we’re saying about the state of the insurgency,” he said. “They will use those elections to their advantage to sort of dupe the world into a false sense of victory, by showing us that the elections went off, they were a strategic victory [for the coalition] and off we can go.
In fact, the Taliban also took some advantage of the introduction of democracy:
The Taliban forces didn’t just ignore the elections, they participated in them. The |TF 31 assistant operations officer said the task force had cross-referenced the list of election candidates with the U.S. military’s target list and found several matches in Oruzgan province alone.

“There were guys on the candidate list that we knew had loose affiliations with the [Taliban] or were facilitators or were in some other way soiled with the stain of the [Taliban] or were on our target list in some way, shape or form,” the assistant operations officer said. “That demonstrated to us that these guys will attempt to build some kind of shadow government through the legitimate elections so that they can have people in place to take over those positions of responsibility, if and when their way of life and their way of government is reinstitutionalized by collapsing the legitimate government.”
It is still the case that we are winning every military engagement with the enemy but it may not matter, much as it did not matter in Vietnam. Since the strategy is not committed to outright victory but instead appears to seek very limited success via substantially restricted, indirect means, and without identifying, attacking, and defeating Iran as the main enemy, we may yet suffer greatly in this long war.

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