Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More Iraqi tribes agree to help U.S.

Even if the "surge" seems plagued with difficulties, we appear to be having one clear success in Iraq: enlisting Sunni tribes to help battle Al-Qaeda jihadis.

More than 10 Iraqi tribes in the Baghdad area have reached agreements with U.S. and Iraqi forces for the first time to oppose al-Qaeda, raising the U.S. military's hopes that a trend started in western Iraq is spreading here.

Some of the groups, which have members who fought alongside al-Qaeda in the past, have been providing useful intelligence to U.S. forces about their former allies, according to the U.S. military....

This is the same tactic that has borne fruit in Anbar province, with attacks there down 60 percent in the last year.

Before getting too excited, though, there are the caveats.

Ten tribes have agreed to cooperate; but there are 100 tribes in the Baghdad area, and tribal power isn't as strong in the city as it is in more remote areas. This is a small first step in an endeavor that is, at best, part of a solution.

In addition, the Iraqi government opposes the idea of arming and supporting Sunni tribal forces, fearing it will lead to more private militias that will one day turn their weaponry on the central government. I'm not sure what's more worrisome: that the Iraqi government wants to curtail the one program that appears to be bearing fruit, or that their fears are probably justified.

To quote from a previous post:

It remains to be seen whether that situation will hold, it doesn't address the problem with native Iraqi insurgents, and it's unclear whether it holds relevance for the Sunni/Shiite sectarian violence that has been the prime driver of violence of late. If you believe that AQ is largely responsible for that violence, great; if you believe the violence is more broadly rooted than that, trouble.

But frankly, at this point, what do we have to lose?

Meanwhile, with the surge reinforcements all in place, the offensive in Diyala province is proceeding apace, and we appear to finally be relearning some old lessons:

In the first hours of the American military assault, after midnight early Monday, helicopters flew two teams of American troops and a platoon of Iraqi scouts so they could block the southern escape routes from the city. Stryker armored vehicles moved along the western outskirts of Baquba and then down a main north-south route that cuts through the center of the city.

By the time dawn broke on Tuesday, the insurgent sanctuary in western Baquba had been cordoned off. Then, the American forces established footholds on the periphery of the section and slowly pressed in. “Rather than let the problem export to some other place and then have to fight them again, my goal is to isolate this thing and cordon it off,” said Col. Steve Townsend, the commander of the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Second Infantry Division.

Translated, that means "no more whack-a-mole." It's classic tactics: find the enemy, fix him, and destroy him.

There are also rather eery echoes of Vietnam in the operation, from the heliborne assault tactics used to set up the cordon to the resurrection of Kit Carson scouts. One would think the military would go out of its way to avoid Vietnam associations, but the Kit Carson program was actually pretty successful and the mobility of heliborne troops has always been a valuable tool in the American arsenal. Much of what the American military knows about counterinsurgency operations comes from Vietnam, so it's natural to reuse tactics -- and, apparently, names.

Fun as this all is, it's useless if afterwards we leave and let the insurgents filter back in. I assume that "clear and hold" is part of the plan for Diyala, but I'm not sure where those troops will come from, considering that the surge was supposed to focus on Baghdad and its immediate environs, with the extra troops earmarked for that purpose. I'm not sure Baquba, 35 miles away, was part of the original scope.

But let's hope the operation works, we have enough troops for the job, and Sunni groups continue to switch sides. And let's hope that in our zeal to destroy AQ in Iraq, we aren't laying the groundwork for an even bloodier Sunni-Shiite faceoff among Iraqis.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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6/21/2007 12:04 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

At first I thought that comment was spam. Then I realized I understood it.

6/21/2007 11:06 AM  

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