"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Basra II

After a glorious six hour Aeroscout mission yesterday I had no time to blog, or run, or do anything but go home so I could go to sleep and get up to do it all again today. However, I do have a little time now, so I figured I'd update some of the goings-on in Basra while I can.

Current news reports have Iraqi forces in control of most of the city, with the interesting caveat that Iranian officials helped pressure al Sadr into calling for a ceasefire. It's questionable, however, whether al Sadr's public proclamation can have any impact down there, as there are serious doubts as to who, exactly, is controlling the forces in that city. The Jaish Al Mahdi command structure has several 'generals' beneath al Sadr, and it's believed that one or more of them is acting on his own. Attack trends indicate that it's quieted down, as levels of violence reported in the last 24 hours are much lower than we saw in the days preceding. JAM fighters have been using loudspeakers and word of mouth to spread propaganda that they are winning, capturing IA and ISF forces, and that Maliki has ordered a withdrawal; however, local sources contend that while some Basrawis (Basraists, Basrites?) believe this, the rest dismiss them as outright lies and retain some confidence in the federal government to bring order to the city. Given that IA forces remain in the city and are conducting continuing operations, the JAM's version of events will probably be thrown out the window soon. The political fall-out from Operation KNIGHTS CHARGE is still unclear; more on that, doubtless, in coming days. Also, while there are a few reports of Iraqi soldiers deserting to the militias in Basra, by all accounts the IA and ISF demonstrated the will, if not necessarily the skill, in conducting difficult and bloody urban operations.

A small digression into that 'skilled' aspect is in order, as ground operations are something I have no experience with and which civilians may have an even harder time appreciating. An ex-grunt who now flies with us gave me some insight into the arena of military operations in urban terrain (MOUT). MOUT is probably the most difficult type of operation one can engage in, since short of simply leveling the city without regard to collateral damage, even an experienced attack force will take heavy casualties rooting the defenders from their positions. This particular ex-grunt had first-hand experience in MOUT, as he was part of earlier operations in Ramadi and was spared the heavy casualties of other units only by exceptionally good leadership. Good leadership is something very rare in the Iraqi Army, primarily because it takes so long to build good, experienced leaders. It takes about four years of training in the Marine Corps to build a good squad leader, in charge of twelve Marines. It takes about two years to train a solid infantry platoon commander, in charge of thirty-plus men. We just passed the five-year mark of our country's sojourn in Iraq, and we have not spent that entire five years training the current IA. Thus, much of the IA's leadership is made up of newly trained squad and platoon leaders, virtually all whom have never participated in full-fledged MOUT operations before. They, in turn, were pitted against the fighters of the JAM, who have spent much of the past few years in conflict with either the government, opposing militias, or ourselves, which gave them valuable training and experience in conducting urban operations. JAM fighters were able to entrench themselves in Basra, unmolested by the British, and received additional training and weapons from our good friends, the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Thus, the balance of forces - between the new, untested IA on one side and the experienced, battle-tested, and entrenched JAM militia on the other - was fairly lopsided. It is remarkable, and a testament to the willpower of the IA, that all they needed from us was air and surveillance support, two areas in which we far exceed them (and virtually every other military on the planet). MOUT is bloody no matter how you cut it, and I'd guess that many an IA soldier paid for his inexperience with his life. However, no government can long survive with large armed groups outside its control; if ultimately successful, KNIGHTS CHARGE may be worth at least part of the price paid.

No comments: