They don’t grow in trees, though they sometimes might hide in them

The Snipers of Fallujah (12/03/04)

Although the battle for Fallujah ended up being a lot more heavy-handed than I expected (and I’m very glad of it) the snipers on both sides still played an important part. Our earlier efforts in the city last spring were mostly sniper-based, while this time around the sniper forces were part of a larger combined-arms strategy that included sometimes just blowing the smithereens out of things that badly needed it. Strategy Page has this:

Snipers were particularly prevalent during the Fallujah battles and were heavily used against US forces. While still very dangerous, the insurgent snipers were far from expert. None had specialized sniper training and the quality of their weapons was very poor. Its very hard to be a precision shooter when all you’ve got is a battered, rusting AK-47 with no scope and partner with no binoculars to spot for you. Also, the insurgents tended to have no concept of movement. Marines reported that insurgent snipers would choose obvious hiding places, the minarets of mosques were a favorite, and not move after firing at US troops. A smart sniper would have picked an unlikely location and moved around after each attack. The insurgents’ poor technique made them easy targets for airstrikes, bunker busters, and even counter-snipers.

Although our use of traditional military force against an asymmetrical foe sometimes doesn’t give us the results we’re looking for, if we keep the pressure on the insurgents by keeping them on the run, seizing weapons and ammunition when we can, and killing a fair number when the opportunity presents itself (or when we go our of our way to create it) we will continue to wear down resistance.

It’s true that there is a nearly limitless supply of willing jihadists. And they have a practically bottomless well of weapons and ammunition. But as we take increasing numbers of their skilled fighters and quality weapons out of the equations we will see increasing stability and safety.

As we are seeing with the attempt to build a new Iraqi army, you don’t just snap your fingers and produce a capable fighting force. Desire and motivation is definitely part of it, but you also require skill and the right tools. There’s probably no shortage of young Arabs full of hatred who are willing to take on the US military. But the percentage of those actually capable of performing well is probably shrinking.

Every base of operations, every weapons cache, every safehouse, every training area, every bomb factory we knock out makes it harder for the enemy to replace losses with quality fighters. Every veteran fighter who is killed or captured and replaced by a green recruit is a net gain. Although more than a bit like whack-a-mole, if we keep the pressure on we will continue to see positive results.

It will be some time before we really know how valuable our victory in Fallujah is. I happen to think that it’s incredibly important, and that if we keep up the pressure in the Sunni Triangle we will be better off for it. Other operations in other parts of Iraq haven’t been getting as much press, and that’s fine by me. I think we’re on the right track.

Of course, I thought the same thing a year ago. We’ll see.