Additional US and Iraqi forces are moving into the western area of the Anbar province in an effort to bolster security and to keep insurgent and terrorist groups displaced during recent offensives, such as seen in Tal Afar, from re-establishing bases of operations and logistics.
The buildup, called Operation Sayaid, is aimed at securing the border area around the restive town of Qaim and suppressing other insurgent activity in the villages that hug the winding banks of the Euphrates west of Baghdad.
In recent public remarks, Iraqi Defense Minister Sadoun Dulaimi signaled plans to step up military operations in the valley. Gen. George W. Casey, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, said in an interview that his forces were intent on “restoring Iraqi control of its border by the end of November, before the December elections.”
I’ve long wondered why we didn’t seem to be doing much about the Syrian border area despite the obvious material and personnel flowing in from that direction.
Although U.S. Marines have conducted a series of raids in the far west, most lasting about a week, the longer-term presence of U.S. and Iraqi troops there has been relatively small.
Out of 32,000 U.S. service members in the province, only one Marine regimental combat team — fewer than 5,000 troops — and some Special Operations forces have operated in the far western region.
Consequently, insurgent fighters have continued to move freely in many places, according to U.S. officers. Zarqawi’s network, in particular, is said to have established safe houses throughout the valley to shelter foreign fighters who enter from Syria before moving on to stage attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere.
“It’s not something we haven’t known about,” said a senior U.S. officer involved in overseeing military operations. “It’s just something we’re now in position to do something about.”
To be honest, I’m not really buying that.
If it was a shortage of troops, they would have requested more. I realize that we’re all “stretched thin” and everything, but if a few extra thousand boots on the ground starting in late 2003 would have hampered a fair amount of enemy activity they would have put the boots there in late 2003.
I’ve not really ever bought into the “flypaper theory”, at least not as the grand strategy that our Iraq plan was built around, but the fact that until recently we’ve done so little to secure the Syrian border lends the theory some credibility.
It really seems to me that if securing the border had been a priority, they would have done more immediately. And if it hadn’t initially been a priority, it would have quickly become one as the scale of the insurgency became apparent. The fact that we’ve waited so long to really get serious about the Syrian border area indicates to me that some sort of plan has been followed all along, though I can’t figure out what it could be if “flypaper” ain’t it.
As I noted earlier, the military claims that they’re seeing far fewer well-trained insurgents these days. Back in November and December, forces in the Mosul area were surprised by the ability and discipline of many insurgents they encountered, and that many of them appeared to by either foreigners or at least not local to the Mosul region. I noted at the time that many of them were probably displaced Fallujah fighters, but as efforts against the seasoned insurgents have dwindled their numbers, more and more of opposition seems to consist of younger and less-capable fighters.
As critics point out, some of what we’re doing in Iraq is actually increasing terrorism and the number of practitioners of terror, and that we’ll never totally stamp out terrorism or the insurgency. In some cases and places, we’re no doubt inspiring terrorist-wannabees faster than we’re killing or capturing them, and this obviously isn’t a strategy to win the war.
But let’s look back into history for a moment.
Japan began the war against the United States with large numbers of highly-trained naval pilots. Many had been battle-tested in China and many more would gain experience during the early months of the war while the Imperial Japanese Navy ran roughshod across the Pacific. There was no doubt that, man for man, the Japanese pilots were superior and that they had superior equipment.
But even with such a large advantage, many pilots were being lost as the fighting continued, especially as American pilots who survived their initial battles became more savvy and developed tactics to counter the Japanese. At the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, Japan lost the cream of her naval aviation force. The Americans, too, suffered greatly, but there was a difference. In America, pilots by the thousands were being trained in extensive programs designed to churn out large numbers of capable aviators. Japan had nothing of the sort, and basically fought the war with what it had on December 7th, 1941.
As pilots were lost in combat or accidents, replacements were few and far between. And most of those that could be mustered were not up to the standards of earlier days. As the Americans became stronger and stronger, the Japanese became weaker and weaker. By the end they were left with nothing but raw recruits trained just enough to get their rickety old planes into the air and be herded toward the approaching US fleet so they could dive to their deaths in an attempt to take some Yankees with them. And as we captured or destroyed operating bases, even this became more difficult.
The kamikaze attacks were horrific and caused thousands of deaths. But it obviously wasn’t a winning strategy. We’re seeing similar things in Iraq, where the number of VBIED attacks seems to have lessened dramatically, and the insurgents we’re going up against are younger and less-prepared. Meanwhile, the Iraq military is growing in size and strength almost daily, and as they do so they’re freeing more and more American troops to go on the offensive.
So whatever the reason is that we haven’t attempted to secure the Syrian border area until now, as we do so the insurgents and terrorists will find themselves backed into ever-shrinking zones of safety and peopled with less-capable personnel.