Along the Tracks

Monday, November 10, 2003

More ‘Operation Iraqi Anaconda’

From Saturday’s column in the Bryan Times:

The time has come for ‘Operation Iraqi Anaconda’

Leader Enterprise

How about a little quiz on your Saturday morning?
1. Sitting at your kitchen table, a fly buzzes around your face and lands on your ham-and-cheese sandwich. You keep waving your hand at it, but it buzzes, lands, buzzes, lands. Do you:
A) Patiently wait for the fly to go away.
B) Pick up your sandwich and eat elsewhere.

2. While reading a book one evening, you notice a mouse crawling along the wall then escaping behind the sofa. Do you:
A) Patiently wait for the mouse to leave your house.
B) Pick up your book and move into a new house.

3. After stepping on a nail, your left foot becomes infected. Do you:
A) Patiently wait for the infection to go away.
B) Cut off your foot and start shopping for a prosthesis.

If you answered “A” to all three questions, you are philosophically aligned with present Bush administration policy on Iraq. If you answered “B” to all three questions, you are philosophically aligned with the far left’s preferred policy on Iraq. If you answered with some combination of “A” and “B” - you are John Kerry.

If, however, you thought both answers were ineffectual, short-sighted, costly, and in some cases downright dangerous, you are in the company of more and more observers who believe there are better answers to the continued bloodshed in Iraq than either “patience” or “cut and run.”

For most sensible people, the answer to a fly is a fly swatter; the answer to a mouse is a mousetrap; the answer to an infection is antibiotics.

In other words, the application of overwhelming force to destroy the enemy.

In Iraq, it is time to recommence “major combat operations.”

Although I use humor to introduce this alternative point of view, the strategy involved is no laughing matter. It would require more troops, more armor, and more firepower. In the short term, it would result in more expense, more dead Iraqi civilians, and more dead American soldiers.

What is being suggested here is an Iraq version of “Operation Anaconda.”

In early March of 2002, the war in Afghanistan had mostly been pushed off the front pages of newspapers by new concerns about the president’s designated “Axis of Evil” and the threats they posed to security. After all, the Taliban had fallen three months before, and fighting had become sporadic and small-scale as the humanitarian effort came to the forefront. But in the rugged mountains along the Pakistan border, the Taliban-al Qaeda fighters had set up a sanctuary from which they could send out raids into eastern Afghanistan. The military saw what was occurring, and quietly set up a “noose” around the major enemy concentration near Gardez. Operation Anaconda began.

Many will recall that battle resulted in the single-most deadly combat incident of the Afghanistan War for America: Eight soldiers died in the ambush of a Special Forces insertion and follow-up rescue effort. Even so, the battle’s result was a decisive victory for the U.S. and its Afghan allies. Hundreds of terrorist fighters were killed or captured, huge caches of weapons were seized and the Taliban-al Qaeda have never again been able to mount any sustained attack on U.S. or friendly Afghan forces. Yes, there have been some engagements, some bombings and some assassination attempts - but these are the exception, not the rule. Criticisms over U.S. policy in Afghanistan focus on things like opium production and warlord power, not a daily death toll at the hands of insurgents.

In Iraq, seven months after the liberation of Baghdad, six months after the declared end of “major combat operations,” the picture is mixed. Northern, southern, eastern and western Iraq - about 90 percent of the country, geographically - are stable. Families are reunited, children are going to school, businesses are opening, and services like water and electricity are in full production. People are not merely getting back to “normal” lives, they are starting new ones: the marriage rate in Iraq has skyrocketed. In most towns, Iraqis are now running things through boards and councils. Many have even had their first real elections.

There is, however, that other 10 percent of Iraq - known as the “Sunni Triangle.” This area, encompassed by Baghdad, Fallujah and Tikrit, was always Saddam Hussein’s center of power. He lavished favor on those subservient to his demands, and filled government and military ranks from tribes and families originating in the Triangle. However, Saddam did not trust these people either, and many of the worst horror stories from that monstrous reign of terror come from the very same Sunni region. Thus, the people in the Triangle followed the Baath Party line, some out of greed, all out of fear.

Today, these same Sunnis are being forced to walk a tightrope. On the one hand, they are told America is now in control, Saddam is gone, and it is time to move forward. On the other hand, their Baathist oppressors of old remain in their midst, killing those who seek to help their country rebuild, threatening any who speak to U.S. soldiers or their Iraqi allies, and blowing up every tangible piece of improvement. For the Sunnis, committing to us is committing suicide.

Back in April, as Baghdad and then Tikrit fell, the Baathist forces “dissolved” into the cities and countryside, avoiding the battle the U.S. military was about to win. A couple weeks thereafter, President George W. Bush announced the end of major combat operations so that humanitarian and commercial enterprises would re-enter the country and begin the task of reconstruction.

The past month of escalating attacks has demonstrated that, while the U.S. may have ended “major combat,” the Baathists merely paused. It is time the administration accepted the situation on the ground. “Patience” may or may not work - and that’s not a gamble America can afford. “Cut and run” condemns the Iraqis to returned misery and American citizens to terrorist aggression in the future.

American soldiers have proven their incredible knowledge, spirit and capability to succeed, when given the tools they need. Right now, they need a division of heavy armor, an overwhelming force of urban-combat specialists, a plan for humanitarian assistance to answer the inevitable disruptions, and an overarching strategy for decisively winning the this battle by surrounding, cornering and killing the Baathists and their terrorist allies.

We need an Operation Iraqi Anaconda. Will the president deliver?

UPDATE: Senator John McCain is jumping on the “more troops” bandwagon with both feet ... but I’m not sure that necessarily bolsters my case, as McCain reflexively calls for more troops in almost any situation (Remember Bosnia? Kosovo? Afghanistan?). Yet this seems different, as McCain specifically calls for a) another division; b) a focused counterinsurgency campaign; and c) sealing off the enemy to prevent raids outside the Triangle - all points I’ve been arguing for the last week.

Meanwhile, Tom Maguire is looking at media comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam; and Iraq and Afghanistan.

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