Apparently this is the latest chapter in al-Qaeda's war manual in their war against the Iraqi people and the coalition; raiding remote peaceful villages, burning down homes and slaughtering both man and beast.
This campaign I will call a campaign of self-destruction. For probably a year al-Qaeda was trying to build their so called Islamic State in Iraq and several times they declared parts of Baghdad or other provinces as the capital of that state.
But now that they have been losing one base after another their objective changed from adding more towns and villages to the "state" to destroying the very same towns and villages! Obviously it's all about making headlines regardless of the means to do that!
This change in plans began to take face with the battle between al-Qaeda and the joint forces on September 6-7 in Hor Rijab and then the massacre that followed in the same spot a week later and finally the attacks on other villages north, south and east of Baghdad in the last week or so.
Actually first I'd like to recommend reading a good post by Jules Crittenden about the flawed timing of this Little Tet.
Anyway, our interest today is more about the field situation and strategy than about timing since the latter seems to be not so friendly to al-Qaeda. Well, actually timing is very important here too but at a rather different level.
In my opinion al-Qaeda found itself forced to start this villages war. It wasn’t a choice as much as a last resort because villages are among the few fighting spaces that al-Qaeda can still utilize as large cities become increasingly difficult for them to operate in.
They know that without engaging the enemy-that's us by the way-their existence and influence would end and I'm almost positive that they feel bitter about having to fight this way.
In order to fight a "good" guerilla war one has to stay in fluid state, have no permanent bases or barracks, no distinguishable uniform and above all one should be able to always have civilians around so as to deter the enemy-that's again us-from attacking out of concern about collateral damages and casualties among innocent civilians.
No one questions the fact that no army in the middle east, and I doubt there are any elsewhere, that can engage and defeat the US military power in open terrain, in other words in a case of two traditional armies fighting on traditional battlefield.
The last factor is exactly what al-Qaeda is sacrificing by waging this war on villages;
But how can we make advantage of this situation? The greatest challenge I guess would be to have an alarm and information system through which the nearest available troops could be notified when an attack begins so they could interfere and repel the attack. This might be logistically difficult to establish in a short time since villages are usually far from the cities. In fact I worked in some such villages and I know that most of them are outside the administrative divisions or "civil planning" of provinces therefore they lack their own government offices and departments which means the nearest hospital, fire department, even phone and above all police station could be many miles away.
But even then if the troops fail to arrive in time to intercept the attack, which would be truly sad, the long distance that al-Qaeda fighters would have to travel to go back to their base would require them to lose precious time since they have to rely only on ground transport on mostly exposed terrain while the troops very often have the advantage of the much faster air transport.
In the worst case scenario what's left of a village if the attack is not intercepted would be only al-Qaeda fighters and the remains of what used to be a village. Now isn't that the perfect target for the countless aggressive fire units of the US military?
Now please let's put emotions aside for a while because this is war we're talking about and if sacrifices cannot be avoided we should make sure the enemy pays the heaviest price possible.
If reaction is quick enough-and timing here is of crucial importance-the hunt would be great and the results would be spectacular.
Again, of course it would be much more pleasant if the attacks can be prevented or repelled but since I doubt there's such an alarm system we could at least make benefit of the gap in time that immediately follows the action of the attackers taking advantage of faster transportation means and the old principle in combat that says the enemy can be best attacked immediately after he makes his move.
For the duration of the war on al-Qaeda in Iraq so far, the most frustrating fact for soldiers and military commanders has been that they were asked to identify terrorists who move like ghosts, separate them from civilians and kill or capture them and that's a truly difficult mission. That's partly because a soldier would have to be careful when and where each bullet he fires would hit. But when the ghosts are identified, isolated and far from any friendly objects/personnel a pilot could drop even as gruesome a weapon as a napalm bomb and rest assured that even if it misses the enemy which is quite unlikely, it couldn't hurt a friend.
That's why I think the troops should seize each and every such opportunity (which are technically moments during which the crippling rule of engagement become much more flexible) and strike as hard as they can once they are sure the battlefield falls in the category we just described.