The LA Times reports in detail on the recent insurgent company-sized assault on Abu Ghraibh prison. It was deeply scary: they staged diversionary raids all round the area to hinder relief and confuse the issue, then assaulted the position from three directions at once, having laid down a bombardment with mortars and RPGs used as mortars (a tactic from the Afghan war) to drive everyone's heads down. The US relief party encountered a rebel stop-group as far as four miles away, showing clearly that they had carefully isolated the battlefield first.
Then, they sent in three suicide trucks, one of which was apparently meant to crash the prison wall and explode, aiming for the base of the guard tower nearest the cell blocks (clearly detailed reconnaissance had been carried out). The only reason they failed to storm the place or spring the prisoners seems to have been that this particular wagon went off prematurely.
While all this was going on, the prisoners were rioting. The riot began at the same moment the assault did, which argues coordination. Personally I suspect the aim was to stage a jailbreak - it would have given them immense prestige to be the liberators of Abu Ghraibh, and no doubt there were people in there they wanted out.
But the really bad bit is this: after half an hour, the battle suddenly stopped...just like that.
"By 9, it was quiet. "It was almost as if everybody blew a whistle," Melanson recalled. "Almost everybody stopped firing, and they disappeared."
No doubt, after the attempt to breach the wall failed, some commander decided to break off the action and make an orderly retreat before the QRF arrived with the heavy metal. And that's just what they did - they even carried off their dead, as they only found two corpses outside the wire. Now, breaking off a battle without being counter-attacked is very difficult. It requires excellent training and discipline, as well as good leadership and effective communication, to say nothing of prior planning. And it's all about recognising when to stop and cut your losses.
An enemy that can do suicide car bombing as well as break-contact drills is truly formidable; it's like the alpha and omega of war. The Americans have been talking about two kinds of enemy in Iraq, the calculated ex-Ba'athist roadside-bomber types who care deeply about living to fight another day, and the crazy-arsed jihadis who just want to die gloriously and couldn't care less about breaking contact in an orderly fashion. It looks like they're on their way to finding a Hegelian synthesis.
At the same time, the enemy's hardware is improving too. Last week they blew up a humvee, killing five US Marines: but this Hummer was special, being one of the ones that did get its extra armour. The New York Times's David Cloud has the details:
Insurgents have long been able to build bombs powerful enough to penetrate some armored vehicles. But the use of "shaped" charges could raise the threat considerably, military officials said. Since last month, at least three such bombs have been found, Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a Pentagon briefing this month.Rocket engines, eh...Readers of this blog will probably remember that I covered the loss of an RAF C130 on Iraqi election day in some detail. The Times, I see, got hold of a leak of the official verdict and I missed it. Link. Apparently it was operating at very low altitude, carrying out a reconnaissance of possible landing zones in support of SAS tasks in the area (whatever *they* were), when rebels fired at least five missiles or rockets at it simultaneously, thus flooding the defensive-aids suite (DAS) on the aircraft. The Thunderer's source suggested that its take-off from Baghdad had been observed and, presumably, communicated to the shooters.
The shaped charge explosion fires a projectile "at a very rapid rate, sufficient to penetrate certain levels of armor," General Conway said, adding that weapons employing shaped charges had caused American casualties in the last two months. He did not give details.
A Pentagon official involved in combating the devices said shaped charges seen so far appeared crude but required considerable expertise, suggesting insurgents were able to draw on well-trained bomb-makers, possibly even rocket scientists from the former government. Shaped charges and rocket engines are similar, the official said.
Infrared detonators are an advance over the more common method of rigging bombs to explode after an insurgent nearby presses a button on a cell phone, a garage-door opener or other device that gives off an electric signal. That approach is vulnerable to jammers, however, and a shift to infrared detonators, which rely on light waves, underscores the insurgents' resourcefulness."
Michael "Downing St. Memo" Smith, for it is he, seems to have discovered a *very* fruitful source in the MoD. And I was wrong as hell about the SA-4. On another point, I've mused in the past that the tendency of the southern provinces of Iraq, the ones that make up the MND(SE) zone, to integrate might be being encouraged by British political advisers to the army. The putative Shia entity (I hesitate to use the word state) now has a name: "Sumer". And I'm beginning to think that if we aren't encouraging it, maybe we should be. Because I can't see any remotely plausible exit strategy otherwise.
At least we got the zone with a coast.