Friday, November 14, 2003

Iron Hammer: a chocolate fireguard?

There's a great idea!

The US Army has launched an offensive around Baghdad called Operation IRON HAMMER in an effort to nail some of those inconvenient guerrillas. Apparently, this is a "Get Tough" policy involving a "hard line on terrorism" and various other examples of the rhetoric of false strength. What this boils down to seems to be that they have started responding to guerrilla activity by calling in airstrikes on buildings they don't like, at levels of force up to and including the AC130 Spectre gunship. This reminds very much of the Vietnam War: the USAF, VNAF, Navy and Marine Corps air units all had an institutional interest in getting as many sorties into harm's way as possible. Unfortunately they found it hard to find the enemy, so they began measuring the number of "structures" destroyed - which could be anything from a bunker to a shed, but often turned out to be someone's house. Buildings tended to draw fire because - of course - there is a bias to whatever target seems obvious. So - the wrong people will get killed, their property will be arbitrarily and spectacularly destroyed, and support will grow for the other side. What the point of this exercise is baffles me. Perhaps they ought to recall Colonel John Paul Vann's rather grisly maxim on guerrilla warfare:

"This is a political war and a political war demands discrimination in killing. The worst way is an airstrike, the next worst is artillery. The best is a knife but we can't do it like that, so it has to be a rifle - you know who you're killing."
(Quoted from Neil Sheehan,
A Bright Shining Lie)

And - seeing as the war is over - what is going on here?

"...a senior military official confirmed that General Abizaid would soon move about 150 military planners to Qatar from his Central Command base in Tampa, and work from his headquarters in the Persian Gulf state to be closer to the operation in Iraq, where he has been spending most of his time."

So - AC130 strikes, reports of enemy strength ranging from 5,000 to 50,000, and the general is going into advanced headquarters - and we're all supposed to believe everything is all right. Great.

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