If we are going to understand anything about the war underway in Iraq we have got to get the terminology right. The news media – CNN in particular – continue to call last week's attack on small U.S. Army outpost in the Mahmoudiyah area (wihch is south of Baghdad) an "ambush". This was not an ambush.
An ambush is defined as:
1. The act of lying in wait to attack by surprise.What happened to a squad of the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division in the Mahmoudiyah area is something worse and more disturbing. Pat Lang offers this analysis at Sic Semper:
2. A sudden attack made from a concealed position
The latest I have heard indicates that these eight men were in an observation post consisting of two up-armored HUMVEES surrounded by concertina wire and that the position was attacked at 0400 (CNN Barbara Starr) from four sides, that the assaulting force breached the wire and overran the position. According to CNN, the "patrol" had been in that oupost for five hours.The attackers did not pop up out of spider holes nor did they fall from the sky. They moved against a fixed, defended position. The most likely possibility – the U.S. soldiers were asleep and did not spot the attackers. They apparently did not have time to even call for help over the radio.
If that is so, then this was not a patrol. It was an outpost placed there to watch for the emplacement of IEDs (on a road presumably). The battalion appears to have had other such outposts out that night.
- Had this same position been occupied on other nights any time recently?
- Did the squad have adequate night vision equipment and were there adequate fields of fire and observation?
- Were supporting mortar and/or artillery fires plotted in a "box" around the position. Was such fire available? What about armed helicopter support?
- How long did it take the squad's "back up" (500 yards away?) to get moving and to arrive?
- An armored HUMVEE is basically a big "jeep" with a ton of armor hung on it. Each has an M2 .50 cal. machine gun on it. The armor on this kind of vehcle will stop small arms fire (maybe) but nothing else. Were these men well enough equipped for the job?
- Were radios relied on to an excessive degree in this situation? Hand held pyrotechnics should always be included in a signal plan for this kind of operation.
A CNN military analyst said yesterday that this kind of disaster "in detail" results from having to do "too many things with too few troops." One of the captured soldiers' mother said today, "we need a miracle."
They were both right.
The response of U.S. troops in the area – going house to house and taking people into custody – is understandable but counterproductive. The odds are high that we are taking men into custody who had nothing to do with the attackers or the attack. But, by taking them into custody their honor is insulted and they are more likely to support insurgent activities in the future. It is a Catch-22.
I mourn the deaths of these brave young men. It is increasingly apparent that they are dying in vain with no clear objective in sight. It is time to bring our soldiers home.
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