Thursday, December 16, 2004


If they invent a hedgerow-cutter, all bets are off

The news from Iraq just keeps getting better and better and better...
Insurgents in Iraq Using Roadside Bombs More Effectively, U.S. General Says


WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 - Iraqi insurgents are using roadside bombs with increasing effectiveness to disrupt American military operations in Iraq, the deputy commander of American forces in the Middle East said Wednesday.

The officer, Lt. Gen. Lance Smith of the Air Force, also said that one of the most important militant leaders driven out of Falluja was now probably operating in Baghdad. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, General Smith said the Jordanian insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was still orchestrating attacks against American and Iraqi forces and communicating with confederates, despite having lost many of his top lieutenants and his base of operations during the offensive in Falluja last month.

"He no doubt maintains communications with key elements of his leadership and is able to continue some level of command and control over the disparate operations," General Smith said. "It is just far more difficult to do now, because they can't do it, generally speaking, via electronic means. They do it by meeting in cars and driving around and giving guidance and doing all that stuff. So it is difficult for them."

A day after the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. John P. Jumper, said the Air Force was flying much larger quantities of cargo to bases in Iraq to help reduce the number of ground convoys, General Smith said the insurgents had shown great skill at attacking vulnerable supply lines and countering most of the military's defenses against roadside bombings.

"They have had a growing understanding that where they can affect us is in the logistics flow," General Smith said. "They have learned, as we have, and they have moved the fight, in many cases, back to the rear area. And there are areas where they can do that pretty effectively, and there are areas where we find it difficult to maintain constant guard - inside cities and the like."

American and Iraqi troops find and disarm about half of the roadside bombs before they explode, he said, but countermeasures like driving fast through a vulnerable area or using electronic jamming devices to combat the remote-controlled bombs do not always work.

"The enemy is very smart," he said. He said the strength of an insurgency lay in its ability to change rapidly. "Something didn't work today, they can change the way they do business tonight," he said.
(The "hedgerow-cutter" joke comes from the classic Avalon Hill board wargame "The Longest Day," in which US forces, a week or two after landing on Omaha Beach, can "invent" the "hedgerow-cutter," a device some US tank soldiers actually created during the summer of 1944 in Normandy, which is credited with helping engineer (literally) the breakout from the encircled invasion area. It is supposedly evidence of superior Yankee ingenuity on the battlefield, Americans' infinite capacity for clever innovation. In actual fact, it was their gaining battlefield experience and learning better tactics under fire that actually led to the breakthrough - along with growing numbers and the Allied bombing campaign that kept the Germans from properly reinforcing - but who cares about the facts when there's a great story to be told?)

In any case, I thought it was Americans who were supposed to be all Edisons and Bill Gateses, innovating at every turn. I don't want to sound snarky about US forces, but rather than ask for some good news from Iraq, for a change, I will simply ask: why the fuck are we there? What do we (by which, I mean, the president) really think we're accomplishing there? And is that goal worth subjecting our troops to this kind of danger?
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