DEBKAfile Special Military Report – 2005-03-17 07:46:19
(January 19, 2005) — The major US offensives waged in the Iraqi towns of Najef last June-July and Fallujah last November brought a stern lesson home to American counter-terror strategists. It is that broad-based, large-scale operations to subdue entire towns in order to eradicate terrorist hotbeds – even if successful — do not achieve their principal objective of cutting down the scale of violence emanating from those terrorists. In fact, they often drive the enemy into creating improved operational frameworks in new places.
A similar dilemma confronts the IDF from surging Palestinian cross-border attacks from the Gaza Strip – mostly against civilian targets – and the constant terrorist threat poised from the West Bank against Israel’s heartland. The Sharon government is under heavy pressure from the targeted populations, especially the Negev town of Sderot, to seize entire Palestinian towns and so fight the menace dislocating their lives. But the IDF has tried this exercise time and time again, capturing and withdrawing from one Palestinian hotbed town after another, only to find the terrorist threat reverting before long to the status quo ante.
In Najef, after US forces and an Iraqi Kurdish commando battalion vanquished the rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia, they quickly discovered their victory was local and did not solve the problem of the radical Shiite revolt in other parts of Iraq, such as the Sadr City bastion in Baghdad or the eastern sectors of the Sunni Triangle north of the capital. In the end, the Mehdi army was finally dismantled and excised from Iraq’s insurgency-terrorist machine, but this happened only thanks to an internal Shiite political deal cut by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani that guaranteed Sadr’s personal safety and a place in the sun one day in Baghdad.
This outcome was atypical; it owed its success to the unique structure of Iraq’s Shiite religious-political establishment and would not be attainable from Iraq’s Sunni Muslim leadership (or, for that matter, the Palestinians). No Sunni in Iraq or outside, religious or secular, would for a moment consider playing along with American’s objectives.
In Fallujah, the Americans beat the Sunni insurgents and terrorists and seized the restive town, but missed the fruits of victory. Most of the terrorists were allowed to slip out ahead of the offensive. This left them free to regroup further north up to Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, and gear up for their next major assault which is set to peak by January 30 and threaten the national election with disruption.
Problems in Palestine
Just as Sistani was recruited to scotch radical Shiite terror, the Americans, the Europeans and the Israelis contrived the election of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), a Palestinian leader committed to an anti-violence platform. But this Palestinian horse is not made of the same stuff as the Shiite cleric; he lacks his charisma, political guile and exalted religious standing. Moreover, the integrity of his election is under a cloud in the Palestinian community, further eroding his credibility as a national leader.
As a result, Palestinian terrorists – and not only Hamas — are mocking his pleas to accept a regime of calm and order and are redoubling their attacks on Israeli targets.
The front they have formed exhibits enhanced military skills and maintains a debilitating round-the-clock shelling and missile barrage against Israeli civilians. Their effective and focused performance increasingly points to a single command — or a closely-synchronized string of commands – which is whipping the various Palestinian groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — Hamas, Jihad Islami, Fatah, Tanzim, Al Aqsa Brigades — into a high pitch of concerted terrorist activism.
Israel, US Employing Common Tactics
The newly-employed American and Israeli counter-terror tactics have some fundamentally common features, as DEBKAfile’s military experts point out.
In Iraq, the US army has deployed for the first time a 42nd Infantry Division unit known as “Intel Snipers”, i.e. sniper-trained soldiers of the division’s 173rd Long Range Surveillance Detachment. They are armed with newly-issued M-14 rifles which have never been surpassed as a marksman’s weapon.
Some 1,000 km to the west, Israel has belatedly deployed for full-scale operations behind enemy lines in the Gaza Strip the same kind of elite unit, the IDF’s Shimshon Battalion 92, reinforced by scores of intelligence snipers trained to target small terrorist units.
Capt. Michael Manning, commander of the US unit, describes the M-14 as a tremendous force multiplier. It is an integral part of the unit’s equipment for LRS-Long Range Surveillance and targeting. In Iraq, the unit will operate 80-100 km inside enemy terrain, observe and report on improvised explosive devices and indirect fire and, if ordered, eliminate insurgents with their sniper rifles which are capable of neutralizing targets at a distance of 800 meters.
America’s Intel Snipers: ‘Neutralizing’ Targets at 800 Meters
The American Intel Snipers will also be charged with sterilizing the vicinity of US bases, command posts and convoys of hostile threats.
The Shimshon Battalion’s missions in the Gaza Strip are somewhat similar. Based in the Israeli location of Netzarim, this unit’s undercover missions cover the northern part of the Gaza Strip.
They include guarding Israeli communities, detentions of wanted and suspected terrorists, and the liquidation of enemy assailants and bombers before they strike. Shimshon’s troops are on hand to abort recoilless rocket grenade attacks and Qassam missile launchings.
These Israeli intel snipers, in full-scale operation for the first time in the first three days of this week, took out 19 Palestinians caught in the act of firing missiles or mortars from the eastern districts of Gaza City.
However, DEBKAfile’s military experts note that effective though these units are, they need to be left long enough in the field to carry out their missions. The Israeli unit’s full-scale operation was cut short after three days before its full weight was thrown against Palestinian fire power. In Iraq, the intel snipers were not deployed soon enough; fielded too close to election-day, they have not yet been able to embark on a serious effort to cope with the surging violence.
Any units operating behind enemy lines need enough time, often weeks, to find their feet, acclimatize to the terrain and understand local conditions, thus arming themselves with the knowledge for operational planning. In Iraq and Gaza Strip alike, these special intelligence snipers were denied the precious commodity of time to perform their dangerous and tricky missions.
In Israel, as Palestinian missiles and mortars rain down and suicide bombers run riot, military and official circles are talking openly of a broad military operation to protect civilian populations. According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, this offensive would not entail temporarily overrunning a Palestinian town, but rather a more lasting deterrent in the form of a cordon sanitaire around the inside of the Gaza Strip to distance Palestinian fire from its soft Israeli targets.
This solution too would call for the recapture of large sections of the Gaza Strip and a longish stay there for Israeli troops.
This tactic – one of the options placed before the Israeli defense cabinet’s special session Wednesday, January 19 — would preclude the implementation of Sharon’s plan to withdraw every last Israeli from the Gaza Strip, and therefore faces serious opposition from his new coalition partners, the Labor ministers.
The deployment in Iraq of the 42nd Infantry Division’s 173rd Long Range Surveillance Detachment with their M-14 marksman’s rifles likewise indicates that the assertions coming from President George Bush and outgoing secretary of state Colin Powell regarding the beginning of US troop withdrawals from Iraq are premature. The Iraq war is far from over.
Deploying the 173rd Long Range Surveillance Detachment may be an effective ad hoc device for widening the distance between terrorists and their would-be victims at the local level, like a cordon sanitaire in Gaza. But it cannot promise to extinguish the terrorist threat for good.
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