"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Element of Surprise 

We are being told it was a great victory, or at least, a good beginning. The AP report is typical:
American troops backed by helicopters and war planes launched a major offensive against followers of Iraq's most wanted insurgent, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in a desert area near the Syrian border, and as many as 100 militants were killed, U.S. officials said Monday.

Marines, sailors and soldiers from Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, were conducting the offensive in an area north of the Euphrates River, in the al-Jazirah Desert, a known smuggling route and sanctuary for foreign insurgents, the U.S. military said.

The brief statement did not specify when the operation began, how many troops were involved, or whether there had been any American casualties. But U.S. military spokesmen later said the offensive started on Saturday and that it had killed as many as 100 militants. The military also reported that two U.S. Marines were killed in the area on Sunday and one on Monday.

But Juan Cole is unconvinced. And indeed, there is another version of the story (emphasis supplied):
The Marines who swept into the Euphrates River town of Ubaydi confronted an enemy they had not expected to find - and one that attacked in surprising ways.

As they pushed from house to house in early fighting, trying to flush out the insurgents who had attacked their column with mortar fire, the Marines ran into sandbagged emplacements behind garden walls. Commanders said Marines also found a house where insurgents were crouching in the basement, firing rifles and machine guns upward through holes at ankle height in the ground-floor walls, aiming at spots that the Marines' body armor did not cover.

The shock was that the enemy was not supposed to be in Ubaydi at all. Instead, American intelligence indicated that the insurgency had massed on the other side of the river. Marine commanders expressed surprise Monday not only at the insurgents' presence but also the extent of their preparations, as if they expected the Marines to come.

"That is the great question," said Col. Stephen Davis, commander of Marine Regimental Combat Team 2, responsible for this rugged corner of Anbar province near the Syrian border. American officials describe the region, known as the Jazirah Desert, as a haven for foreign fighters who shuttle across the porous Syrian border, using the broken terrain for cover.

Three Marine companies and supporting armored vehicles crossed to the north side of the Euphrates River early Monday, using rafts and a newly constructed pontoon bridge. From there they were expected to roll west toward the border, raiding isolated villages where insurgents are believed to cache weapons and fighters. The offensive, planned for weeks, is expected to stretch on for several days.

Call me crazy, but it sounds as though the enemy had some pretty detailed information about this double-secret operation, while our own intelligence had some pretty detailed disinformation. That bodes ill, as does the insurgents' creative tactics. One hopes that, somehow, we will avoid losing more Marines in the offensive, but once again we are reminded that hope is not a plan.




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