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

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Swarming 

First of all, allow me to say that I think Operation Swarmer might be the stupidest name I've ever heard for a military offensive. What the hell is a "swarmer," anyway?

It's not clear to me exactly what's going on here. This offensive is being billed as the "biggest air offensive in Iraq since the 2003 invasion," which I think for most people conjures up images of aerial bombardment, but in many ways it looks more like a ground assault:
The U.S. military released to the media photographs of troop-carrying Black Hawk helicopters lined up in a row for the offensive. There were no pictures of warplanes.

A defense official at the Pentagon, who asked not to be named said it was a relatively large, but sought to downplay the scale of the operation. "It's not precision bombs and things like that," the official said.

Another official said it was "predominately" a helicopter operation that involved UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and other aircraft and the insertion of ground forces.

It appears as though things may already be going badly. Yesterday, a number of civilians were killed in what looks like a botched search for insurgents:
At least four and perhaps as many as 13 people were killed, including a number of women and at least one child, in a U.S. military operation Wednesday against a house where insurgent collaborators were believed to have taken refuge, local officials and the U.S. military said.

According to the military, the incident occurred as U.S. forces were attempting to apprehend a "foreign fighter facilitator" for al-Qaeda in Iraq at a house near the town of Ishaqi, about 55 miles north of Baghdad. As troops advanced on the house, the statement said, they came under fire and "coalition forces returned fire utilizing both air and ground assets."

The military said a man, two women and a child were killed in the attack. The target of the operation, who was not identified, was captured, the statement said.

Family members and local police officials said at least 11 people, including five children and four women, were killed in the attack, according to wire service reports from the area. Police Capt. Hakim Azzawi said in an interview that 13 people had been killed -- five children, six women and two men.

A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, said the military was "investigating why there is a discrepancy" in accounts of the incident and the number of people killed.

I'm not sure that this incident is directly related to Operation Swarmer, but (a) the town of Ishaqi is only about 5 miles from Samarra, the principal target area of the present operation, and (b) the tactics employed sound similar:
The goal of [Operation Swarmer] is to "clear a suspected insurgent operating area northeast of Samarra," the military said. The assault is expected to continue for several days as a thorough search of the area is conducted, it said.

No one - American or Iraqi, hawk or dove - no one at all except the insurgents themselves objects to the idea of bringing the insurgency under control. Most of its victims have been innocent Iraqi civilians, and the Iraqi people have no hope of re-establishing civil order until the flow of blood can be stemmed. But it does American interests no good if, in the name of stopping the insurgency, even more innocent Iraqi civilians are killed, wounded, and displaced in the effort. It makes little difference to the man on the street in Ishaqi whether his young daughter becomes collateral damage at the hands of suicide bombers, or of the Americans who have come to liberate him. Either way, he has to bury his child, and he will blame the Americans for his loss. Our soldiers will bear the resentment - which is, of course, unfair, because it was not the soldiers who formulated the plans, it was not the soldiers who decided that the tactic of employing massive force and firepower against an enemy dug into civilian population centers would be a good idea. Rather, it was men in suits and dress uniforms, sitting in comfortably appointed offices in Washington and the Green Zone.

It will, however, inevitably be the soldiers and the civilians who pay. As the old saying goes, when elephants fight it is the grass that gets trampled.

 

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