There is a dichotomy developing in the Anbar Province. On the one hand, there is a window of opportunity to score the finishing defeat of al Qaeda. On the other hand, U.S. forces rules of engagement and command lack of willingness to engage the enemy is holding this defeat in abatement.
The Strategy Page is discussing the battle for Anbar, and after rehearsing things we have covered at TCJ (e.g., the ongoing factious fighting between Sunnis, Tribal loyalties being stretched to the limits, Tribal agreements to oust al Qaeda, etc.), they offer up this penultimate status assessment:
… after Saddam was overthrown, and al Qaeda offered to help the Sunni Arabs eject the Americans, and regain control of the country, the Sunni tribes kept fighting. But the alliance with al Qaeda soon unraveled. By 2004, Sunni Arab tribesmen were fighting with al Qaeda. The problem was that al Qaeda did not believe the tribes were aggressive enough, or religious enough. First threats, then the murder of Sunni Arab tribal chiefs, brought al Qaeda into open warfare with the tribes. At first, the anti-al Qaeda tribes were not the majority, and they were outgunned by the Baath Party terrorist organizations and pro-Saddam tribes. But month-by-month, more tribes turned against al Qaeda and Baath. For the last year, as more American and Iraqi troops moved into western Iraq, the fighting became more intense.
Over a dozen tribes are now pro-government, with tribemen joining the police force, and serving in their own neighborhoods. Recruiting was slow at first, even with the approval of the chiefs. Only 30 stepped forward last June, but now there are 1,300 tribesmen in the police force. During that same period, some 750 al Qaeda and Baath terrorists have been killed in Ramadi, the center of al Qaeda power in Anbar. There are only a few hundred of them left, and the government controls two-thirds of the city. During that same period, the number of terrorist attacks, including roadside bombs, has also fallen by two-thirds.
This has brought about a civil war in western Iraq, with Sunni tribes fighting each other. Even with al Qaeda and the Baath Party terrorists, the anti-government tribes are on the defensive. Ramadi, which was to be the capital of the new al Qaeda sanctuary, is in ruins, and the scene of daily fighting, and defeats for the terrorists.
Al Qaeda no longer boasts of a base in western Iraq. To do so would have to address the fact that most al Qaeda losses in the area have been at the hands of angry Sunni Arab tribesmen. The tribes are fighting for their homes, and western Iraq is the only part of the Iraq that is almost wholly Sunni Arab. Angry Kurds and Shia Arabs are driving Sunni Arabs out of other parts of Iraq, and the only alternative to foreign exile, is moving to western Iraq. The only way to hang on to western Iraq is to eliminate the al Qaeda and Baath Party groups that refuse to halt their terrorist operations. Al Qaeda knows it’s losing its battle for western Iraq, which is one reason why they have shifted so many resources, especially cash and leadership, to Afghanistan. The al Qaeda defeat in western Iraq has not gotten much attention in the media, but it’s there, it’s real and it will soon be over. (italics mine)
I discussed the fissure that was occurring in al Qaeda high command in Iraq in Al Qaeda Reorganization, pointing out that al Qaeda in Iraq today might be likened to a wounded animal. Wounded, yes, but a wounded animal is a dangeous thing, with nothing left to lose and hence unable to be deterred. My son, who before he went to Boot Camp at Parris Island was quite the hunter, has hunted and killed deer, opossum, rabbit, turkey, snakes, coyote (they are all over South Carolina), and Racoon. This last one is interesting. The wounded Racoon is the most dangerous. We have suffered from a Racoon problem at my home (trash strewed everywhere), and Daniel has always warned me against confronting a Racoon without having an edge. You’d better have an edge. I didn’t believe him until I faced off a Racoon one night with a tire iron (I can’t discharge a firearm within the city limits), and he ended up backing me down with Daniel shouting “Dad back off — get away from that thing. He’ll tear you apart!” Daniel recalls seeing Racoons tear ‘Coon dogs apart after being shot multiple times by rifle (the Racoon, that is). He recalled seeing dogs limp, whine, sleep and recover from injuries.
It would be good had the Generals gone ‘Coon hunting and watched some dogs get chewed up before beginning the Iraq war.
Al Qaeda is wounded. Robust rules of engagement, constantly offensive operations and strong force projection is required, now more than ever before. Yet this is precisely the opposite of what is occurring in the Anbar Province. In my post “Unleash the Snipers,” I covered the story of countersnipers in the Anbar Province, and the objection of the Marines to the “straightjacket” that the ROE had them in. I suggested that small, mobile teams with maximum latitude be allowed to make war on al Qaeda in Ramadi, with robust rules of engagement. There have been teams lost due to the smallness of the excursions, but as the Marines observe:
Snipers argue a counterintuitive point, saying that even though two-man teams have less firepower and fewer men, they are safer because they can hide more effectively.
Sgt. Joseph W. Chamblin, the leader of the battalion’s First Sniper Team, said the sniper community was suffering from an overreaction. “It’s sad that they got killed, but when you think about it, we’ve been here three years, going on four, and we’ve only had two teams killed,