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Iraq: U.S. Troops Switching Tactics In Face Of Guerrilla Resistance

  • Ron Synovitz

With the war in Iraq settling into a daily pattern of guerrilla-style attacks against U.S. troops, U.S. forces are beginning to change their tactics. The need for a new approach following the end of major U.S. combat operations in Iraq has led the Pentagon to send more than 500 U.S. soldiers through "counterterrorism" workshops taught by British army instructors.

Prague, 28 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. forces in Iraq are altering their street-patrol tactics and equipment in the face of some 10 to 20 guerrilla-style attacks against them each day.

For U.S. soldiers who have trained more for combat duty than security missions, the changes affect a range of procedures -- from the way street patrols are conducted and checkpoints are staffed to how U.S. troops search the homes of Iraqi civilians.

Since mid-June, a 14-man team from the British Army's Operational Training and Advisory Group has been working with more than 500 U.S. soldiers on techniques aimed at minimizing U.S. casualties and improving relations with Iraqis.

Lieutenant Colonel Angus Loudon, the chief of the British training team, told RFE/RL that U.S. soldiers can learn valuable lessons from Britain's experiences. "We were invited here by the United States Department of Defense -- and more particularly, by the commanding general of [the U.S. Army's] 5th Corps -- to come and share some of the experiences we've had over the past 35 years or so in terms of security and counterterrorist operations in a number of different theaters, such as Northern Ireland, the Balkans, and Afghanistan,"

Yesterday's training sessions were with the U.S. 101st Airborne Division at the Tall Afar base north of Baghdad. The focus of one lesson yesterday was squad formations for foot patrols -- a task U.S. soldiers will increasingly be called upon to perform under the new tactics.

One instructor explained to the young U.S. troops how British paratroopers have conducted similar patrols in places like Kosovo and Afghanistan -- with soldiers walking on both sides of the road in a staggered formation. "The second soldier is normally the team commander. Normally, when we patrol, we are working in three teams," he said.

The instructors also told the U.S. troops that they should be more sensitive to the growing chorus of complaints from Iraqi civilians about the way U.S. soldiers have been storming into private houses to conduct searches.

In the past, U.S. troops often have broken down doors to get inside a building. Then they have scared children and destroyed furniture in their search for weapons and ammunition -- leaving a few dollars to pay for the damaged furniture.

But this forceful approach is not endearing U.S. soldiers to ordinary Iraqis. U.S. Marine First Lieutenant Michelle Carron said a less forceful approach is clearly better. "If I go out on the town to do missions and things like that, it's always been a benefit to us to be a lot more friendly -- a lot nicer. People respond to that a lot more, especially as a woman. A lot of the time, they're uncomfortable in this country working with women. So just being nice and polite -- and a little less aggressive -- has been a big benefit," she said.

The changing tactics of U.S. troops in Iraq in dealing with guerrilla-style attacks is not altering the overall organization of ground troops in Iraq.

The U.S. military began a complex reorganization of its ground forces in Iraq in late April. The move set up three distinct occupation zones. Along with British allies, the 1st U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force took on responsibility for nine of Iraq's 18 governates in the south. The U.S. Army's 5th Corps oversees eight governates in the northern and western parts of the country. The remaining zone -- focusing on the Baghdad area, with its more than 5 million residents -- is patrolled mostly by U.S. troops but also by troops from other countries in the U.S.-led coalition.

General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told journalists in Baghdad yesterday that U.S. soldiers he saw over the weekend in the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division remain undaunted by the growing number of attacks against them.

"The toughest part of Iraq in terms of the former regime [is] the area that the 4th Infantry Division operates in -- that's just north of Baghdad, up to Tikrit, down to the vicinity of Al-Ramadi. Everybody knows that's a Baathist heartland. And they are working in there, and they are working in there very successfully," Myers said.

Myers says about 80 percent of all attacks on U.S. troops have taken place in that area -- which is described as the "Sunni triangle" because of the predominantly Sunni Muslim population there.

Guerrilla-style attacks in Iraq killed five U.S. soldiers over the weekend, making July the bloodiest month for U.S. forces since U.S. President George W. Bush declared major combat operations over on 1 May. An attack in downtown Baghdad today wounded and may have killed two U.S. soldiers.

Since 1 May, 49 U.S. soldiers have been killed by hostile fire in Iraq -- 27 in July alone. Ten of those killings have occurred since U.S. forces killed Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay in a raid on 22 July. That has strengthened the assertion of some analysts that U.S. troops are now being targeted in revenge attacks by the remnants of Hussein's regime.

"The Wall Street Journal" today quotes senior U.S. military officials in the Persian Gulf region as saying the insurgency campaign in Iraq is being carried out by some 4,000 to 5,000 Ba'ath Party loyalists -- including members of Hussein's special security services and his intelligence services.

But Myers said Hussein has been completely defeated. "[Saddam] is so busy surviving that he is having no impact -- no impact on the security situation here. He's trying so hard to save his own skin that he is not able to communicate effectively with any of the regime representatives," he said.

Thus, Myers insisted there is little likelihood that Hussein himself is behind the latest wave of attacks. "Obviously, some of the attackers are simply paid. They are mercenaries. They are people that are paid money to go attack. And they are paid more money if they kill coalition members. There are some obviously, probably, who have very strong feelings against the coalition. But to call it some sort of central movement [directed by Hussein would be inaccurate]," Myers said.

Major General Victor Renuart, director of operations for U.S. Central Command, said that changes to U.S. tactics will better protect troops from guerrilla attacks. Many soldiers, such as those manning checkpoints with tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, will be replaced by troops with lighter vehicles, such as Humvees. Renuart said the faster and more flexible patrol vehicles will make the positions of U.S. troops much less predictable.