Cheat-Seeking Missles

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Wrenching Defeat From Victory

Iraqi and US forces killed 250 Soldiers of Heaven Shia militia over the weekend and what's the NYTimes got to say about it?
Iraqi forces were surprised and nearly overwhelmed by the ferocity of an obscure renegade militia in a weekend battle near the holy city of Najaf and needed far more help from American forces than previously disclosed, American and Iraqi officials said Monday.

They said American ground troops — and not just air support as reported Sunday — were mobilized to help the Iraqi soldiers, who appeared to have dangerously underestimated the strength of the militia, which calls itself the Soldiers of Heaven and had amassed hundreds of heavily armed fighters. ...

“This group had more capabilities than the government,” said Abdul Hussein Abtan, the deputy governor of Najaf Province, at a news conference.
Who knows what Abtan's perspective is. Was he upset be what was basically Shia fighting Shia (the Soldiers of Heaven is largely Shia)? Is he a Soldiers of Heaven supporter? We just don't know and the NYT isn't asking or isn't giving it up. It may be that the report was filed in Baghdad, not Najaf, so the reporter just doesn't want to get close enough to find out.

Still, the question of Iraqi readiness is a valid one and needs to be asked continuously by military commanders, Congress and, yes, the media.

But is this a story question of military preparedness, or just one about an all-too-routine intelligence shortfall that led to a requirement for more forces?

The real story appears to be emphatically the later -- even NYT says the Iraqi forces were "surprised," indicating their intelligence led them to plan for a different battle. When intelligence fails you in battle, there are two options: win or lose. Always the same two options.

In this case, the Iraqi army won, leaving the Soldiers of Heaven with a couple suicide bombers and a couple dozen Shia killed, not a total, frontal assault as they planned.

Mr. Abtan said the Iraqi forces later decided to move on the group because an informer said Sunday was “zero hour” and the government noticed more men streaming into the area.

“If this operation had succeeded, it would have been a chance of a lifetime for them,” he said.

The Iraqis initially sent a battalion from their Eighth Army Division, along with police forces, but they were quickly overwhelmed, according to an Iraqi commander at the scene. The battalion began to retreat but was soon surrounded and pinned down, and had to call in American air support to keep the enemy from overrunning its position.

This should be a case history for doing it right: Iraqis in the lead, taking the initiative, holding their position, calling for US support and swiftly getting it because we're not redeployed somewhere in Murtastan.

Instead, the NYT finds fault. Legit questions for sure, but legit focus? Not at all.

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