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U.S. Arming "Insurgents"

Discussion in 'U.S. Politics' started by michaelr, Jun 9, 2007.

  1. michaelr

    michaelr New Member

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    For U.S. Unit in Baghdad, An Alliance of Last Resort

    By Joshua Partlow
    Washington Post Foreign Service

    06/09/07 "Washington Post" --- - BAGHDAD, June 8 -- The worst month of Lt. Col. Dale Kuehl's deployment in western Baghdad was finally drawing to a close. The insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq had unleashed bombings that killed 14 of his soldiers in May, a shocking escalation of violence for a battalion that had lost three soldiers in the previous six months while patrolling the Sunni enclave of Amiriyah. On top of that, the 41-year-old battalion commander was doubled up with a stomach flu when, late on May 29, he received a cellphone call that would change everything.

    "We're going after al-Qaeda," a leading local imam said, Kuehl recalled. "What we want you to do is stay out of the way."

    "Sheik, I can't do that. I can't just leave Amiriyah and let you go at it."

    "Well, we're going to go."

    The week that followed revolutionized Kuehl's approach to fighting the insurgency and serves as a vivid example of a risky, and expanding, new American strategy of looking beyond the Iraqi police and army for help in controlling violent neighborhoods. The American soldiers in Amiriyah have allied themselves with dozens of Sunni militiamen who call themselves the Baghdad Patriots -- a group that American soldiers believe includes insurgents who have attacked them in the past -- in an attempt to drive out al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Americans have granted these gunmen the power of arrest, allowed the Iraqi army to supply them with ammunition, and fought alongside them in chaotic street battles.

    To many American soldiers in Amiriyah, this nascent allegiance stands out as an encouraging development after months of grinding struggle. They liken the fighters to the minutemen of the American Revolution, painting them as neighbors taking the initiative to protect their families in the vacuum left by a failing Iraqi security force. In their first week of collaboration, the Baghdad Patriots and the Americans killed roughly 10 suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq members and captured 15, according to Kuehl, who said those numbers rivaled totals for the previous six months combined. He is now working to fashion the group into the beginnings of an Amiriyah police force, since the mainly Shiite police force refuses to work in the area.

    "This is a defining moment for us," said Kuehl, who commands the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, attached to the 1st Infantry Division.

    But aligning Americans with fighters whose long-term agenda remains unclear -- with regard to either Americans or the Shiite-led government -- is also a strategy born of desperation. It contradicts repeated declarations by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that no groups besides the Iraqi and American security forces are allowed to bear arms. And some American soldiers worry that standing up a Sunni militia could have dire consequences if the group turns on its U.S. partners.

    "We have made a deal with the devil," said an intelligence officer in the battalion.

    The U.S. effort to recruit indigenous forces to defend local communities has been taken furthest in Anbar province, where tribal leaders have encouraged thousands of their kinsmen to join the police. In the Abu Ghraib area, west of Baghdad, about 2,000 people unaffiliated with security forces are now working with Americans at village checkpoints and gun positions.

    Kuehl said he recognizes the risks in dealing with an unofficial force but decided the intelligence that the gunmen provided on al-Qaeda in Iraq was too valuable to pass up.

    "Hell, nothing else has worked in Amiriyah," he said.

    It was about 2 a.m. on May 30 when Capt. Andy Wilbraham, a 33-year-old company commander, first heard military chatter on his tank radio about rumors that local gunmen would take on al-Qaeda. Later that morning, a noncommissioned officer turned to him with the news: "They're uprising."

    "It was just a shock it happened so fast," Wilbraham said.

    By noon, loudspeakers in mosques throughout Amiriyah were broadcasting a call to war: "It is time to stand up and fight" al-Qaeda. Groups of men, some in black ski masks carrying AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, descended on the area around the Maluki mosque, a suspected al-Qaeda in Iraq base of operations, and launched an attack. For the most part, Kuehl's soldiers stood back, trying to contain the violence and secure other mosques, and let the gunmen do their work.

    The next day, a Thursday, al-Qaeda counterattacked. Using machine guns and grenades, its fighters drove the militiamen south across several city blocks until they were holed up in the Firdas mosque, soldiers said. "I was getting reports every 10 minutes from one of the imams: 'They're at this point. We're surrounded. We're getting attacked. They're at the mosque,' " Kuehl recalled. He dispatched Stryker attack vehicles to protect the militiamen.

    "We basically pushed that one back just by force," said Capt. Kevin Salge, 31, who led the Stryker team of about 60 men to the mosque. "We got in there. Our guns are much bigger guns. Then freedom fighters, Baghdad Patriot guys, started firing."

    Spec. Chadrick Domino, 23, was with a Stryker unit that drove north of the mosque to set up a perimeter to prevent others from joining the fight. About noon, he was the first member of his team to walk into a residential courtyard. He may not have had time to see the machine gunner who killed him.

    To the Americans, the fighters on both sides appeared nearly identical. They wore similar sweat suits and carried the same kind of machine guns. "Now we've got kind of a mess on our hands," Salge remembered thinking. "Because we've got a lot of armed guys running all over the place, and it's making it very hard for us to identify which side is which."

    By afternoon, the Americans had secured the Firdas mosque and were helping treat the wounded who lay in the courtyard. Kuehl drove out from his headquarters to meet with the leaders of the militiamen and work out the terms that would guide their collaboration in coming days. Kuehl agreed to help if the militiamen did not torture their captives or kill people who were not affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq. The militiamen agreed to hold prisoners for no more than 24 hours before releasing them or handing them over to the Americans. They in turn wanted the Americans not to interfere and to provide weapons.

    "We need them and they need us," Kuehl said. "Al-Qaeda's stronger than them. We provide capabilities that they don't have. And the locals know who belongs and who doesn't. It doesn't matter how long we're here, I'll never know. And we'll never fit in."

    The militiamen, who call themselves freedom fighters, are led by a 35-year-old former Iraqi army captain and used-car salesman who goes by Saif or Abu Abed. In an interview, he said he had devoted the past five months to collecting intelligence on al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters in Amiriyah, whose ranks have grown as they have fled to Baghdad and away from the new tribal policemen in Anbar province. He has said his own group numbers over 100 people, but American soldiers estimate it has closer to 40. At least six were killed and more than 10 wounded in the first week of collaboration with Americans.

    "These guys looked like a military unit, the way they moved," Wilbraham said. "Hand and arm signals. Stop. Take a knee. Weapons up."

    The rest

    Here is a real good and stupid idea.
     
  2. SW85

    SW85 New Member

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    Strictly speaking, they are counterinsurgents, not insurgents, and this is neither new nor particularly stupid. Keep in mind that, after 9/11, the majority of the ground war in Afghanistan was fought not by American forces but by American-armed and American-backed domestic resistance groups (in that case the Northern Alliance/UIF).
     
  3. michaelr

    michaelr New Member

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    Well if it's such a good idea then we should let them fight this mess and our troops can come home.
    That won't happen though. We trained the Iraqi army, they either don't fight or they kill our troops. You say that we should trust this group, they have an agenda. They will take the arms the US gives them and turn them on the Shea. Of course the Shea will respond by killing them and Americans. No this is a foolish idea and a total last resort.
    The best thing that the US can do is withdraw, admit we lost and get on with it.
     
  4. Sadistic Savior

    Sadistic Savior New Member

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    If you can convince me that they are capable of doing it on their own, I'd be happy to see us withdraw too.

    I dont agree that the best thing we can do is withdraw. I believe it will create more problems than it solves, and put us at greater risk in the long term.
     
  5. SW85

    SW85 New Member

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    I didn't suggest they possessed IUF-level capabilities (who were obviously well-armed and well-trained long before America entered the scene). The article states pretty flatly they lost maybe a sixth of their numbers in their first engagement, and they didn't have many people to begin with.

    I didn't say we should trust them, I just didn't categorically state that it was a stupid idea like you did. There's a difference there.

    You cannot be certain they have an agenda; even our military doesn't know that (according to the article, anyway). It is entirely possible they are simply ordinary citizens who want to take back their country.

    Then criticize the strategy, don't complain about the tactics.
     
  6. michaelr

    michaelr New Member

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    IF they cannot be trusted, then I certainly would not arm them.
    What would you expect that they would say, "hey America were arming the Sunni insurgents that we have been fighting but they still want to kill us and the Shea."?
     
  7. SW85

    SW85 New Member

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    That's fine, but you're the only one saying definitively that they cannot be trusted.

    If that were their intentions, they'd say nothing of the sort. Of course, if that were NOT their intentions, they'd still say nothing of the sort. In this case, the fact that they're saying no such thing cannot be used to reach any conclusion.
     
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