The New (Old) Way of War: "We Are Not Fighting a Regular Army in Iraq. the Regular Iraqi Armed Forces Dissolved Rather Quickly. What Our Troops Now Face Are Guerrillas."

By Weir, William | USA TODAY, March 2006 | Go to article overview
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The New (Old) Way of War: "We Are Not Fighting a Regular Army in Iraq. the Regular Iraqi Armed Forces Dissolved Rather Quickly. What Our Troops Now Face Are Guerrillas."


Weir, William, USA TODAY


IN 1991, THE U.S., leading several other nations, put on an overwhelming display of military power when it defeated the Iraqi army in 100 hours of ground fighting. In 2001, it was even more convincing when it used a handful of Special Forces troops and precision guided missiles and bombs to help tribal forces of northern Afghanistan defeat the Taliban army that previously had pushed the Northern Alliance into a barren corner of that Central Asian land. The following year, an overwhelmingly American "coalition" conquered all of Iraq in three weeks, losing only 122 U.S. troops in the process.

The U.S. armed forces are not the largest in the world, but they are, beyond any comparison, the best armed and trained, with the most modern weapons. However, look at any newspaper. In Iraq, the figure of 122 dead has risen to more than 2,200. About 95% of those soldiers died after Pres. George W. Bush declared "the end of major hostilities." In addition to the dead, thousands more troops have been wounded, many suffering the loss of limbs or even more severe injuries. We are not fighting a regular army in Iraq. The regular Iraqi armed forces dissolved rather quickly. What our troops now face are guerrillas. Moreover, most of the enemies we shall face in the future--in Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else our forces go--will be guerrillas.

True, we will be confronted by terrorists, too, but terrorists really are not a military problem. Terrorists attack civilians, not armies. They think that by killing innocent people they can intimidate nations. That is a vain and foolish hope. In World War II, Adolf Hitler's Luftwaffe, with vastly more power than any band of terrorists, could not intimidate the British. Nor, later in the war, could the RAF, with much more power than the Luftwaffe ever showed, intimidate the Germans.

Terrorists have been encouraged by a couple of recent developments, but neither prove that intimidation works. The bombing of Spanish trains on March 11, 2004, was followed by a change in prime ministers and the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq. However, the Spanish people already strongly were opposed to the war in Iraq, and they were greatly annoyed by the government's attempt to blame the Basque ETA for what obviously was an Islamic terrorist attack. This was not a case of a pro-war population becoming intimidated and voting in some peacenik leader.

On another front, the Philippines did withdraw its troops from Iraq after terrorists threatened to kill a Filipino hostage. Keep in mind, though, that the Philippines had a mere 51 soldiers in Iraq, and the population was anything but hawkish about a war halfway around the world. Spain and the Philippines were involved in Iraq only because their leaders hoped to get favors from the U.S.

In spite of all our talk about a "war on terrorism," the so-called war is a war merely in the sense that the "war on drags," the "war on crime," or even the "war on poverty" are wars. Those are rhetorical wars. Real wars involve combat by armed forces. There is a real war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The war in Afghanistan is connected with terrorism only because the Taliban provided a haven for Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization. When the war in Iraq began. there was absolutely no connection with terrorism or terrorists.

Now, sources say, Al Qaeda operatives are entering Iraq to help the insurgents. Yet, there is some question about how much the real AI Qaeda is involved. "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia" was once a separate terrorist organization called "One God and Jihad." Its leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, changed its name and pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden, probably to obtain money from the rich Saudi fugitive. In 2005, though, Ayman al Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor said to be bin Laden's righthand man, rebuked al Zarqawi for his murders of Muslims and his televised decapitations. Al Zarqawi has ignored the Al Qaeda leader but, as Dexter Filkins of The New York Times points out, there are dozens of insurgent groups in Iraq, all of them with widely varying agendas.

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