The recent attacks on Abu Ghraib prison provide an interesting window into the mindset and tactics of al Qaeda in Iraq. Austin Bay reports the goal of the attacks on Abu Ghraib is to amplify the propaganda effect of Abu Ghraib. No doubt this is true, as the mere mention of the name drives the antiwar elements into a fit of frenzy. Al Qaeda’s own statements on the assault show it is being used for political purposes; “Your brothers in the al Qaeda Organization (for Holy War) in Iraq launched a well-planned attack on Abu Ghraib prison, where Muslim women and men are held.”
The Washington Post reports that the assaults on Abu Ghraib represent a change in military tactics as well. This is actually an attempt to “free a commander of Zarqawi’s group and associates held at Abu Ghraib,” according to Abu Jalal, the “insurgent” commander interviewed for this report, as well as an effort to directly confront Coalition forces. According to U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Boylan, the attack on the prison “was one of the more concerted attacks that we’ve seen.”
Insurgent commanders said Monday that the prison assault represented a shift in tactics and that more attacks on U.S. installations would follow.
“These operations will be different from the old ones, the car bombs, the IEDs,” said Abu Jalal, a top commander in the extremist group Mohammed’s Army, using the common abbreviation for improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs. Mohammed’s Army is one of dozens of home-grown armed groups believed to be fighting the U.S. occupation in Iraq.
“We are going to use the same method that they used when they attacked Iraq,” said Abu Jalal, who uses a nom de guerre and described himself as a former general in the Iraqi military during Saddam Hussein’s rule.
“The old military officers know very well that the attacks on the bases of the enemy army weaken the morale of the soldiers and frighten them. The soldier feels safe when he goes back to his base. If he is attacked in the place that feels safe, that place is really hell,” Abu Jalal said.
Al Qaeda obviously believes it will gain some psychological advantage in attacking American and Iraqi bases, but it may want to weigh the psychological effects on their own troops after repeated failures. The assault on the prison was a military failure. Al Qaeda in Iraq states ten of the attackers were killed in the raid. They also claim to have breached the walls and overtaken a guard tower, but the US military disputes this account. The US military estimates the attacking force suffered over fifty casualties out of an estimated sixty attackers. Continued military defeats and high casualty rates will sap the will of al Qaeda’s cannon fodder over time.
If al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorists want to engage in large scale assaults on US and Iraqi forces, this is their choice. But it will be a bad one. Every large scale engagement against American forces has been a miserable failure for the terrorists, as they cannot match the firepower or flexibility of American forces. Blackfive recently documented the success of an outmanned and outgunned MP convoy escort in routing a numerically superior ambushing force. Phil, a soldier currently serving in Iraq, reports on the effectiveness of an Iraqi unit repelling an assault on their base. The recent assault on a terrorist training camp also highlights the military superiority of Iraqi and Coalition forces. The increased use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to provide intelligence on insurgent activities as well as the rapid reaction of air and ground assets when contact is made makes for a tactical nightmare for terrorists attempting to attack in large numbers.
Again, we are seeing al Qaeda change their tactics to adjust to Coalition actions. By stating the need to move from IED and small scale ambush attacks, al Qaeda is admitting these tactics are not having the desired effects of forcing an American withdrawal or intimidating Iraqis working to restore security situation of their country. This is in essence an admission of failure of their current operations, as their small scale snipings are not achieving the desired political or military goals.
If the insurgents want to change tactics and attack Coalition bases and patrols in force, then by all means, “Bring it on.” They will play directly into the military strengths of the Coalition forces – training, leadership, firepower, armor, fortified positions, air to ground support, artillery support and surveillance – and will make it all the easier for the Coalition to destroy their units en masse.
Cori Dauber at Rantingprofs comes to a similar conclusion and states the Washington Post’s awe of this new strategy is a function of the media’s lack of understanding of military affairs. Indeed.