Al Qaeda has followed through on its plan to attack US bases on a larger scale. The Washington Post reports that Camp Gannon, a US post on the Syrian border, was attacked by a formation of al Qaeda fighters. As stated in last week in A Change in Tactics, direct assaults on American and Iraqi bases by platoon and company sized elements would not go well for al Qaeda. Attacks of this nature force the terrorists to expose themselves to the Coalition's military strengths of training, leadership, firepower, armor, fortified positions, air-to-ground support, artillery support and surveillance:
The raid Monday was on Camp Gannon, a U.S. base at Husaybah, a few yards from the Syrian border near the Euphrates River. U.S. Cobra attack helicopters fired on the insurgents to repel simultaneous attacks by suicide bombers and armed fighters, officials said. A second car bomb exploded 15 minutes after the first assault, "at the same entrance, while the soldiers were busy rescuing the wounded," Capt. Saad Abdul Fattah of the Iraqi army said.
The U.S. military said three Marines were wounded and at least three bombers were killed. Witnesses and a hospital spokesman reported 10 to 15 dead, including foreign and Iraqi insurgents.
The suicide bombers, driving a firetruck, a pickup truck and one other vehicle, "attempted to breach the perimeter of Camp Gannon," the U.S. military said in a statement.
The bombs exploded prematurely, slightly damaging the camp defenses of concertina wire and barricades. A mosque and other surrounding buildings also sustained minor damage, the statement said.
Marines came under small-arms fire at the same time, the military said. A 25-year-old student who witnessed the attack said at least 40 Arab and Iraqi fighters took part in the assault.
Cobra attack helicopters fired on a vehicle carrying an unknown number of gunmen, destroying it, the military said.
Like the assault on Abu Ghraib, suicide vehicles are used in an attempt to distract the defenders as well as breach the walls. This tactic is proving ineffective. And there no chance for the drivers to learn the lessons of combat; there is no institutional memory among spent suicide bombers.
Al Qaeda dismisses the Coalition air advantage to their own peril, as the effect of the Cobras demonstrates. If the casualty numbers are correct, the percentage of the attacking force killed by the Marines is 25% to 40%, and does not include the wounded. These are staggeringly high casualty ratios that will quickly demoralize the rank and file and dissuade them from being convinced they can succeed in defeating the Coalition in direct confrontation.
Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda Jihad Committee in Mesopotamia issued not one but three statements about this attack (translations with great thanks to Evan Kohlmann of Global Terror Alert). According to Zarqawi, they have "managed to cause the enemy grave damage", "succeeded in killing Americans and destroying their broken and defeated army", and "executed three courageous attacks on the headquarters of the Americans and managed to inflict severe damage". The facts do not support their assertions and unlike the account of the Abu Ghraib assault there are no details of the attack. Zarqawi has followed up the Abu Ghraib raid with the fantastical assertion that over 150 prisoners were freed and 35 Americans were killed. One wonders if they are beginning to believe their own lies in order to continue the fight.
The flurry of propaganda coming from the Al-Qaeda Jihad Committee in Mesopotamia is an attempt to give the appearance of strength to local fighters, the foreign media and potential sympathetic supporters. Austin Bay refers to this as 'The "Iraqi Tet" Fantasy', an attempt to sway public opinion in the US against the war. The fighters of al Qaeda know the real score, the Iraqi citizens have rejected their depravity and the major media has moved on and views the insurgency as a lost cause.
Al Qaeda has tried its hand at classical subterfuge, terrorism and insurgency warfare, and was unable to influence the course of the election or the formation of the transitional government. Because of this they are trying a new tactic of directly assaulting US and Iraqi forces, and have failed spectacularly in each instance. Al Qaeda can continue to detonate bombs in markets, mosques and on the streets, but their violence is not achieving its desired effects - the ejection of the US forces and the transformation of Iraq in to a Taliban-styled Islamist state. Al Qaeda is now resorting to desperate tactics of direct confrontation with American forces and false propaganda to grant the appearance of strength. Neither of these tactics can hold up for long, and combined with the increasing fracturing of the insurgency, this does not bode well for the prospects of an al Qaeda victory in Iraq.
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