A Change in Tactics

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.

James S. Robbin and Wretchard of Belmont Club come to the same conclusion.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.


  • Ryan says:

    Whether the direct confrontations will succeed depends on the political situation and whether support persists for the insurgency. If there is support for it, the dead fighters will be seen as heroes to a cause and other people will take it up in their place. If there is not support for their actions, they will simply die and no new fighters will follow.

  • Our own resolve has a very direct effect on the support for that insurgency.
    As they say, “nothing succeeds like success” — if we are seen as weakening, the thugs behind the insurgency will be better able to persuade others about the “righteousness” of thir cause, and support for the Islamofascists will grow.
    OTOH, as Bill describes, if we stand strong and keep repelling these attacks, those who watch will, from the basis of their basic humanity and not fanaticism, question both the prudence and the moral basis for the insurgency … and support for the thugs will dwindle.
    We must be like an anvil, not giving an inch to the terrorist “hammers”, but wearing them down … then when the opportunity comes, drop on them and crush them, without engaging in the wholesale destruction of those around them.
    Precision-guided ruthlessness is the order of the day in opposing this insurgency.

  • Catching my eye: morning A through Z

    Here’s what’s caught my eye this morning:

  • Scott free says:

    The insurgency is looking increasingly like the People’s Front of Judea.
    “Siblings, let us not be downhearted! One total catastrophe like this is only the beginning!”
    Reg, PFJ Chairman, 30 AD, Tuesday, around tea time.

  • tdaxp says:

    Mao’s 3 Stages of 4GW (Now with Tractors?)

    “The Vietnamese Modification,” by Thomas X. Hammes, The Sling and the Stone, p 59, 12 September 2004.
    “Second Attack on Iraq Prison in 48 Hours Wounds 5 Iraqis,” by Robert F. Worth, New York Times, 5 April 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/05/int

  • Enigma says:

    Whether the direct confrontations will succeed depends on the political situation and whether support persists for the insurgency.
    Once again, Ryan, you are looking at Iraq backwards. Coalition success will reinforce the political situation. Support for the insurgency will continue to wane as the prospects for its success continue to diminish.
    If you are familiar with any military history, you know that as an enemy is being defeated, they become desparate and will try anything, no matter how foolish. If Al Qaeda and the insurgents want to attack Coalition strengths, then I say as well, “bring ’em on”.
    The Abu Ghraib attack was like a modern day banzai charge: spectacular, but militarily ineffective. Such tactics, if continued, will hasten the defeat of the insurgency, just as they hastened the defeat of the Japanese in battle after battle during WW2.

  • Justin B says:


    In the entire WOT, I am trying to find military successes for the Insurgency in which they have directly attacked anyone other than the unarmed, small groups of soldiers, or convoys.

    The USS Cole counts as one. The attack on Mosul counts as another. Both were horrific. Total loss of life though in both actions combined was under 70 people.

    I am no general, but let’s think about this… I am running the insurgency and have limited resources and limited morale. I have to convince my men everytime that we go out that the goal of war is something other than to die a martyr. It is either the goal is to die a martyr or the goal is military victory, and given the track record, I don’t know which is a more discouraging pep talk. It is like trying to convince the Eagles they can beat the Pats (sorry cheap shot). If the pre-game speach is “We have sure had a great season, now let’s go out and lose this game so that we can hurry up and get home and start the offseason,” the troops probably aren’t going to win. The Eagles knew they were going to lose and had already written their postgame remarks to explain the loss. Same for the insurgents. Everytime they leave the house, they know they will probably meet Allah that day. So here were are. General Justin planning strategy for his few remaining troops.

    First, we focus on abductions of civilian journalists, contractors, and Iraqis working for the contractors and journalists. They are easy targets. We make propaganda films and show beheadings as a warning to anyone that works in Iraq. Second, we focus on making IEDs and planting them strategically. Third, we attack Iraqi Nation Guard forces with car bombs and when they are going to and from training and are unarmed and unescourted. Fourth, we attack the Shiites while they are at their Mosques and try to incite civil war.

    Note what you do not see there–directly assault American Troops. What the hell are the Insurgents thinking? All I can think of is seeing Billy Crystal and his wife saying, “Bye Bye Boys. Have fun storming the castle.” It demonstrates that the insurgency has given up hope of winning and now is becoming increasingly desperate. Now, they are simply trying to be martyrs. When you lose the war, no one remembers the fallen soldiers on your side as heros or martyrs, especially when they kill innocent men women and children as though it was part of their military strategy. And given what things are like for the current troops, I can’t imagine lots of others lining up to join the nut jobs that go into things knowing it is suicide.

  • GK says:

    Don’t worry about that. The security is high, and even if they do it, they will actually turn more Europeans against them (which is good for the US).

  • Justin B says:

    Why would a bunch of radical Muslims not like the Pope… damn, that whole Crusades thing again…

  • Cutler says:

    Woah there, didn’t you get the memo?
    Us Westerners aren’t allowed to use the ‘C’ word.

  • New insurgents tactics

    A very good analysis on the new Insurgents tact……

  • Power Line says:

    Dueling Realities

    Here is a pretty good example of the stark differences in how the Iraq war is covered between most mainstream…

  • Bruce says:

    Wouldn’t it be weird if the MSM actually admitted the Crusades were the result of 300 years of Islamic aggression?

  • Terrorists forced to change tactics

    The Posse finds much speculation in the blogosphere as to what the conventional attacks on Abu Ghraib mean. The Belmont Club is a good starting point.


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