The act of attacking U.S. forces becomes increasingly difficult as the U.S. military leverages its technical abilities. Several days ago insurgents unwisely decided to attack the Balad Air Base (also known as “Mortaritaville” for the large number of inbound mortar attacks). The U.S. Army was prepared. They detected the firing location and requested the dispatched of a Predator drone equipped with Hellfire missiles. The Department of Defense releases video of the attack (sub par quality but viewable) and provides the timeline of events:
5 Sept 0458 60mm mortar fired at Balad Airbase
5 Sept 0459 Point of origin from mortar attack is determined
5 Sept 0500 Joint Tactical Air Controller contacted for UAV support
5 Sept 0502 Runner joins four others near to house, hot mortar tube visible
5 Sept 0508 Hellfire missile fired
Within one minute, the firing location of the mortar tube is determined. Somewhere between two to four minutes, a Predator is on site, and begins shooting video. Within ten minutes the terrorist safe house is identified and attacked. All of this was done without a soldier having to get out of his seat or the need for legal approval.
It is quite possible the delay in detection of the insurgents to the firing the Hellfire missile was intentional. The operator of the Predator was no doubt interested in where the mortar team fled to, and hoped to maximize enemy casualties. Had the operator decided to attack upon immediate detection, the turnaround time from the firing of the mortar to the launch of the Hellfire would have been four minutes, plus or minus seconds.
The enemy will eventually adjust their tactics. Insurgents can (and do) attempt to counter this technological advantage by mounting mortars on vehicles or rigging tubes to fire remotely, but these options create their own set of problems. Remote mortars means only one round per tube can be fired, thus reducing the effectiveness of the attack, as rounds cannot be walked onto the target. Placing mortars on vehicles is less than inconspicuous, and fleeing mortar vehicles can be just as easily targeted from the air.
The increased deployment of Iraqi troops in hot spots (Strategy Page, September 8, 2005 entry), coupled with the military’s ability to quickly and effectively use technology to hunt and kill the enemy makes the insurgency’s chances of derailing Iraq’s progress less and less likely as time goes by. Sunnis are scrambling to register to vote in the upcoming referendum on Iraq’s constitution in October and the new election for the Assembly in December. Whether they vote to for or against the draft constitution is immaterial. They detect that a political solution is possible, and that the insurgency’s days are numbered.
By no means is the insurgency defeated. There is still much fighting to do in Anbar and elsewhere, and al Qaeda will fight on no matter despite the Sunni participation in the government. al Qaeda’s base of support has been and will continue to shrink as more Sunnis get involved in the political process, and this will lead to more intelligence on their activities. Superior U.S. technologies will continue to be brought to bear on al Qaeda in order to track, hunt and kill them.
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