Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Inferential evidence

One of my early arguments in support of Saddam Hussein's ongoing relationship with al Qaeda was that avowed al Qaeda terrorists were so quickly able to enter Iraq and get set up - not have neighbors ratting them out, be familiar enough with the area in which they stayed that they never made wrong turns and ended up in the middle of an American patrol, were able to hook up quickly with the Ba'athists so as to learn where weapons stockpiles were, etc.

Analogy: in high school (I was at a DoDDS school in the UK) I understood from friends that it was easy to get hashish - but I myself (scared to death of drugs) never saw a score being made; it was only easy to get if you knew to whom to go and where to talk to that person to avoid the MPs and other inconvenient adults intent on enforcing the law.

In short, I think al Qaeda had significant infrastructure in Iraq before the American invasion. I would dearly love to hear commentary on this, because it still seems true to me, intuitively.

As it relates to current "force strength" among guerrillas in Iraq, I've heard nothing to indicate that coalition forces or the interim Iraqi government has been able to lay hands on all the unsecured weaponry around the country. If there's a lot of materiel still out there, these conditions must be met for al-Zarqawi and his cohort to get it:

1. They must know where it is - that is, they must have in their ranks Ba'athists who had that knowledge before Saddam was deposed, and - a guess only - probably a good number of informed Ba'athists, not just a couple of them. Or, they must have written records telling where the stockpiles are. If the estimates of numbers of stockpiles I've heard bandied about are correct, it'd be impossible for a normal person to commit all their locations to memory. Ba'athists are undoubtedly in the ranks of the Z-man. But how many informed ones are left? (Of course, if I were al-Zarqawi, I would have picked the brains of any Ba'athist officers who came my way as my first act. This would constitute written records.) (Side note, added: one way for the guerrillas to acquire stockpile locations would have been from the horse's mouth, so to speak. See Belmont Club, Feb. 1 entry, as well as for brief but suggestive comments on what Saddam might have been doing in the six months between Sept. 2002 and the start of the war.)

2. They must be able to get out of where they are.

3. They must be able to get to the stockpiles, with trucks. (Also added: I say "with trucks" because while an individual could probably move a backpack's worth of ammo or explosive, it seems likely that the guerrillas would want to limit their exposure risk by making as few trips as possible. A truck or van, minimum, per trip - my guess.)

4. They must be able to return to where they hide, undetected. (Also added: an email from an Army guy I know in Baghdad indicates that while they may think they're undetected, increasingly they aren't. Loose lips still sink ships, so my correspondent gives me no more details, but check out all the al-Zarqawi operatives who have been captured lately and see if you make the same inference I do: it's getting harder and harder to hide in plain sight.)

5. They must have enough room in their safe areas to store what they've collected.

Strategy/tactical buffs, enlighten me: is there any public reporting about weapons stockpiles?


Anonymous said...

I think you make too many assumptions based purely on faith to back your position. For example, why must insurgents be able to go on TRUCK to get ammo. You concede that individuals could go with backpacks but then rule it out. In fact, this is probably a very likely way. Guerrillas are often quite innovative and willing to do things in a difficult way if it is what will work. See, for example, Vietnam.

Jamie said...

My point about trucks versus backpacks was that if you're part of a wanted organization and you can't move around with complete freedom, you will want to minimize your trips out - especially when you're going to be doing something you could be arrested or even killed for. It's a cost/benefit thing, as I see it: there's greater risk in moving a truckload (or more) of materiel than in moving one individual's backpack of materiel, but the truck can carry a lot more - you'd have to get many individuals safely in and out of the area of a weapons cache in order to restock your arsenal. So your chances of being caught are intuitively higher if you send many individuals on many trips than if you accept the greater one-time risk of sending out one truck on a single big run.

Your Vietnam observation is a good one - didn't the Viet Cong and/or North Vietnamese use families, people in fishing boats, and long "antlines" of individuals with packs full of equipment as major supply lines? I seem to recall that the American military was shocked at how much they could move through the jungle that way.

But the difference is that the guerrillas in Iraq can't operate out in the desert as readily as the Viet Cong could in the jungle - no cover. And if their strategy is (as it appears to be) causing maximum horror, they have to act in urban areas - not enough targets outside the cities. (I don't discount pipeline hits and such, but those don't make the news as much as "X Number Dead in Suicide Bombing.") So if a weapons cache is in a city, the terrorists have to travel through patrolled streets to get to and from the cache. I know when I see a line of ants (check it out, "ant" references twice in one blog) in my kitchen, I follow them back to their point of entry. If I were a military commander in Iraq, I'd certainly do the same - not just pick up the first suspicious guy I saw, but follow him back. And if a weapons cache is OUT of the city, the same applies, but your movements are even more obvious because you're going to a remote area.

Kirbside said...


Say it isnt so!!