Hersh on counter-insurgency

The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh returns to an old hunting ground when he asks whether new plan by US Special Forces to form an assassination squad to tackle the Baathist/nationalist insurgency in Iraq will be a repeat of Vietnam:

The Bush Administration has authorized a major escalation of the Special Forces covert war in Iraq. In interviews over the past month, American officials and former officials said that the main target was a hard-core group of Baathists who are believed to be behind much of the underground insurgency against the soldiers of the United States and its allies. A new Special Forces group,
designated Task Force 121, has been assembled from Army Delta Force members, Navy seals, and C.I.A. paramilitary operatives, with many additional personnel ordered to report by January. Its highest priority is the neutralization of the Baathist insurgents, by capture or assassination.


This new policy is apparently a victory for Donald Rumsfeld, who is referring to the operations as "manhunts." The assassination squads will receive the help of elite Israeli troops that have experience from carrying out the same types of operations in the occupied territories. This seems to be yet another instance where Israeli expertise from the occupation of Palestine is being used in Iraq -- another example reported a few days ago is how US troops in Iraq are encircling Iraqi villages where they suspect guerrillas are operating with barbed wire. These operations will also rely on the expertise of former senior Baathist intelligence officers who will be trained to infiltrate the insurgency movement.

A former intelligence official said that getting inside the Baathist leadership could be compared to "fighting your way into a coconut--you bang away and bang away until you find a soft spot, and then you can clean it out." An American who has advised the civilian authority in Baghdad said, "The only way we can win is to go unconventional. We're going to have to play their game. Guerrilla
versus guerrilla. Terrorism versus terrorism. We've got to scare the Iraqis into submission."


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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.