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December 22, 2004
Remembering That We're At War (Updated)

Yesterday's attack in Mosul that left 15 American soldiers dead, along with scores of others wounded, serves as a reminder to Americans that we remain at war with terrorists, and not that the terrorists are winning. However, judging from some of the rhetoric that one finds coming from TV analysts, it's apparent that this lesson is somehow lost on our fellow citizens.

According to initial news accounts, the terrorists mounted a rocket attack on a vulnerable position within our base in Mosul, a forward station that expects to be targeted for attack. The Washington Post updates that with more ominous speculation:

The explosion, which came at noon, was at first believed to be caused by a mortar round or rocket that pierced the white canvas tent that serves as mess hall at Forward Operating Base Marez, near the Mosul airport.

But in an online assertion of responsibility for the attack, a radical Muslim group described "a suicide operation." Military officials said the cause of the blast was under investigation, and some security experts said the extent of injuries indicated that it was possible a bomb had been planted inside the hall.

That would conflict somewhat with eyewitness accounts, such as the one posted at the Belmont Club, which found a tactical pattern to the hail of mortars:

Regardless of what some may say, these are not stupid people. Any attack with casualties will naturally mean that eventually a very large number of care givers will be concentrated in one location. They took full advantage of that. In the middle of the mayhem the first mortar round hit about 100 to 200 meters away. Everyone started shouting to get the wounded into the hospital which is solid concrete and much safer than being in the open. Soon, the next mortar hit quite a bit closer than the first as they "walked" their rounds toward their intended

What does all this mean? It means that the Islamofascist terrorists may be crazy, but they're not stupid. First, they show the ability to learn tactics on the fly, meaning that they can adapt and also still communicate their adaptations. That would indicate that they have a functioning command-and-control operation, although it's unclear to what extent. The Fallujan fugitives were generally thought to have fled to Mosul, and they would have taken whatever expertise they had with them.

Second, it appears that the attackers had a pretty good idea of how the base lays out. That's not exactly secret information, especially given the number of locals that our bases use for translators and other jobs. It only takes one person to talk for terrorists to develop an effective attack strategy. This, too, is nothing new. In fact, it's the same problem that armies have faced since Troy got themselves a wooden horse from the Greeks.

Third, and most important, we already knew that we would face increasing attacks on our positions in Iraq as elections loomed ever closer. The Islamofascists need to stop the election from happening, or at the least delay it so that the Iraqis lose confidence in our ability to help them set up their own representative government. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said as much in his previous missives to Al-Qaeda's leadership, noting that after an election, the terrorists would wind up attacking fellow Arabs -- which would alienate the Islamists even further.

While the terrorists remain in the field, they will retain the ability to attack -- and while we remain on the defensive, they will attack on their schedule rather than defend themselves on ours. You don't need to have read Clauswitz to understand that. Unfortunately, short of performing an actual occupation, there isn't much that can be done until the US develops enough intelligence in Mosul to find the cowards who toss bombs into tents rather than allow the Iraqis to speak for themselves as to what kind of government they want. Once we have the intelligence, we need to act with all haste to remove the terrorists from Mosul just as we have in Fallujah and Samarra.

What we don't need is the silly handwringing that the American press exudes with every terrorist attack. Returning to today's Washington Post, Thomas Ricks gets a few people on record acting as though Mosul was some kind of Dieppe or Kasserine Pass instead of the skirmish it was:

Not all experts were pessimistic. Retired Army Col. John Antal said he expects more spectacular attacks in the coming weeks, but mainly because "the enemy is on the ropes and desperate to stop the elections."

But others were throwing up their hands. "This sure isn't playing out like I thought it would," said retired Marine Lt. Col. Jay Stout, author of a book about the 1991 Persian Gulf War against Iraq, in which he fought. He said he is no longer confident about what the U.S. strategy in Iraq should be.

If one attack by a rag-tag bunch of terrorists is all that it takes to have Col. Stout "throw up his hands" (the Post's characterization, not Stout's), then it's a good thing that Stout retired instead of getting promoted. I especially liked the quote from Jeffrey White, who worries about a full-scale assault on an American base:

Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst of Middle Eastern military affairs, said he is especially worried that the insurgents' next move will be an actual penetration by fighters into a base. "The real danger here is that they will mount a sophisticated effort to penetrate or assault one of our camps or bases with a ground element," he said.

You have to look far and wide to find people this clueless. The terrorists may indeed be stupid enough to attempt an assault on a fortified position without air cover, armor, and effective communications, but if they do, we shouldn't be worried about it -- we should welcome it. The terrorists cannot beat the US military in a straight-up fight, a point made clear during the initial invasion and by the terrorist strategies employed during the American administration of Iraq.

An attempt to mount an assault on an American base may inflict American casualties, but it would also result in the annihilation of the assaulting force. It's a strategy tried by others, notably the Japanese "banzai" charges in the Pacific, and it always comes to the same conclusion: a lot of dead assault troops. And the Japanese were a highly-disciplined, battle-hardened army, where the terrorists in Iraq mostly toss bombs and run away.

The Washington Post and Thomas Ricks need a healthy dose of perspective. The war on terror will be a long struggle, and casualties will result. While we should always analyze what happened so we can better prepare for the future, we should also remember to keep our perspective and understand the scope of the fight. This kind of weepiness just embarrasses us all, and worse, convinces the enemy that a few body bags will destroy our resolve. It's the Mogadishu strategy -- and the media needs to quit enabling it.

UPDATE: Apparently, the explosion came from inside the tent after all:

U.S. troops and armored vehicles clamped down on Mosul a day after an attack on a nearby base in which 22 people were killed almost all of them Americans. The military said a suicide bomber probably carried out the blast, the deadliest single attack on U.S. troops since the war began.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that from investigations into Tuesday's blast in a mess tent on the base, "it looks like it was an improvised explosive device worn by an attacker."

The blast sprayed BBs outward, ripping through the men and materials in the mess tent -- a typical IED explosion from terrorists. That ends the debate about the mess hall being out in the open instead of inside a fortified building, which is being constructed now and is due to be finished in February. If the attacker infiltrated the base, he would have gotten inside a building as well as a mess tent.

The new development brings into question base security. Americans need to work with local Iraqis in order to allow them some ownership of their liberation, so the security issues will always be present. The fact that this is the first such incident in 20 months in Iraq demonstrates that base security procedures are probably effective as is; an investigation should determine if any more can be done within the scope of our mission.

However, this won't stop the hysterics from calling for someone's head, regardless of the cause. Be watchful for the recriminations, starting with tonight's news broadcasts.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 22, 2004 2:49 PM

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» Suicide Bomber Responsible for Monsul Attack from bLogicus
New evidence shows the bombing of a U.S. military mess tent in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Tuesday which killed 22 people and wounded more than 70 others was a suicide attack, ABC News has learned.... [Read More]

Tracked on December 22, 2004 11:00 AM

» Can't "Our" Press Be On Our Side? from OKIE on the LAM - In LA
This AM, Captain Ed over at Captain's Quarters takes the press to task for its slanted coverage of yesterday's attack in Mosul in "Remembering That We Are At War". If you watch the ABC/NBC/CBS network news programs, your local news or read the LA T... [Read More]

Tracked on December 22, 2004 11:34 AM

» A Christmas present for the defeatists from Posse Incitatus
Before embarking on another Christmas shopping expedition, the Posse must again note the widespread defeatist hysteria surrounding the latest terrorist attack in Iraq. Captain Ed nails this one (as usual). [Read More]

Tracked on December 22, 2004 12:48 PM

» SCHIZOPHRENIA...AMERICAN STYLE from Right Wingnuthouse
Is there a limit to the cost that the American people are willing to bear to win the peace in Iraq? No doubt. Have we reached that point yet? Not by a longshot. And to see those who oppose the war almost celebrating the WAPO poll results is despicabl... [Read More]

Tracked on December 23, 2004 9:17 AM

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