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12-18-03, 06:05 AM

Saddam’s Capture Validates Our Tactics

By Raymond Perry

Within the muted euphoria following the capture of Saddam Hussein is the sense that this event validates our tactics in Iraq.

But are we sure? The history of past guerilla conflict is clear: The opera is not over ‘til the fat lady sings. It is clear that the people are the key and whatever we validate by this capture must not stray far from them.

It was appropriate that Coalition Provisional Authority Administrator L. Paul Bremer made the announcement of the capture. There are several key elements of our leading the Iraqi people to democracy. In this case highlighting the rule of law, including the supremacy of civilian authority over military force, was a key element.

It quickly became clear that our soldiers have been within feet of this tyrant more than a few times over the past months. So what was different this time? A steady campaign of gathering intelligence on the ground – from raids of suspected Saddam supporters to growing success by our troops in encouraging Iraqi citizens to provide tips – led to Saddam’s hiding place. Our soldiers with their boots in the dirt played the leading role in that. As they go about their business, the people of Iraq have slowly begun to open their hearts to our soldiers.

The painted slogan, “Kilroy was here,” marked our soldiers’ progress in World War II. With it went the open hearts of our soldiers. We have seen much of this in Iraq. Though infrequently shown by the 24-hour news cycle moguls, it is clear that our soldiers are rebuilding schools, hospitals, and other things near to the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

In battle, our soldiers can exact a terrible price on our foes. In peace, they share their humanity. Despite the best efforts of those that rely on high-tech military solutions, the real win may have come from the gradual, but very quiet acknowledgement of the Iraqi people that their future is becoming truly brighter.

This can only come from the face-to-face interaction of our young soldiers and the Iraqi people.

With this latest victory, one must assess what went poorly and what went well. It can be quite difficult to discern those things that worked. When a country is the undisputed leader and most powerful force in the world, it is easy to pick what we want to pick instead of critically discerning the real elements of success.

In an article several weeks ago (“Take the Fight to the Insurgents,” DefenseWatch, Nov. 26, 2003), I castigated U.S. military leaders for their use of “shock and awe” ordnance in a response to guerilla attacks. I later learned that that the Army had used bulldozers to level orchards that had stood for centuries and provided much of some people’s livelihood. I believe such tactics are doomed to failure.

With this success the leadership must assess how it was that some few Iraqis, despite the fear of later retribution by the Ba’athists, would still find the courage to reveal information that led to their fugitive dictator.

I believe that it is a slowly growing sense among Iraqis that our soldiers are genuine and open-hearted that has much to do with this victory. This must be the cornerstone of subsequent operations in Iraq.

In my article of Nov. 26, I spoke of boots in the dirt. More importantly will be to see the example of generals’ boots in the dirt.

Early in the British Malaya counterinsurgency the architect and master tactician of the guerilla campaign, Lau Yew, was killed yet the war continued into 1960, over 12 years later. Though winding down from that point on, this was imperceptible for the first few years. The British understood that the struggle was for the populace, not for military objectives.

Our leaders must steel themselves to recognize that for the immediate future, our victories will be small ones. The temptation will be strong to use “shock and awe” ordnance on the guerrillas as a means of demonstrating progress. The temptation for American generals to present slick briefings will be even stronger.

The troops whose boots are in the dirt will win this war day-by-day, small kindness by small kindness, and brick-by-brick in every school and hospital. Even the mini-controversy over two GIs taking Iraqi war brides against regulations serves as another indication that our soldiers are touching the hearts of the people.

Kilroy left his mark throughout the world in the 1940s, winning the hearts and minds of the people he liberated. His grandchildren will do the same in Iraq if we are smart enough to let them.

Lt. Raymond Perry USN (Ret.) is a DefenseWatch Contributing Editor. He can be reached at cos1stlt@yahoo.com.