August 30, 2007:
The success of the current "surge"
offensive in Iraq is not just due to the availability of another 20,000 troops.
There were three other factors; more trained Iraqi troops, years of experience
in Iraq for American troops, and four years of intelligence work.
It's the intel collected since 2003 that has made
the extra 20,000 troops so effective. Before the end of 2003, U.S. troops
realized that they were dealing with a police type situation. And it was mainly
caused by the Sunni Arab minority (20 percent of the population), who were the
main support of Saddam. Even Saddam came along, the Sunni Arabs had dominated
the area, that is now Iraq, for centuries. Going into Iraq, the U.S. hoped that
the Sunni Arabs would realize the hopelessness of their situation and cooperate
with the Shia/Kurd majority. Didn't happen. Or, rather, it didn't happen
enough. Many, if not most, Sunni Arabs were willing to give peace, and
democracy, a chance. But Saddam and his followers went underground and, using
cash they had stashed away, and fear of Shia and Kurdish revenge among Saddams
now unemployed secret police, began a terror campaign to get back into power.
These "Baathists" (the Baath Party had controlled Iraq since the 1960s)
believed the Americans would eventually lose heart and leave, and that the Shia
and Kurds would never get organized sufficiently to run the country. In early
2004, the Baathists joined forces with al Qaeda, which wanted to turn Iraq, and
the world, into a theocracy, run by Sunni Moslem clergy. The Baath party was
secular, but these differences were put aside in order to defeat the Shia,
Kurds and Americans.
Soon, military intelligence specialists in Iraq
began learning (often from reservists who were in law enforcement) how police
in the United States investigate, and identify criminal gangs back home. That
was because the enemy in Iraq typically belonged to a criminal, or terrorist
group, that operated like a gang. There are cultural differences, and dealing
with these quirks caused the most problems. On the positive side, there is a
large industry in the United States that supplied special software to police
departments, for handling investigations. This stuff is basically database
software with formats and analysis abilities tweaked to assist police
investigations. These programs have been revolutionizing detective work over
the last two decades. It took a few months, after the invasion, for the intel people
in Iraq to become aware of this software, and they were helped greatly by
reservists who were police commanders or detectives in their civilian jobs
It was discovered that the "gangs of Iraq" operated
in a similar fashion to ethnic gangs (including Arab ones) in the United States
and Europe. Thus genealogical software came in handy, as did new cell phone
tracking and bugging software and equipment. Regular (land-line) phones are
unreliable in Iraq, and the new cell phones services are more popular. Even
when they discovered how easy it was to track cell phones, many Iraqi gangsters
and anti-government fighters refused to give them up. The genealogy software is
useful in tracking the relations between family members in gangs. Many gangs
are basically family based, with many distant cousins coming together because
of family loyalty.
Terrorist attacks are treated like serial
criminals. This type of criminal behavior is most widely known when it is
murder. But there are many kinds of serial crime, and U.S. intel specialists
found that attacks on Iraqi police and U.S. troops was, in most cases, just
another serial crime. The perpetrators would often follow a pattern, one that
the software could pick out. One thing leads to another, and arrests often result.
DNA analysis and all the tools you see on CSI, are brought to bear. It's no
accident that the 4th Infantry Division captured Saddam Hussein in December,
2003. The 4th Infantry is the most high tech outfit in the army, with more
geeks per battalion than any other combat organization.
Financial auditing, and tracking assets in general,
also proved useful. Much of the violence in Iraq is financed by billions of
dollars Saddam and his cronies stole. Over a billion dollars of that money, in
U.S. currency, was discovered right after Saddam fell. There is a parallel
effort to create Arabic interfaces for a lot of this software, so the Iraqi
police can use it as well.
The computerized intel records also make it easier
to get replacement troops up to speed quickly. This process begins before the
new intel units arrive, as copies of databases can be transmitted back to the
United States, and video conferences or chat room sessions held to discuss the
data, and the current situation in Iraq. Thus the intelligence effort continues
relentlessly, even with the American troops being replaced every year.
Over the last two years, more technology was issued
to the troops to help identify Iraqi suspects on the spot. Now, when terror
suspects find they are photographed, finger printed and have DNA taken, they
know that they are truly identified. In late 2006, U.S. troops began using a
portable ID kit, with the database built in. This was called "The Snake Eater",
and it was a hardened laptop (like the kind the army, and construction
companies buy a lot of), with a digital camera and electronic fingerprinting
device. Most importantly, the laptop also has database (also off the shelf,
police departments use this stuff) software for storing the prints, pictures
and other information. The other data includes what is known about the suspects
family, and connections to other people.
Year by year, the databases grew, and the picture
of who was doing what to who in Iraq, and why, became clearer. So when the
surge offensive was in the planning stages, there was plenty of info on who was
where, how vulnerable they were, and how important. Already, the troops had
gone beyond blind sweeps, looking for anything that might show up. Most of the
raids were looking for specific individuals, or their associates, or bomb factories,
weapons caches or documents and cash.
Four years of terrorist violence had caused many
Sunni Arabs to risk all to inform on the killers. The Americans and the Iraqi
government offered an end to the violence, and tips about which terrorist were
where would help make that happen. More Iraqis also became aware of how much
the Americans knew. It was noted that the U.S. troops were always looking for
particular individuals, and often had photos. It was also noted that, when the
subject of a search pretended to be someone else, the Americans would pull out
this laptop (a "Snake Eater") and grab a
fingerprint. The suspect was identified and hauled away. Iraqis were already in
awe of American technology, and seeing the "Snake Eater" do its magic convinced
many that siding with the terrorists was not a good idea.
The intel advantage will never make for much of a
news story. Databases aren't very exciting or sexy. But in the current
campaign, the information advantage is the decisive one.