Intelligence: The Shadow War in Iraq


November 3, 2007: The intelligence troops never get much credit, and they prefer it that way. The information they collect has been decisive in Iraq and Afghanistan. But any discussion of how they collect it, or what they do with it, gives the enemy hints on how they can make that weapon less effective. But here's one example that won't give the other side an edge.

Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan spend a lot of time seeking out who the key people in the terrorist organizations are, and where they are. This is a lesson learned from the Israelis, who defeated the Palestinian terror campaign (that began seven years ago) by identifying the key terrorist leaders and technicians, and then tracking them down. And killing or capturing them. Preferably the latter, because some of them would talk. After a few years of this, the terrorism campaign had ground to a halt.

The Israelis had an edge, in that they had been battling the Palestinians for generations, and many Israelis looked like Arabs, and spoke Arabic. The U.S. had to work harder to get information from Iraqis (Afghans tended to be more cooperative). But once intel people began to collect information on Iraqi Saddam's secret police, criminal gangs, religious organizations and tribal groups, patterns began to emerge. After a year or two. One of those patterns was the "usual suspects list" of people who were really important in making most of the terrorism happen.

But there were other benefits as well. As the intel got better, so did relations with the Iraqi public. That's because more of the many raids were not hitting innocent families. That only made civilians less willing to help. Since the terrorists were increasingly hated by Iraqis. when they saw the Americans increasingly finding and raiding terrorist hideouts, they became less fearful of the bad guys. Then civilians were more likely to cooperate with the intel people.

It will be years before the military lets anyone disclose the details of the intelligence effort. And you can't really understand what went on over there unless you at least appreciate the scope and effectiveness of the intel work.


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