War with Iran (23): Lessons Taught, Never Learned

Most of the world right now is focused, with good reason, on the coronavirus. For that reason, it will probably have escaped most people’s attention that the Iranian proxy war against the US in Iraq continues, and continues to produce American casualties in the quiet, imperceptible way that dust collects on a table.

In illustration of that, let me, with minimal comment, just excerpt a few passages from an utterly ordinary story in the most mainstream news publication in America, The New York Times:

BAGHDAD — A volley of rockets struck a sprawling military base north of Baghdad Wednesday evening, killing three service members, two of them Americans and one British, according to a United States official and an Iraqi military officer, both in Iraq.

The attack came less than three months after a similar rocket attack killed an American contractor in Iraq, setting off a spiral of attacks that nearly led to war between the United States and Iran.

The two Americans killed Wednesday were active-duty troops with the Army and Air Force, an American military official said. The official said that 12 members of the American-led military coalition in Iraq of various nationalities were wounded in the attack on the base, Camp Taji.

The White House and Pentagon had no immediate comment on the rocket attacks. …

About 10 days ago, the leader of Kataib Hezbollah renewed threats against American installations in Iraq and against any Iraqis who work with the Americans, noting that while the pro-Iranian armed groups had been restrained, that would end in mid-March. …

On Sunday, two Marine Raiders, members of a Special Operations branch of the United States Marines, were killed during an operation against Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq. They were the first American troops killed in Iraq since last August. …

On Tuesday, Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of American forces in the Middle East, told lawmakers that the Patriot missiles were on their way to Iraq.

Though the Patriots are capable of countering high-flying Iranian ballistic missiles, they would be ineffective in stopping the kind of rockets fired at Camp Taji on Wednesday.

In short, we remain at war. Kataib Hezbollah is not taking a break for the coronavirus pandemic; apparently, there are no time-outs in warfare. Despite their (supposed) tactical sophistication, American soldiers are dying at the hands of a primitive sort of weapon against which they lack any defense. Sitting in their bases, they are sitting ducks for attack.

So they have perhaps three options: sit and be attacked; venture out and go on the offensive; withdraw. If they venture out on the offensive, they will be drawn into a greater number of firefights. At some point, they may need reinforcements. The question will then arise: should we send them? But of course, that question arises now.  It arises because coronavirus distraction or no, we are at war right now, and have been for awhile.

Excerpts from a follow-up story:

WASHINGTON — Images posted to social media after the attack in Iraq on Wednesday that killed three service members, two American and one British, showed a dilapidated white flatbed truck affixed with primitive rocket tubes tucked among desert shrubbery.

These types of photographs have often appeared in the past 18 years of United States wars in the Middle East as insurgent groups have relied on rudimentary but effective tactics to maim and kill their technologically superior enemies.

But in recent months, with relatively few American troops still in Iraq, militias there with ties to Iran seem to have perfected a strategy that has left U.S. forces with little recourse to defend themselves, according to American officials, who are scrambling to put effective countermeasures in place.

It’s not clear there are any countermeasures to put in place. No adequate countermeasure is mentioned in the story. But don’t listen to me; listen to the experts:

Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked on Thursday by reporters why there was no protection from the attack. “There’s not a system there to defend against those types of rockets,” he said.

Doesn’t sound like a particularly advantageous tactical environment to me. But what do I know? I’m just a civilian.

An impromptu history lesson, for anyone interested in one:

Americans have long been threatened by rockets of this type.

Vietcong fighters used them against U.S. bases, and they were important enough to be mentioned in an extensive review of the Vietnam War ordered in 1969.

In Afghanistan, the rockets were often fired from Pakistan across the border at American outposts; they could be fired with improvised timers from makeshift launchers. In Iraq, they were fired at American forces as far back as 2003, sometimes aimed directly at passing vehicles at short ranges or instead launched on an arc at faraway targets. In 2005, a number of 107-millimeter rockets were fired at two U.S. Navy warships in Aqaba, Jordan, killing a Jordanian soldier.

The rockets that killed three and wounded more than a dozen coalition troops Wednesday night were most likely Iranian Fajr-1 rockets, which are copies of a Chinese rocket called the Type 63.

Americans have long been threatened by rockets of this type. And as long as they expose themselves to them, they will indefinitely be hit by them. What they seem not to have learned since  is that the best defense system against them is to avoid exposure to them. And the most obvious way to avoid exposure is to avoid invading and occupying the foreign places where insurgents are apt to use them.

While trawling the U.S. Marine Corp’s Facebook Recruiting page, I asked the recruiters semi-rhetorically how they felt about luring teenagers to fight in another Vietnam. They didn’t answer, but a high school boy from South Dakota took exception to my comment:

if you have to bring up Vietnam to get a point across then there isn’t a single word you way that is worth listening to. We aren’t in the 70s anymore if you didn’t know so find something better to do than babble on Facebook.

Some people never learn, and some have never been taught. America’s military policy is an attempt to exploit the ignorance of both populations, and sacrifice them both to its insatiable appetite for destruction. It’s up to those have learned to teach those willing to learn. The alternative is to stand by as we throw another generation away on the malevolent schemes of those invested in our ignorance.


3 thoughts on “War with Iran (23): Lessons Taught, Never Learned

  1. Predictable response, inscrutable outcome:

    The airstrikes, which were supported by the British military, targeted the militia Kataib Hezbollah and facilities that were believed to store the type of rockets used in the attack on coalition forces on Wednesday. It is not known how many militia members, if any, were killed, a military official said.

    More to the point, it’s not known whether the facilities contained any rockets, and if so, whether hitting them will make any relevant difference to anything.

    Interestingly, a separate article suggests that the military is considering a drawdown to 2,500 American troops in Iraq.

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  2. As I was saying, it’s not clear that what the US military hit in that airstrike was anything worth hitting.

    BAGHDAD — Iraqi military officials strongly condemned the United States military on Friday for airstrikes launched overnight that they said killed three Iraqi soldiers, two police officers and a civilian worker, and damaged an unfinished civilian airport.

    American officials said on Friday that the strikes had hit sites where rockets and other weapons were stored by an Iranian-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah. But according to multiple Iraqi military officials, who so far have been largely supportive of the U.S. role in Iraq, the bombings killed members of the Iraqi military and police. It was not clear whether they had killed any Kataib Hezbollah fighters.

    Also unclear whether they hit anything that deterred future attacks on US forces.

    At a news conference at the Pentagon on Friday, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of the military’s Central Command, said the American strikes were in self-defense to destroy rockets and other weapons that he said had been supplied by Iran and that could be used against American and allied troops in Iraq.

    That presupposes that they hit “rockets and other weapons” and that hitting them made the relevant difference.

    “I don’t know whether the Iraqis are happy or unhappy,” General McKenzie said. “These locations that we struck are clear locations of terrorist bases. If Iraqi military forces were there, I would say it’s probably not a good idea to position yourself with Kataib Hezbollah in the wake of a strike that killed Americans and coalition members.”

    If you read the article, it becomes clear that things are not nearly as clear as General McKenzie would have us believe.

    General McKenzie also acknowledged that a weapons storage site at an airfield in Karbala had been destroyed.

    Right. What was in them?

    More broadly, the threat from Iran and its proxies remained “very high,” General McKenzie said, adding that tensions “have actually not gone down” since the killing in early January of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a top Iranian general.

    General McKenzie said the risk remained greatest from Iran’s proxies, including Kataib Hezbollah, and that the United States was poised to strike additional militia weapons storage sites and other targets should attacks continue.

    Really? “Remains very high”? I thought that it had been lowered by our decision to assassinate General Suleimani. But if that assassination is compatible with a “very high” level of threat from Iran and its proxies, what exactly did the assassination achieve? What, for that matter, did the recent airstrike achieve? Hell, what exactly is it that we’re trying to achieve? It may or may not be a coincidence that General McKenzie promises to hit “militia weapons storage sites,” but not the militias themselves. It’s not clear he has the latter capacity, and for obvious reasons, he has no incentive to disclose things. But if he doesn’t, he’s on a fool’s errand. And so, by definition, are we.

    To increase American firepower and deterrent strength, General McKenzie said, two American aircraft carriers — the Eisenhower and the Truman — will remain in the Middle East region for the foreseeable future. Patriot antimissile batteries and other weaponry are also flowing into Iraq in the coming weeks, he said.

    I’m sure General McKenzie knows this, but aircraft carriers can’t protect an inland base against low-flying rockets. Whether Patriot missiles can, I don’t know, but expect plenty of attacks between now and “the coming weeks.” In other words, as we die of the coronavirus, American soldiers will die of Hezbollah missiles. April, as they say, is the cruelest month. March promises to be pretty cruel, too.

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