Guerrillas and Water

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We have lost a lot of people in the last few days along the Euphrates River in western Anbar Province, Iraq.  Haditha, all the little towns along the Euphrates near the Syrian border, the Haditha Dam and the Forward Operating Base (FOB) being built northwest  of the dam on the Euphrates have all become a major focus of what offensive American military action there is in Iraq at present.

Why?  Guerrillas need water.  Drinking and cooking are activities that require a surprising amount of water if men are living in the field for extended periods of time.  Bedouins, supermen, highly conditioned soldiers— they all need water, every day and in substantial quantities.

Trudging across the North Carolina hills long ago, learning to be or fight guerrillas in Special Forces it became blindingly obvious to my training course that if we couldn’t occupy a place of human habitation where there would be water available, then we would inevitably be tied on a fairly short leash to whatever source of natural water there might be.  Usually that meant a stream.

Western and southern Iraq are huge howling deserts  The country from the Saudi border to the river system in interior Iraq is some of the hardest desert in the Middle East.  The land from the Jordanian border to the west is just as bad. There is only one infiltration route available across these deserts which has ready access to water and that is the route that follows the Euphrates River Valley. If you want a REAL reason why the Jihadis want to infiltrate Iraq from Syria, this is probably it, the river.

The Euphrates Valley points like an arrow at central Iraq from deep inside Syria.  Without the river and its water the Jihadis would have a difficult time trying to traverse the wide deserts in significant numbers.  it is for that reason that we find Saudi, African, Egyptian and other international Jihadis traveling to Syria before entering Iraq along the river.

Bottom Line:  The Jihadis and their Iraqi Islamist and nationalist allies know well that if this infiltration corridor were closed they would have a much more difficult time trying to enter the country.  Turkey is not friendly.  Iran is playing its own game with the Iraqi Shia Arabs.  The insurgents know that they have to keep this route open.  For this they will stand and fight risking decisive engagement whenever they do so.  At the same time our side has figured this out and for that reason you see substantial forces devoted to the attemot to control movement in the valley. The construction of a patrol and fire support base near the border on the river, is intended to act like a stopper in a bottle in blocking infiltration along the water corridor.

The fight for this valley will go on indefinitly. 

Pat Lang

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17 Responses to Guerrillas and Water

  1. RJJ says:

    Naively —
    Assuming that corridor is heavily traveled, the traffic would also provide the protection of the herd, wouldn’t it? Safety in numbers?
    Are there still nomads in those deserts?

  2. ismoot says:

    There are quite a lot of people who live out there but the traffic these days is monitorable if you have the forces in places like at the new FOB.
    Nomads? This is the North Syrian Desert. Rwalla, Murrah, and various other beduin tribes migrate through the area.
    Want a tribal map? pl

  3. RJJ says:

    tribal map? please!
    and many thanks for the map you did provide. I found some photos of the E. river terrain around the border area after I asked the question. Should have looked before.
    Do you mind questions? Have been reluctant to post them.

  4. ismoot says:

    I love questions. Pat

  5. linda in miami says:

    great info!!! see you are our secret decoder ring!
    linda in miami

  6. Susan says:

    Pat, your post and the map helped me get a grasp of the region in which both the Marines and insurgents are concentrating.
    I looked at other maps too, to try to get a better understanding. I could not find a map that showed the boundaries of the Anbar region. I gather that Anbar, which includes Fallujah, is nearer to Baghdad than to the Syrian border? Or does it extend to the Syrian border?
    One more Q: I looked at the videos that Larry linked. One thing I couldn’t get over was the unremiting desolation and disorientation of the sand and the (imagined) tremendous heat. How disorienting is this to our soldiers who’ve not spent years in this kind of oppressive, desolate, somewhat monochrome environment?

  7. ismoot says:

    Anbar is basically the whole Iraqi portion of the North Syrian Desert. It extends all the way to the Syrian Border. Basically the province borders were drawn to fill an empty space on the map, a space thinly populated with nomad beduins and smallish towns inhabited by the sedentarized descendents of these beduins.
    It is an achingly empty place but one that comes to be loved in the end, a place of sterile purity.
    I would imagine that the Army and Marines are already more adapted to it than you may think likely.
    Lawrence was once asked what he liked the best about this same Arabian desert. He said it was the smell.
    His interlocutor replied that there was no smell.
    “Exactly,” Lawrence answered. pl

  8. Susan says:

    Pat, someone just asked on the Daily Kos diary:
    The latest rounds of IED’s appear to be MUCH more powerful than in the past. What’s going on?
    Could you comment on that? I heard just a smidgen of a report on NPR today about the bombs being piled on top of each other to create the huge blast…
    If you’ll answer, I’ll post your reply at Daily Kos. THANK YOU!

  9. ismoot says:

    As several general officers have said, the insurgent force is a thinking, developing enemy.
    Iraq is saturated in ordnance. The Saddam government bought huge amounts of artillery shells, bombs and everything else useful to guerrillas in improvising munitions. The country is also full of men with varying levels of military training, experience and expertise. We are talking here of the Iraqi indigenous resistance, not the international Jihadis who seem to not know much other than to blow themselves up.
    When you put these elements together in the context of a hot war against the best forces in the world (us), then you have the situation Clausewitz was thinking of when he said that the best school of war is war, and here we are the teachers. pl

  10. searp says:

    I am not sure that I follow the logic. Surely the strategic value of the Euphrates corridor is tied to the value of the supplies and men infiltrated along the corridor.
    However, we keep getting told that there is no shortage of supplies and insurgents inside Iraq.
    What am I missing?

  11. ismoot says:

    Supplies adequate inside Iraq. International Jihadis do not start in Iraq, and even if they are a small minority in the insurgencies, they are the suicide bombers. pl

  12. searp says:

    I appreciate your answer, but it seems to me that our bigger problem is the Iraqi problem.
    Are we misallocating resources trying to stop the Jihadis not because they are the most important problem but because they are an addressable problem?

  13. ismoot says:

    You may be right on this but the military has to try to address the problems it can deal with and this corridor is used by the Iraqi insurgents as a kind of redoubt area as well as by the Jihadis for transit.
    In the mean time the traiing program goes on for good or ill.
    The real bottom line is that the issue will hinge on whether enough Sunni Arabs can be enticed into the political process by the end of the year. pl

  14. ismoot says:

    You may be right on this but the military has to try to address the problems it can deal with and this corridor is used by the Iraqi insurgents as a kind of redoubt area as well as by the Jihadis for transit.
    In the mean time the training program goes on for good or ill.
    The real bottom line is that the issue will hinge on whether enough Sunni Arabs can be enticed into the political process by the end of the year. pl

  15. searp says:

    Agreed! There seem to be conflicting assessments of how effective our military has been in that region. Maybe the base will help, but we knew where the Ho Chi Minh trail was…

  16. ismoot says:

    The political reconstruction of Iraq is not a military responsibility. The military’s responsibility is to hang onto enough of the country to provide time for that to happen, if it will.
    That’s what Ambassador Khalilzad is there for.
    The HCM Trail was actually a complex of a lot of roads that ran parallel to the RVN border in Laos and Cambodia. The US military had no bases there. We conducted patrols in Laos and Cambodia using a unit called MACVSOG, and we bombed the enemy’s logistics there as much as we could manage. pl

  17. searp says:

    Yes, HCM is an imprecise analogy.
    I had an argument with an Army colonel years ago about OOTW. He claimed that… we won in Somalia, because we did what we wanted militarily. I pointed out that view didn’t correspond with the public’s assessment.
    My point is that sure, there is a formal division of responsibility, but that any reasonable strategy is integrated and fluid, and inevitably demands that our military operate outside the bounds of its training, and probably doctrine, although I am not current.
    The military’s job, operating in concert with other elements, is to win the conflict, and to do whatever it can to foster that goal.
    This matters, in my opinion. Do sweeps do more harm than good? Aggressive road blocks and patrols? TACAIR in urban environments? I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I wonder if the question is being asked.

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