Sunday, May 15, 2005

Operation Matador and other blood sports

The LA Times has an interesting account of “Operation Matador” (Next up: Operation Cockfight, Operation Bear-Baiting, Operation Dog Fight, Operation Pig-Sticking...). It suggests strongly that the operation succeeded in its objectives only to the extent that the insurgents cooperated. That is, it got under way so slowly, due to some combination of over-optimistic planning, too little manpower, and heavy lumbering armored vehicles which it took a whole day to get across the Euphrates, that anyone who wanted to slip over the border into Syria could do so; anyone who stood and was killed or captured wanted to stand and be killed or captured. Also, an intriguing sentence in the WaPo report: “Americans had come through their communities a few days ahead of the Marines, scaring foreign fighters into flight.”

The idea behind Operation Matador was that this distant part of western Iraq was the new Fallujah, a gathering point for insurgents, so there was a need, according to the colonel in charge of the operation, for “proving that they don’t have any safe havens.” Note the verb: Matador is about proving something rather than accomplishing something. The Marines went to the Ramana region to pee on it to mark their territory; the goal was psychological rather than strictly military. And the proof of this is that, while the military claims to have “neutralized this sanctuary,” they’re not actually planning to occupy the area, and are now in the process of leaving; the insurgents will be back in days. The Marines are claiming victory, but the jihadis are probably claiming the same thing, with at least as much justification.

Two things about the LAT report: 1) it claims that locals welcomed the Marines, but it’s not clear whether the reporter is “embedded” or just passing on what the military told him. (Update: the WaPo says locals talked to “a reporter” through a US military translator. That’s the sort of detail a reader needs to evaluate a source.) 2) Again, a newspaper buries a story’s punchline in the penultimate paragraph: on why Iraqi troops didn’t participate, possibly as picadors: they were on vacation that week.

American policy in Central Asia just goes from one awful extreme to another, doesn’t it? Either we’re toadying up to people-boiling dictators, or... a writer in the LA Times says the US is “helping train democratic leaders for 2006 presidential elections in Belarus”.

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