U.S. considers strategy change in Iraq

Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2003

WASHINGTON More barriers and checkpoints may be used to block car bombs. More Iraqis will be hired and trained to try to stop attacks before they're launched.

U.S. military officials are considering shifting tactics to combat the organized guerrilla attacks that are on the rise in Iraq.

But a scathing internal report on the Army's information gathering in Iraq raises questions about how successful those efforts will be: It found intelligence specialists on the ground unprepared for their jobs and with little ability to analyze what they hear.

''We've got to make sure that not only do we harden targets, but that we get actionable intelligence to intercept the missions before they begin,'' President Bush said at a news conference Tuesday, highlighting the change in tactics the Pentagon is studying.

Commanders in Iraq have said for months they are working to improve their intelligence gathering to try to prevent attacks against coalition troops and the Iraqis who help them. They've claimed some successes by rounding up or killing many of the top 55 most wanted members of Saddam Hussein's government and encouraging more Iraqis to tip off troops to weapons caches and opposition fighters.

Yet American officials say they still don't know who is behind the car bombings that have been striking Baghdad for more than two months, despite the efforts of 130,000 U.S. troops, 22,000 other coalition troops, more than 80,000 Iraqi security forces and dozens of FBI agents.

No suspects in those bombings have been apprehended except for a man carrying a Syrian passport who was shot while trying to detonate a car bomb Monday in Baghdad, a senior defense official said Tuesday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he did not know of any useful information about the bombings gathered from any of the thousands of Iraqis being detained by the Americans.

That's why U.S. officials are so eager to recruit Iraqis to help with intelligence gathering. The Iraqis know the language and culture of their homeland and can help recognize who's a terrorist and who isn't.

''It's going to be very important for the Iraqi people to play an active role in fighting off the few who are trying to destroy the hopes of the many,'' Bush said.

But the Army's internal report casts doubt on its ability to accomplish that goal. The report found the service's intelligence specialists in Iraq ''did not appear to be prepared for tactical assignments'' and often exhibited ''weak intelligence briefing skills'' and ''very little to no analytical skills.''

The criticism came in a report by a four-man team from the Center for Army Lessons Learned, the Army's agency for pushing commanders to learn from mistakes. The team visited Army units in Iraq during the first two weeks of June and released its report on an Army Web site last week.

A particular problem, the team said, has been finding enough competent Arabic interpreters to help American forces. Many of the interpreters don't have much training for their jobs and only enough specialized knowledge ''to tell the difference between a burro and a burrito,'' the Army report said.

Military officials say they are constantly shifting their tactics in response to enemy actions. Similarly, enemies watch U.S. forces, studying their tactics to find holes to exploit.

Sunday's missile attack on the al-Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad was an example the rockets flew over tall concrete barriers around the hotel, which had been put there to keep away car bombs.

Now, military officials will have to re-evaluate again, seeking ways to put up more blockades, or install more checkpoints.

So far, America's high-tech gadgets its biggest advantage in many wars have only a mixed record in Iraq.

Spy satellites and reconnaissance drones are unable to maintain a persistent presence over Baghdad, making it impossible to retrace the path of a car bomb to its origin, for example, one top military intelligence official, James Clapper, said Tuesday.

''We're in the mode of looking for individuals,'' said Clapper, the retired Air Force lieutenant general who commands the agency that analyzes pictures from spy satellites.

To find individuals, the military needs to talk to Iraqis who know their whereabouts.

Matt Kelley covers the Pentagon and military affairs for The Associated Press in Washington.

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