- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Yesterday’s deadly lunchtime strike on a mess tent in a U.S. military base near Mosul shows another tactical advancement by the insurgents in Iraq, military experts say.

The attack, which killed 22 people and wounded 66 others, was the kind of mass-casualty attack the Bush administration desperately has wanted to prevent, not only for the loss of life, but for the impact a large number of dead U.S. troops can have on Americans’ will to continue the battle for Iraq.

“So this is going to be a test for George Bush’s leadership,” said a Pentagon adviser who asked not to be named.

The attack showed the enemy was able to penetrate a well-defended forward operating base in the city’s southwest section. The insurgents also timed the attack to occur when the dining tent would be at its busiest.

The insurgents, chased from the western city of Fallujah, may now be concentrating on Iraq’s third-largest city, which is patrolled by fewer than 10,000 American troops. When an uprising occurred in Mosul during the battle for Fallujah, the U.S. command was forced to send ground reinforcements to restore order.

The insurgents already have found ways to periodically violate the green zone — the blocks of sealed-off Baghdad streets that hold key military commands and the U.S. Embassy — with rocket and mortar attacks.

“They’ve gotten better at penetrating camps, indicated by recent attacks in the green zone,” said Robert Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and military analyst. “They’re smart. They have a vote in this. We have to find counters and defenses against every one of their tactics. It’s a pretty sophisticated insurgency, and it’s becoming more difficult to predict as time goes along.”

Mr. Maginnis said Sunni Muslim insurgents may have found a new home in Mosul because it is lightly defended, primarily Sunni in population and is near the border with Syria, from which much of the insurgency’s cash flows.

“They have found support and sanctuary, so they can mount these kinds of attacks,” he said. “I think they find support up there, and that’s probably why they’ve been able to hide. Our footprint is not that big.”

Dan Gallington, a former aide to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and now an analyst at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, said the attack confirms that the insurgents can place spies inside U.S. commands.

“There probably are a large number of well-placed informants passing and selling valuable information to the insurgents,” Mr. Gallington said. “I would also suspect that a lot of the Iraqis we have trained and are paying are also actively working against us. They are hedging their bets on who will prevail and whether we have the will to stay for the long haul.”

He said the U.S. military “must stay on the offensive, particularly in the Sunni Triangle, with operations like we ran in Fallujah.”

The Pentagon adviser said if the attack was the work of a suicide bomber, or a planted bomb, then the enemy has found a new method for attack.

“What it shows is that a conventional force requires a sprawling facility to support it, and that means you’ve got to hire these sorts of people, local people, to come in and work,” the adviser said. “The argument that we need more conventional forces, well, more conventional forces are going to mean more such targets.”

The Pentagon adviser likened the attack to the Tet offensive in the Vietnam War and the 1983 bombing in Beirut that killed 220 U.S. Marines. Both attacks resulted in a huge loss of American support for staying in Vietnam and Lebanon.

“Neither one was a smashing defeat for America, but we couldn’t stand it politically,” the adviser said.

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