Intelligence: March 26, 2004

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The "lessons learned" continue to come out of the Iraq War. The latest one is that once the Iraqi army dispersed in late March, 2003, coalition intel capabilities were unable to track where the troops who were still fighting were. American intelligence had great information on the Iraqi army when the Iraqis were deployed for a conventional battle. But once the Iraqis realized what they were up against, Iraqi troops either deserted, or the units broke up into smaller organizations and went off in many different directions. Worse yet, there were portions of the Iraqi armed forces that American intelligence wasn't tracking at all. These were the secret police and paramilitary organizations (pro-Saddam militias) that were forming themselves into small units of irregulars. These were the fighters who were pulling off most of the ambushes and surprise attacks on coalition troops and convoys. Dressed as civilians and traveling in civilian vehicles, the irregulars needed police, not military, intelligence techniques to track them. On the plus side, improved intelligence capabilities of the combat brigades and battalions made it possible for the American troops to take advantage of the situation. Historically, an army "disperses" when it has been defeated (or is about to be). Once dispersed, all such an army can do is fight as guerillas. But American night vision equipment, air superiority (lots of helicopters overhead to see what's in the next village) and UAVs, plus communications and location gear like Blue Force Tracker (which showed, on a laptop screen, every battalion or company commander where all friendly forces were), enabled American troops to blow past or through any Iraqi opposition. As a practical matter, American intelligence never expected to be able to keep track of an army that had fallen apart and dispersed. The reason the troops are so enthusiastic about night vision gear and small UAVs (that can be used by infantry companies or tank battalions) is because it gives them an intelligence collecting capability they can use right away, wherever they are. That kind of intelligence is always useful. But the larger American intelligence establishment, which costs tens of billions of dollars a year to support, felt blinded by the chaos of the war once the ground forces got going and everything went, well, in all different directions.

 


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