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Friday, August 25, 2006

The apperance of defeat

Look, IED's

British Leave Iraqi Base; Militia Supporters Jubilant
Some Troops Will Reposition to Border With Iran

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 25, 2006; Page A14

BAGHDAD, Aug. 24 -- British troops abandoned a major base in southern Iraq on Thursday and prepared to wage guerrilla warfare along the Iranian border to combat weapons smuggling, a move that anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called the first expulsion of U.S.-led coalition forces from an Iraqi urban center.

"This is the first Iraqi city that has kicked out the occupier!" trumpeted a message from Sadr's office that played on car-mounted speakers in Amarah, capital of the southern province of Maysan. "We have to celebrate this occasion!"

Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a British military spokesman, said the last of 1,200 troops left Camp Abu Naji, just outside Amarah, at noon Thursday, after several days of heavy mortar and rocket fire by a local militia, which local residents identified as the Sadr-controlled Mahdi Army. Adopting tactics used by a British special forces unit in North Africa during World War II, 600 of the soldiers plan to slip soon into the marshlands and deserts of eastern Maysan in an attempt to secure the Iranian border.

The repositioning is the first public acknowledgment that forces from the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq have entered into guerrilla warfare to combat the insurgents and militias they have been fighting for more than three years.

The move also underscores both the rising power of Sadr's Shiite Muslim militia, which has clashed with American forces in an attempt to drive them out of the country, and burgeoning alarm over Shiite-ruled Iran's perceived role in exacerbating the sectarian violence roiling Iraq. U.S. officials have accused Iran of supplying bombs and other weapons to Shiite militias here.

The withdrawal sparked wide-scale looting at the base and then intense clashes late Thursday between Iraqi army forces guarding the camp and unknown attackers, a military intelligence official said. The volatile situation worsened when the 2nd Battalion of the Iraqi army's 4th Brigade mutinied and attacked a local military outpost, said the official, who spoke on condition that his name not be used.

The British soldiers, members of the Queen's Royal Hussars, are preparing to trade their heavy Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior fighting vehicles for lightweight Land Rovers, Burbridge said. They expect to become a flexible, mobile force with no fixed base and receive supplies by airdrops.

"The Americans believe there is an inflow of IEDs and weapons across the border with Iran," said Burbridge, referring to improvised explosive devices, in a telephone interview from Basra. "Our first objective is to go and find out if that is the case. If that is true, we'll be able to disrupt the flow." He said the second goal was to train Iraqi border guards.

Burbridge acknowledged that constant shelling of the base in Amarah by militia forces, including 17 mortar rounds fired in recent days that wounded three people, were part of the reason the camp closed.

"By no longer presenting a static target, we reduce the ability of the militias to strike us," he said. But he rejected Sadr's claim that the British had been defeated and pushed out of Amarah. "It's very difficult to claim a victory without causing significant casualties."

The mood was quite different in Amarah, where jubilant residents flocked to Sadr's office to offer their congratulations. Drivers in the street honked their car horns in celebration. Some prepared to take to the streets to rejoice.

Part of this is to prevent the Americans from ginning up a reason for war with Iran. The other is that they want to provide less of a target.

The problem is that every retreat turns into a defeat, not because it is a technical one, but because it looks like one.

Keep in mind, they're fighting Shia insurgents here. A detail glossed over. I thought it was just civil war? Oh well.

The unit they're talking about is the Long Range Desert Group

LRDG trucks in the desert
The military value of motor vehicles in desert terrain had been proven to some extent during World War I. British Forces had used such vehicles as Rolls-Royce Armored cars and Ford Model T light trucks with great success. One British staff officer who was greatly influenced was Archibald Wavell and when he became one of the British Army's senior generals in the late 1930s he was receptive to ideas using small motorized units. In October, 1935 Lieutenant Fox Davies of the Durham Light Infantry wrote to General Wavell and suggested using "guerilla" type troops to operate behind enemy lines. Wavell thought "motor guerillas" would be a good idea and in 1936 he had Fox Davies placed in command of a unit which was sent behind the "enemy lines", with great success, in a military exercise. A British group of explorers led by R.A. Bagnold made many expeditions into the desert in the late 19930s from Egypt, studying the desert and it's characteristics, and perfected ways of navigating across the vast desert wastes like a mariner at sea. In 1940 Italy declared war on Great Britain and the Italian forces in Libya posed an immediate potential threat to the British in Egypt, and to the Suez Canal the gateway to the East. General Wavell was the British Commander-in-Chief in Egypt at the time and he took R. A. Bagnold into the Army as an officer and gave him the job of forming a motor patrol.

The LRDG was very much like a "private army", formed to meet the particular conditions of desert warfare. Major Bagnold (as he then was) acquired suitable vehicles and the Chevrolet 15 cwt truck used by the Egyptian Army suited his needs. This was a standard "platoon" truck on a Canadian-built Chevrolet chassis, fitted with desert tires and with an open body big enough to hold the stores and equipment needed for long trips into the desert. For desert operations with a very heavy load, they had extra leaves inserted into the springs, desert type tires, wire-less, and a condenser fitted on the running board and connected to the radiator to conserve cooling water. Doors and door pillars were removed, extra spare wheels fitted and pintle mounts were added for machine guns and antitank rifles. The load carried might be up to two tons, consisting of food, fuel ammunition, water and explosives for demolition work. Sand-mats of canvas and steel channels were carried to assist vehicles through the many shifting sands and dunes. A sun compass was usually carried in the dashboard, a Bagnold invention and theodolites and sextants were used to fix positions. The Long Range Desert Group's task for most of the time was watching, waiting, plotting enemy movements and reporting back by radio. The LRDG took delivery of new vehicles in May 1942, namely 30cwt types with military general service steel bodies. These were sturdier than the original type of vehicle and more spacious. Built by Chevrolet (Canada) these were simple a desert service version of the standard production Chevrolet types. Because the LRDG was made up of volunteers it never really had regimental status. The men wore whatever clothes were comfortable. Beards and other non-regulation military practices were common, adding much to the "piratical" flavor and swash-buckling image of the LRDG force.

posted by Steve @ 12:39:00 PM

12:39:00 PM

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