The Best Defense…

Greg Buete has an "offensive" suggestion for handling terrorists in Iraq – US forces need to go on the offensive and take the fight to them.

If there is a problem it may, unfortunately, be self-imposed. It is not troop allotments or nationality, but rather how we’re using existing forces. To understand this we need to go back a few months.

In mid-June the Pentagon grew weary playing defense and began an aggressive campaign to capture and kill Baathist militants and foreign terrorists in Iraq. The campaign produced immediate results — in the first two days alone coalition forces killed almost 100 enemy forces and captured dozens. Operations like "Peninsula Strike," "Soda Mountain" and "Sidewinder" turned the tables on the militants, who found themselves on the painful end of a relentless attack.

Casting notions of defensive "peacekeeping" aside in favor of the hunt, the military’s new approach continued to reap rewards, such as the arrest of several high-ranking Iraqi officials and increased intelligence from the capture Iraqi documents. The domino effect peaked with the military’s July 22 assault on the compound of Uday and Qusay Hussein. A tip from an Iraqi informant and many bullets later the deaths of the Hussein boys at least in part avenged their countless victims.

June and July were very good months for US forces in Iraq. Over just six weeks of aggressive fighting the US detained thousands of suspected Iraqi militants in hundreds of military raids. The Sunni triangle was shrinking. At the height of the new offensive militant attacks against US forces had been cut in half. By early August several days in a row passed without the loss of single US soldier in combat — a seemingly inconsequential but notable feat.

But in a repeat of early summer’s bad conventional wisdom we’re again mired in debates about troop strength and foreign control. How’d we get back there? Quite simply, somebody in the chain of command ignored the notable advice of Gen. George S. Patton — "Always take the offensive. Never dig in."

Buete has an essential point here – conflicts against terrorists are conflicts of agility. You cannot win a war against terrorists by sitting around and waiting for them to take pot-shots at you. You win it by hunting down and eliminating terrorists before they stike.

Nor does such a strategy create new terrorists. History has taught that terrorists pray on those who are weak. The United States defeated the Barbary Coast pirates in the early 19th Century by the famous landing at Tripoli now immortalized in the Marine Corps Anthemn. It was our first conflict with radical Islamic terrorists, and we defeated them by going on the offensive and taking them out.

The same reasoning applies to the modern era. We cannot defeat terrorists while holding our ground. To paraphrase Patton, the only thing we should be holding is the necks of our enemies while we’re kicking them in the ass. We have to be on the advance constantly. We have to meet every meeting of terrorist groups and Ba’athist sympathizers with instant and deadly firepower.

That requires moving our troops from being traffic cops to being soldiers. If we put more troops in Iraq, it must be to do the latter and not the former. The best defense is a good offense, and the greatest risk in the war on terror is not using too much force but too little.

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