The Gloves Come Off, Maybe, Sort of
a serious contender for the too-little-too-late award
By streiff Posted in War — Comments (29) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
Iranian Quds Brigade troops parade in Tehran
The Washington Post runs a story today headline Troops Authorized to Kill Iranian Operatives in Iraq. It breathlessly announces:
The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran's influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear program, according to government and counterterrorism officials with direct knowledge of the effort.
For more than a year, U.S. forces in Iraq have secretly detained dozens of suspected Iranian agents, holding them for three to four days at a time. The "catch and release" policy was designed to avoid escalating tensions with Iran and yet intimidate its emissaries. U.S. forces collected DNA samples from some of the Iranians without their knowledge, subjected others to retina scans, and fingerprinted and photographed all of them before letting them go.
Last summer, however, senior administration officials decided that a more confrontational approach was necessary, as Iran's regional influence grew and U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran appeared to be failing. The country's nuclear work was advancing, U.S. allies were resisting robust sanctions against the Tehran government, and Iran was aggravating sectarian violence in Iraq.
In a war widely portrayed as being fought with near reckless disregard for international law and convention, the war in Iraq has been lawyered into near passivity.
The panic stricken into the hearts of senior commanders and military lawyers by Abu Ghraib and unfortunate occurrences at military checkpoints has resulted in a situation were prisoners can be detained only a few days before release and where troops often have to accept being shot at first in order to return fire.
Among the most egregious effects of this was allowing Iranian Quds brigade special forces operatives to work with virtual impunity within Iran. As they were operating covertly they could have been whisked off to Diego Garcia or some other exotic clime and their employer would have been unable to complain. Instead, when apprehended they were photographed, fingerprinted and released. How this gained a benefit to us, I’m not sure, but what it did for the Iranians was obvious. Their tradecraft improved, they became more formidable, and they lost any fear of American troops.
Maybe this is changing.
Of course, there are potential downsides:
Officials said Hayden counseled the president and his advisers to consider a list of potential consequences, including the possibility that the Iranians might seek to retaliate by kidnapping or killing U.S. personnel in Iraq.
Two officials said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, though a supporter of the strategy, is concerned about the potential for errors, as well as the ramifications of a military confrontation between U.S. and Iranian troops on the Iraqi battlefield.
Any action has potential negative consequences. As Iranians are already in Iraq for the purpose of killing Americans, worrying about them killing Americans seems like a waste of time. Likewise, as Iranian troops aren’t supposed to be in Iraq how a confrontation between them, so long as we’re allowed to shoot, is a bad thing.
To the contrary, this is the type of job that should be handed over to SOCOM and every Iranian agent in Iraq should be constantly looking over their shoulders for a Delta trooper.
Part of the plan, though, seems like some kind of three-cushion bank shot.
Senior administration officials said the policy is based on the theory that Tehran will back down from its nuclear ambitions if the United States hits it hard in Iraq and elsewhere, creating a sense of vulnerability among Iranian leaders. But if Iran responds with escalation, it has the means to put U.S. citizens and national interests at greater risk in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Personally, I think this is about as dunderheaded as it comes. The idea that a country that has been behind kidnapping US military and intelligence officials and direct attacks on US facilities is going to give up because a few troops get whacked is just an exercise in wishful thinking.
There are signs that the Administration may still be actively pursuing the Long War
A senior intelligence officer was more wary of the ambitions of the strategy.
"This has little to do with Iraq. It's all about pushing Iran's buttons. It is purely political," the official said. The official expressed similar views about other new efforts aimed at Iran, suggesting that the United States is escalating toward an unnecessary conflict to shift attention away from Iraq and to blame Iran for the United States' increasing inability to stanch the violence there.
But some officials within the Bush administration say that targeting Iran's Revolutionary Guard Command, and specifically a Guard unit known as the Quds Force, should be as much a priority as fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Quds Force is considered by Western intelligence to be directed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to support Iraqi militias, Hamas and Hezbollah.
In interviews, two senior administration officials separately compared the Tehran government to the Nazis and the Guard to the "SS." They also referred to Guard members as "terrorists." Such a formal designation could turn Iran's military into a target of what Bush calls a "war on terror," with its members potentially held as enemy combatants or in secret CIA detention.
Asked whether such a designation is imminent, Johndroe of the NSC said in a written response that the administration has "long been concerned about the activities of the IRGC and its components throughout the Middle East and beyond." He added: "The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force is a part of the Iranian state apparatus that supports and carries out these activities."
If so, this is one of the first indications we’ve seen that the Administration realizes the pernicious effect Iran exerts on the CENTCOM area of operations and just might be willing to do something about it.