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[casi] Is the United States creating another PHOENIX Program in Iraq?

Dear all,

"Is the United States creating another Phoenix Program in Iraq? - by Seymour
M. Hersh"

I mean, you know what the Poenix prgramme (in Vietnam) was about, don't you?

And may I remind you of my earlier subtle hints so deeply buried in these

1) Iraq, laboratory of new methodes of counter-insurrection

2) Background info : Iraq, laboratory of new methodes of

3) Iraq: Counter-insurgency #1

4) Iraq: Counter-insurgency #2

5) Counter-Insurgency: Iraq- Quicksand & Blood



Is the United States creating another Phoenix Program in Iraq?
by Seymour M. Hersh


Will the counter-insurgency plan in Iraq repeat the mistakes of Vietnam?

Issue of 2003-12-15

Posted 2003-12-08
The Bush Administration has authorized a major escalation of the Special
Forces covert war in Iraq. In interviews over the past month, American
officials and former officials said that the main target was a hard-core
group of Baathists who are believed to be behind much of the underground
insurgency against the soldiers of the United States and its allies. A new
Special Forces group, designated Task Force 121, has been assembled from
Army Delta Force members, Navy seals, and C.I.A. paramilitary operatives,
with many additional personnel ordered to report by January. Its highest
priority is the neutralization of the Baathist insurgents, by capture or

The revitalized Special Forces mission is a policy victory for Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who has struggled for two years to get the military
leadership to accept the strategy of what he calls "Manhunts"-a phrase that
he has used both publicly and in internal Pentagon communications. Rumsfeld
has had to change much of the Pentagon's leadership to get his way.
"Knocking off two regimes allows us to do extraordinary things," a Pentagon
adviser told me, referring to Afghanistan and Iraq.

One step the Pentagon took was to seek active and secret help in the war
against the Iraqi insurgency from Israel, America's closest ally in the
Middle East. According to American and Israeli military and intelligence
officials, Israeli commandos and intelligence units have been working
closely with their American counterparts at the Special Forces training base
at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and in Israel to help them prepare for
operations in Iraq. Israeli commandos are expected to serve as ad-hoc
advisers-again, in secret-when full-field operations begin. (Neither the
Pentagon nor Israeli diplomats would comment. "No one wants to talk about
this," an Israeli official told me. "It's incendiary. Both governments have
decided at the highest level that it is in their interests to keep a low
profile on U.S.-Israeli co÷peration" on Iraq.) The critical issue, American
and Israeli officials agree, is intelligence. There is much debate about
whether targeting a large number of individuals is a practical-or
politically effective-way to bring about stability in Iraq, especially given
the frequent failure of American forces to obtain consistent and reliable
information there.

Americans in the field are trying to solve that problem by developing a new
source of information: they plan to assemble teams drawn from the upper
ranks of the old Iraqi intelligence services and train them to penetrate the
insurgency. The idea is for the infiltrators to provide information about
individual insurgents for the Americans to act on. A former C.I.A. station
chief described the strategy in simple terms: "U.S. shooters and Iraqi
intelligence." He added, "There are Iraqis in the intelligence business who
have a better idea, and we're tapping into them. We have to resuscitate
Iraqi intelligence, holding our nose, and have Delta and agency shooters
break down doors and take them"-the insurgents-"out."

A former intelligence official said that getting inside the Baathist
leadership could be compared to "fighting your way into a coconut-you bang
away and bang away until you find a soft spot, and then you can clean it
out." An American who has advised the civilian authority in Baghdad said,
"The only way we can win is to go unconventional. We're going to have to
play their game. Guerrilla versus guerrilla. Terrorism versus terrorism. We'
ve got to scare the Iraqis into submission."

In Washington, there is now widespread agreement on one point: the need for
a new American approach to Iraq. There is also uniform criticism of the
military's current response to the growing American casualty lists. One
former Pentagon official who worked extensively with the Special Forces
command, and who favors the new military initiative, said, "We've got this
large conventional force sitting there, and getting their ass shot off, and
what we're doing is counterproductive. We're sending mixed signals." The
problem with the way the U.S. has been fighting the Baathist leadership, he
said, is "(a) we've got no intelligence, and (b) we're too squeamish to
operate in this part of the world." Referring to the American retaliation
against a suspected mortar site, the former official said, "Instead of
destroying an empty soccer field, why not impress me by sneaking in a sniper
team and killing them while they're setting up a mortar? We do need a more
unconventional response, but it's going to be messy."

Inside the Pentagon, it is now understood that simply bringing in or killing
Saddam Hussein and his immediate circle-those who appeared in the Bush
Administration's famed "deck of cards"-will not stop the insurgency. The new
Special Forces operation is aimed instead at the broad middle of the
Baathist underground. But many of the officials I spoke to were skeptical of
the Administration's plans. Many of them fear that the proposed
operation-called "preŰmptive manhunting" by one Pentagon adviser-has the
potential to turn into another Phoenix Program. Phoenix was the code name
for a counter-insurgency program that the U.S. adopted during the Vietnam
War, in which Special Forces teams were sent out to capture or assassinate
Vietnamese believed to be working with or sympathetic to the Vietcong. In
choosing targets, the Americans relied on information supplied by South
Vietnamese Army officers and village chiefs. The operation got out of
control. According to official South Vietnamese statistics, Phoenix claimed
nearly forty-one thousand victims between 1968 and 1972; the U.S. counted
more than twenty thousand in the same time span. Some of those assassinated
had nothing to do with the war against America but were targeted because of
private grievances. William E. Colby, the C.I.A. officer who took charge of
the Phoenix Program in 1968 (he eventually became C.I.A. director), later
acknowledged to Congress that "a lot of things were done that should not
have been done."

The former Special Forces official warned that the problem with head-hunting
is that you have to be sure "you're hunting the right heads." Speaking of
the now co÷perative former Iraqi intelligence officials, he said, "These
guys have their own agenda. Will we be doing hits on grudges? When you set
up host-nation elements"-units composed of Iraqis, rather than Americans-"it
's hard not to have them going off to do what they want to do. You have to
keep them on a short leash."

The former official says that the Baathist leadership apparently relies on
"face-to-face communications" in planning terrorist attacks. This makes the
insurgents less vulnerable to one of the Army's most secret Special Forces
units, known as Grey Fox, which has particular expertise in interception and
other technical means of intelligence-gathering. "These guys are too smart
to touch cell phones or radio," the former official said. "It's all going to
succeed or fail spectacularly based on human intelligence."

A former C.I.A. official with extensive Middle East experience identified
one of the key players on the new American-Iraqi intelligence team as Farouq
Hijazi, a Saddam loyalist who served for many years as the director of
external operations for the Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence service. He
has been in custody since late April. The C.I.A. man said that over the past
few months Hijazi "has cut a deal," and American officials "are using him to
reactivate the old Iraqi intelligence network." He added, "My Iraqi friends
say he will honor the deal-but only to the letter, and not to the spirit."
He said that although the Mukhabarat was a good security service, capable, i
n particular, of protecting Saddam Hussein from overthrow or assassination,
it was "a lousy intelligence service."

The official went on, "It's not the way we usually play ball, but if you see
a couple of your guys get blown away it changes things. We did the American
things-and we've been the nice guy. Now we're going to be the bad guy, and
being the bad guy works."

Told of such comments, the Pentagon adviser, who is an expert on
unconventional war, expressed dismay. "There are people saying all sorts of
wild things about Manhunts," he said. "But they aren't at the policy level.
It's not a no-holds policy, and it shouldn't be. I'm as tough as anybody,
but we're also a democratic society, and we don't fight terror with terror.
There will be a lot of close controls-do's and don'ts and rules of
engagement." The adviser added, "The problem is that we've not penetrated
the bad guys. The Baath Party is run like a cell system. It's like
penetrating the Vietcong-we never could do it."

The rising star in Rumsfeld's Pentagon is Stephen Cambone, the
Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, who has been deeply involved in
developing the new Special Forces approach. Cambone, who earned a doctorate
in political science from Claremont Graduate University in 1982, served as
staff director for a 1998 committee, headed by Rumsfeld, that warned in its
report of an emerging ballistic-missile threat to the United States and
argued that intelligence agencies should be willing to go beyond the data at
hand in their analyses. Cambone, in his confirmation hearings, in February,
told the Senate that consumers of intelligence assessments must ask
questions of the analysts-"how they arrived at those conclusions and what
the sources of the information were." This approach was championed by
Rumsfeld. It came under attack, however, when the Administration's
predictions about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the potential for
insurgency failed to be realized, and the Pentagon civilians were widely
accused of politicizing intelligence. (A month after the fall of Baghdad,
Cambone was the first senior Pentagon official to publicly claim, wrongly,
as it turned out, that a captured Iraqi military truck might be a mobile
biological-weapons laboratory.)

Cambone also shares Rumsfeld's views on how to fight terrorism. They both
believe that the United States needs to become far more proactive in
combatting terrorism, searching for terrorist leaders around the world and
eliminating them. And Cambone, like Rumsfeld, has been frustrated by the
reluctance of the military leadership to embrace the manhunting mission.
Since his confirmation, he has been seeking operational authority over
Special Forces. "Rumsfeld's been looking for somebody to have all the
answers, and Steve is the guy," a former high-level Pentagon official told
me. "He has more direct access to Rummy than anyone else."

As Cambone's influence has increased, that of Douglas Feith, the
Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy, has diminished. In September, 2001,
Feith set up a special unit known as the Office of Special Plans. The
office, directed by civilians who, like Feith, had neoconservative views,
played a major role in the intelligence and planning leading up to the March
invasion of Iraq. "There is finger-pointing going on," a prominent
Republican lobbyist explained. "And the neocons are in retreat."

One of the key planners of the Special Forces offensive is Lieutenant
General William (Jerry) Boykin, Cambone's military assistant. After a
meeting with Rumsfeld early last summer-they got along "like two old
warriors," the Pentagon consultant said-Boykin postponed his retirement,
which had been planned for June, and took the Pentagon job, which brought
him a third star. In that post, the Pentagon adviser told me, Boykin has
been "an important piece" of the planned escalation. In October, the Los
Angeles Times reported that Boykin, while giving Sunday-morning talks in
uniform to church groups, had repeatedly equated the Muslim world with
Satan. Last June, according to the paper, he told a congregation in Oregon
that "Satan wants to destroy this nation, he wants to destroy us as a
nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army." Boykin praised
President Bush as a "man who prays in the Oval Office," and declared that
Bush was "not elected" President but "appointed by God." The Muslim world
hates America, he said, "because we are a nation of believers."

There were calls in the press and from Congress for Boykin's dismissal, but
Rumsfeld made it clear that he wanted to keep his man in the job. Initially,
he responded to the Times report by praising the General's "outstanding
record" and telling journalists that he had neither seen the text of Boykin'
s statements nor watched the videotape that had been made of one of his
presentations. "There are a lot of things that are said by people in the
military, or in civilian life, or in the Congress, or in the executive
branch that are their views," he said. "We're a free people. And that's the
wonderful thing about our country." He added, with regard to the tape, "I
just simply can't comment on what he said, because I haven't seen it." Four
days later, Rumsfeld said that he had viewed the tape. "It had a lot of very
difficult-to-understand words with subtitles which I was not able to
 verify," he said at a news conference, according to the official
transcript. "So I remain inexpert"-the transcript notes that he "chuckles"
at that moment-"on precisely what he said." Boykin's comments are now under
official review.

Boykin has been involved in other controversies as well. He was the Army
combat commander in Mogadishu in 1993, when eighteen Americans were slain
during the disastrous mission made famous by Mark Bowden's book "Black Hawk
Down." Earlier that year, Boykin, a colonel at the time, led an eight-man
Delta Force that was assigned to help a Colombian police unit track down the
notorious drug dealer Pablo Escobar. Boykin's team was barred by law from
providing any lethal assistance without Presidential approval, but there was
suspicion in the Pentagon that it was planning to take part in the
assassination of Escobar, with the support of American Embassy officials in
Colombia. The book "Killing Pablo," an account, also by Mark Bowden, of the
hunt for Escobar, describes how senior officials in the Pentagon's chain of
command became convinced that Boykin, with the knowledge of his Special
Forces superiors, had exceeded his authority and intended to violate the
law. They wanted Boykin's unit pulled out. It wasn't. Escobar was shot dead
on the roof of a barrio apartment building in MedellÝn. The Colombian police
were credited with getting their man, but, Bowden wrote, "within the special
ops community . . . Pablo's death was regarded as a successful mission for
Delta, and legend has it that its operators were in on the kill."

"That's what those guys did," a retired general who monitored Boykin's
operations in Colombia told me. "I've seen pictures of Escobar's body that
you don't get from a long-range telescope lens. They were taken by guys on
the assault team." (Bush Administration officials in the White House, the
State Department, and the Pentagon, including General Boykin, did not
respond to requests for comment.)

Morris Busby, who was the American Ambassador to Colombia in 1993 (he is now
retired), vigorously defended Boykin. "I think the world of Jerry Boykin,
and have the utmost respect for him. I've known him for fifteen years and
spent hours and hours with the guy, and never heard him mention religion or
God." The retired general also praised Boykin as "one of those guys you'd
love to have in a war because he's not afraid to die." But, he added, "when
you get to three stars you've got to think through what you're doing."
Referring to Boykin and others involved in the Special Forces planning, he
added, "These guys are going to get a bunch of guys killed and then give
them a bunch of medals."

The American-Israeli liaison on Iraq amounts to a tutorial on how to
dismantle an insurgency. One former Israeli military-intelligence officer
summarized the core lesson this way: "How to do targeted killing, which is
very relevant to the success of the war, and what the United States is going
to have to do." He told me that the Americans were being urged to emulate
the Israeli Army's small commando units, known as Mist'aravim, which operate
undercover inside the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "They can approach a house
and pounce," the former officer said. In the Israeli view, he added, the
Special Forces units must learn "how to maintain a network of informants."
Such a network, he said, has made it possible for Israel to penetrate the
West Bank and Gaza Strip organizations controlled by groups such as Hamas,
and to assassinate or capture potential suicide bombers along with many of
the people who recruit and train them.

On the other hand, the former officer said, "Israel has, in many ways, been
too successful, and has killed or captured so many mid-ranking facilitators
on the operational level in the West Bank that Hamas now consists largely of
isolated cells that carry out terrorist attacks against Israel on their
 own." He went on, "There is no central control over many of the suicide
bombers. We're trying to tell the Americans that they don't want to
eliminate the center. The key is not to have freelancers out there."

Many regional experts, Americans and others, are convinced that the
Baathists are still firmly in charge of the insurgency, although they are
thought to have little direct connection with Saddam Hussein. An American
military analyst who works with the American-led Coalition Provisional
Authority in Baghdad told me he has concluded that "mid-ranking Baathists
who were muzzled by the patrimonial nature of Saddam's system have now, with
the disappearance of the high-ranking members, risen to control the
insurgency." He added that after the American attack and several weeks "of
being like deer in headlights," these Baathists had become organized, and
were directing and leading operations against Americans. During an interview
in Washington, a senior Arab diplomat noted, "We do not believe that the
resistance is loyal to Saddam. Yes, the Baathists have reorganized, not for
political reasons but because of the terrible decisions made by Jerry
 Bremer"-the director of the C.P.A. "The Iraqis really want to make you pay
the price," the diplomat said. "Killing Saddam will not end it."

Similarly, a Middle Eastern businessman who has advised senior Bush
Administration officials told me that the reorganized Baath Party is
"extremely active, working underground with permanent internal
communications. And without Saddam." Baath party leaders, he added, expect
Saddam to issue a public statement of self-criticism, "telling of his
mistakes and his excesses," including his reliance on his sons.

There is disagreement, inevitably, on the extent of Baathist control. The
former Israeli military-intelligence officer said, "Most of the firepower
comes from the Baathists, and they know where the weapons are kept. But many
of the shooters are ethnic and tribal. Iraq is very factionalized now, and
within the Sunni community factionalism goes deep." He added, "Unless you
settle this, any effort at reconstruction in the center is hopeless."

The American military analyst agreed that the current emphasis on Baathist
control "overlooks the nationalist and tribal angle." For example, he said,
the anti-coalition forces in Falluja, a major center of opposition, are
"driven primarily by the sheikhs and mosques, Islam, clerics, and
nationalism." The region, he went on, contains "tens of thousands of
unemployed former military officers and enlistees who hang around the coffee
shops and restaurants of their relatives; they plot, plan, and give and
receive instructions; at night they go out on their missions."

This military analyst, like many officials I spoke to, also raised questions
about the military's more conventional tactics-the aggressive program,
code-named Iron Hammer, of bombings, nighttime raids, and mass arrests aimed
at trouble spots in Sunni-dominated central Iraq. The insurgents, he told
me, had already developed a response. "Their S.O.P."-standard operating
procedure-"now is to go further out, or even to other towns, so that
American retribution does not fall on their locale. Instead, the Americans
take it out on the city where the incident happened, and in the process they
succeed in making more enemies."

The brazen Iraqi attacks on two separate American convoys in Samarra, on
November 30th, provided further evidence of the diversity of the opposition
to the occupation. Samarra has been a center of intense anti-Saddam
feelings, according to Ahmed S. Hashim, an expert on terrorism who is a
professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College. In an essay
published in August by the Middle East Institute, Hashim wrote, "Many
Samarra natives-who had served with distinction in the Baath Party and the
armed forces-were purged or executed during the course of the three decades
of rule by Saddam and his cronies from the rival town of Tikrit." He went
on, "The type of U.S. force structure in Iraq-heavy armored and mechanized
units-and the psychological disposition of these forces which have been in
Iraq for months is simply not conducive to the successful waging of
counter-insurgency warfare."

The majority of the Bush Administration's manhunting missions remain
classified, but one earlier mission, in Afghanistan, had mixed results at
best. Last November, an Al Qaeda leader named Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi
was killed when an unmanned Predator reconnaissance aircraft fired a
Hellfire missile at his automobile in Yemen. Five passengers in the
automobile were also killed, and it was subsequently reported that two
previous Predator missions in Yemen had been called off at the last moment
when it was learned that the occupants of suspect vehicles were local
Bedouins, and not Al Qaeda members.

Since then, an adviser to the Special Forces command has told me, infighting
among the various senior military commands has made it difficult for Special
Forces teams on alert to take immediate advantage of time-sensitive
intelligence. Rumsfeld repeatedly criticized Air Force General Charles
Holland, a four-star Special Forces commander who has just retired, for his
reluctance to authorize commando raids without specific, or "actionable,"
intelligence. Rumsfeld has also made a systematic effort to appoint Special
Forces advocates to the top military jobs. Another former Special Forces
commander, Army General Peter Schoomaker, was brought out of retirement in
July and named Army Chief of Staff. The new civilian Assistant Secretary for
Special Operations in the Pentagon is Thomas O'Connell, an Army veteran who
served in the Phoenix program in Vietnam, and who, in the early eighties,
ran Grey Fox, the Army's secret commando unit.

Early in November, the Times reported the existence of Task Force 121, and
said that it was authorized to take action throughout the region, if
necessary, in pursuit of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and other
terrorists. (The task force is commanded by Air Force Brigadier General Lyle
Koenig, an experienced Special Forces helicopter pilot.) At that point, the
former Special Forces official told me, the troops were "chasing the deck of
cards. Their job was to find Saddam, period." Other Special Forces, in
Afghanistan, were targeting what is known as the A.Q.S.L., the Al Qaeda
Senior Leadership List.

The task force's search for Saddam was, from the beginning, daunting.
According to Scott Ritter, a former United Nations weapons inspector, it may
have been fatally flawed as well. From 1994 to 1998, Ritter directed a
special U.N. unit that eavesdropped on many of Saddam Hussein's private
telephone communications. "The high-profile guys around Saddam were the
murafaqin, his most loyal companions, who could stand next to him carrying a
gun," Ritter told me. "But now he's gone to a different tier-the tribes. He
has released the men from his most sensitive units and let them go back to
their tribes, and we don't know where they are. The manifests of those units
are gone; they've all been destroyed." Ritter added, "Guys like Farouq
Hijazi can deliver some of the Baath Party cells, and he knows where some of
the intelligence people are. But he can't get us into the tribal hierarchy."
The task force, in any event, has shifted its focus from the hunt for Saddam
as it is increasingly distracted by the spreading guerrilla war.

In addition to the Special Forces initiative, the military is also exploring
other approaches to suppressing the insurgency. The Washington Post reported
last week that the American authorities in Baghdad had agreed, with some
reluctance, to the formation of an Iraqi-led counter-terrorism militia
composed of troops from the nation's five largest political parties. The
paramilitary unit, totalling some eight hundred troops or so, would
"identify and pursue insurgents" who had eluded arrest, the newspaper said.
The group's initial missions would be monitored and approved by American
commanders, but eventually it would operate independently.

Task Force 121's next major problem may prove to be Iran. There is a debate
going on inside the Administration about American and Israeli intelligence
that suggests that the Shiite-dominated Iranian government may be actively
aiding the Sunni-led insurgency in Iraq-"pulling the strings on the puppet,"
as one former intelligence official put it. Many in the intelligence
community are skeptical of this analysis-the Pentagon adviser compared it to
"the Chalabi stuff," referring to now discredited prewar intelligence on
W.M.D. supplied by Iraqi defectors. But I was told by several officials that
the intelligence was considered to be highly reliable by civilians in the
Defense Department. A former intelligence official said that one possible
response under consideration was for the United States to train and equip an
Iraqi force capable of staging cross-border raids. The American goal, he
said, would be to "make the cost of supporting the Baathists so dear that
the Iranians would back off," adding, "If it begins to look like another
Iran-Iraq war, that's another story."

The requirement that America's Special Forces units operate in secrecy, a
former senior coalition adviser in Baghdad told me, has provided an
additional incentive for increasing their presence in Iraq. The Special
Forces in-country numbers are not generally included in troop totals. Bush
and Rumsfeld have insisted that more American troops are not needed, but
that position was challenged by many senior military officers in private
conversations with me. "You need more people," the former adviser, a retired
admiral, said. "But you can't add them, because Rummy's taken a position. So
you invent a force that won't be counted."

At present, there is no legislation that requires the President to notify
Congress before authorizing an overseas Special Forces mission. The Special
Forces have been expanded enormously in the Bush Administration. The 2004
Pentagon budget provides more than six and a half billion dollars for their
activities-a thirty-four-per-cent increase over 2003. A recent congressional
study put the number of active and reserve Special Forces troops at
forty-seven thousand, and has suggested that the appropriate House and
Senate committees needed to debate the "proper overall role" of Special
Forces in the global war on terrorism.

The former intelligence official depicted the Delta and seal teams as "force
multipliers"-small units that can do the work of much larger ones and
thereby increase the power of the operation as a whole. He also implicitly
recognized that such operations would become more and more common; when
Special Forces target the Baathists, he said, "it's technically not
assassination-it's normal combat operations."

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