Special Forces Raids in Iraq

Stephen Grey on British and American Special Forces.

Instead of a patient approach of developing and then staking out targets, as used by the SAS in Northern Ireland, [Stanley McChrystal] demanded a blistering attack on the enemy. SAS squadrons, when they joined the fight, were told to launch raids every night.

Located at Balad airbase, the special-forces headquarters was unofficially known as the Death Star…

…McChrystal’s invention of “industrial counter-terrorism” created a ruthless machine that successfully suppressed Al-Qaeda in Iraq, to a great extent because of the thousands of people it killed.

In Afghanistan, McChrystal has promoted a much softer approach and has emphasised how victory is rarely won in an insurgency by the killing or martyrdom of more of the enemy. In Iraq, though, he is portrayed as being committed to the conventional and bloody business of “attrition”.

By Urban’s figures, in six years in Iraq UK special forces captured around 3,000 insurgents, and killed about 350 to 400. American special forces, his estimates suggest, captured up to 9,000, and killed about 3,000. As one SAS officer put it: “We were beyond the martyrdom argument, it had become an attritional campaign — we had to take them apart.”

More on McChrystal’s tactics here:

So recollected retired Lieutenant Colonel Richard Williams of the elite British Special Air Service, concerning the worst days in Iraq. In December 2006, Williams told me, there were more than 140 suicide bombings in Baghdad, a level of violence that he likened to the Nazi Blitz on London. In December 2007, there were five. “General McChrystal delivered that statistic,” a feat that not even the recent bombings in Baghdad can detract from. In Iraq, he went on, General Stanley A. McChrystal raised the “hard, nasty business” of counterterrorism—of “black ops”—to an industrial scale, with 10 nightly raids throughout the city, 300 a month, that McChrystal, now 55, regularly joined.


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