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Iraqis Borrowing Hezbollah's Tactics
Long Island Newsday
August 12, 2005
Borrowing Hezbollah's Tactics
By Mohamad Bazzi, Middle East Correspondent
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Iraqi insurgents are using battlefield tactics pioneered by the Lebanese group Hezbollah during its 18-year guerrilla war with Israel, according to Iraqi and Lebanese officials.
Since early this year, the guerrillas in Iraq have been copying Hezbollah's techniques in building roadside bombs and carrying out sophisticated ambushes, the officials said. They are also studying how Hezbollah learned to improve its effectiveness, strategy and weaponry. And the Iraqis are starting to videotape their attacks and distribute them to the media, a tactic used by Hezbollah to great effect.
"From the way the Iraqis are building their bombs, you could tell that they've studied Hezbollah's strategy," said a Lebanese security official who asked not to be named. "The bombs are being adapted to take advantage of American weaknesses, in the same way that Hezbollah adapted its bombs against the Israelis."
Two Iraqi intelligence officials involved in battling the insurgency said they also had seen evidence of Hezbollah tactics being put to use in Iraq. But the officials said it is unlikely that Hezbollah, a Shia Muslim group, is directly assisting or sharing its knowledge with Iraqi insurgents, who are mainly Sunnis.
The insurgents include members of Saddam Hussein's ousted regime, which was hostile to Hezbollah, and foreign Sunni militants who view all Shias as heretics. The insurgents have killed several thousand Shia civilians in Iraq, and Hezbollah leaders have repeatedly condemned those attacks.
Iraqi guerrillas are likely studying Hezbollah tactics through the dozens of videotapes and pamphlets made by the Shia group during its battle with Israel. In May 2000, Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon after a 22-year occupation. The Israelis pulled out largely because of losses they sustained during Hezbollah's insurgency, which began in 1982.
Through the mid-1980s, Hezbollah relied on young suicide bombers to crash cars into Israeli bases and patrols. But by the early '90s, Hezbollah adopted new methods: assassinations, ambushes and roadside bombs.
Among the Hezbollah tactics being used by Iraqi insurgents, according to the officials:
Stacked mines. On Aug. 3, a huge explosion destroyed a 25-ton armored U.S. troop carrier as it drove in a convoy near the western Iraqi town of Haditha, killing all 14 Marines inside. The bomb consisted of three anti-tank mines stacked together. That technique of stacking mines was used often by Hezbollah to destroy armored Israeli vehicles.
Shaped charges. These are powerful explosives that have been used extensively against U.S. forces in recent months. The devices combine an explosive charge with a curved chunk of metal such as copper. The blast shapes the metal into a molten slug that can penetrate armor.
Swarming attacks. Iraqi insurgents blast several rocket-propelled grenades at a single lightly armored U.S. vehicle. The multiple rockets, usually fired one after the other, pierce the armor.
Hidden roadside bombs. Hezbollah refined the technique of concealing bombs so they would be more difficult to clear off the side of roads by Israeli bulldozers. For example, Hezbollah fighters placed explosives inside fake plastic rocks, which could be bought in Beirut garden stores for about $10. They also buried bombs under gravel or asphalt. Both methods are now being used against U.S. troops in Iraq.
U.S. commanders have seen Iraqi bomb tactics evolve in much the same way the Israelis saw Hezbollah advance its techniques. Soon after the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, U.S. troops found explosives hidden in trash bins, buried along roadsides and even concealed under roadkill. So U.S. forces began clearing roadsides and cutting down trees. In response, the insurgents worked to make their bombs deadlier and far more difficult to detect.
"They're using low-technology methods to fight the most advanced military in the world," said one of the Iraqi officials. "They study each attack, and they learn from their mistakes."
There are some Hezbollah tactics that Iraqi insurgents have not yet replicated successfully. Hezbollah greatly increased the impact of its attacks by videotaping them through hidden cameramen and distributing the tapes to news agencies. The videos were often shown on the nightly TV news in Israel, and that contributed to public pressure on the Israeli government to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
"Hezbollah used those videos to undermine the Israelis' morale," said the Lebanese official. "They fought a secondary battle in the media and they won it."
Iraqi insurgents have videotaped some attacks and posted the footage on Internet sites or sent it to Arabic TV stations. But the tapes are mostly blurred and grainy, and they rarely reach U.S. audiences.
The guerrilla war in southern Lebanon was much smaller in scale than the Iraqi insurgency. At any one time, according to Lebanese officials, Hezbollah maintained about 1,000 full-time fighters. Israel usually kept 1,500 troops in the south, backed up by a 2,500-member proxy militia, known as the South Lebanon Army. Over 18 years of fighting, Israel lost several hundred soldiers, while Hezbollah lost about 1,200 guerrillas.
By comparison, at least 1,843 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq since the invasion. There are no reliable figures of how many insurgents have been killed, but estimates range as high as several thousand.
There are an average of 70 attacks a day against U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote last month in a statement for a government court case. And with insurgents relying more heavily on roadside bombs than street battles in recent months, they have been able to cut down on their own casualties while inflicting greater damage on U.S. forces.
"Our assessments indicate that the lethality of the attacks is on average increasing," Myers wrote.
The most lethal attacks are those involving roadside bombs, which the U.S. military calls improvised explosive devices. The ratio of U.S. combat deaths blamed on these devices increased from 26 percent last year to 51 percent in June, according to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
In January, insurgent bombs packed with as much as 500 pounds of explosives destroyed two of the most heavily armored U.S. vehicles: an Abrams tank and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. With bombs rising in power and sophistication, the Pentagon has created an IED Task Force to find technological solutions.
But the Lebanese official noted that insurgents will likely develop their own low-tech countermeasures. He recalled how Hezbollah fighters used to run farm animals across fields to thwart Israeli motion sensors.
"There's a major lesson of guerrilla war," he said. "The insurgents always adapt."