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April 24, 2008

"Special Groups"
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I am very skeptical of the broad assertions such as the one below.  Sort of makes you wonder if the definition of an Iranian supported "Special Group" is a Shi'a group that launches attacks against American forces. 

Senior officers in the American division that secures the capital said that 73 percent of fatal and other harmful attacks on American troops in the past year were caused by roadside bombs planted by so-called “special groups.”

The American military uses that term to describe groups trained by Iran that fight alongside the Mahdi Army but do not obey the orders of the militia’s figurehead, the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, to observe a cease-fire.  But Col. Allen Batschelet, the Baghdad division’s chief of staff, conceded that there was overlap between the groups.

“These two groups are so amorphous; they go back and forth between one another,” the colonel said at a briefing in Baghdad.

“We see evidence of a guy who might be working very hard inside Jaish al-Mahdi to present himself as a mainstream, kind of compliant person,” he said, using the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army, “yet we have other indicators that will show him kind of working the night job doing special group, criminal kind of stuff.”

Is the intelligence really that good that you can tell the difference between an attack by JAM and an attack by the "Special Groups."  Iran is supporting all the main Shi'a factions in Iraq.  Sometimes less is more.  If you really want to make the case that Special Groups are the greatest threat, go ahead an make it.  But when you start throwing out these types of specific numbers without genuine backup, it really undermines your credibility.


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I'd like to know where they get all this supposed intelligence about "training", Iranian or otherwise. What does that mean? I bring this up because we have seen a consistent pattern among US military and security people in which they either overestimate or intentionally exaggerate the organization and training levels of their adversaries. It wasn't too long ago that the US government was convinced that there just had to be strong ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam's government, or other governments in the region, because no group could succeed in carrying out such successful attacks with "global reach" unless they were the beneficiaries of significant "state sponsorship". Yeah, right.

This attribution of great power, skill and organization to the enemy is the mirror reflection of one's own vanity. The US officer thinks, "I am a highly trained professional in the world's greatest military organization. I'm awesome. Thus if someone is succeeding in inflicting pain on me and my men, he must be equally awesome, or close to it."

All along the chain of command, there is a built in incentive to exaggerate the training levels of one's adversaries. It is very embarrassing to admit one is being wounded by successful hits from some self-trained schmucks with a few guns and bombs, who are just learning on the fly how to score in the asymmetrical warfare game, or who are not really soldiers at all, but just some local hoods out to protect smuggling routes and extortion rackets. How much more excusable it all sounds if those enemies are highly skilled professionals, graduated from Mad Mullah Terrorist War College.

Fictional Reporter - "73% of the 698 U.S. dead in the year to the end of April? Really, 509 dead? So why, exactly, was the Surge aimed at Al Qaeda then?"

2nd Fictional Reporter - "73% ? Really? When did the military finally work out there were so many Shiite special groups in Anbar and other Sunni areas?"

It's a nonsense figure some guy pulled out of his ass for propaganda purposes and the "and other harmful attacks" is in there to provide plausible deniability of outright lying. I refer you to iCasualties map of US casualties by province. And to the same websites count of fatalities by IED, which reveals that only 410 U.S. fatalities during the period were due to IEDs (59%).

Regards, C

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