Monday, December 08, 2003

Isreali Advisors and and Rumsfeld's Secret Army in Iraq

"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 assassination.

. . .

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 coöperation” on Iraq.)

. . .

But many of the officials I spoke to were skeptical of the Administration’s plans. Many of them fear that the proposed operation—called “preëmptive 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 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.”


Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker

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