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Are Attacks by Insurgents on the Rise?

Aired December 2, 2003 - 09:08   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has confirmed that a U.S. soldier was killed this morning. The convoy he was riding in was hit by an improvised explosive device just south of Samarra. That follows a violent weekend in which at least 46 Iraqi insurgents were killed by U.S. forces.
Are attacks by insurgents on the rise? CNN analyst Ken Pollack of the Saban Center at Brookings joins us from Washington D.C. He recently returned from Iraq, where he spent some time with the troops as well.

Ken, good morning. It's nice to see you. Thanks for joining us.

KEN POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: Thank you, Soledad. Good to be back.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much.

Let's talk a little bit about this most recent ambush in Samarra, and also the big ambush that took place over the weekend. Anything that you think is note worthy about this attack? Many people have spoken about the scope, the size, the firepower used. What do you think is important?

POLLACK: I think the most important thing that came out of that ambush over the weekend, the thing we need to focus on, is the intensity of the Iraqi effort. That really was striking to me.

Over in Iraq, talking about lots of U.S. soldiers, one of the things that really stood out was their own sense that the Iraqis were mostly making a very half-hearted effort. There were 30 to 35 attacks a day, but most of those consisted of land mines or these improvised explosive devices left by the road. Even the ambushes that they faced tended to be an RPG, or a grenade thrown into a Humvee, some small- arms fire. And then the Iraqis would bug out quickly as they could.

What the American soldiers said repeatedly was these guys were not willing to stand and fight and die with us, and that's made their attacks over the course of the past six or seven months rather ineffective. As one sergeant said to me, a veteran of the Vietnam War, if these guys were the Viet Cong, we'd have 100 dead a day. So what's striking about the attack in Samarrah is for the first time, as best we can tell, these guys were willing to stand, and fight and die trying to attack a large U.S. force. If that's the pattern we see in the future, then we're going to have a really tough time from here on out.

O'BRIEN: At the same time, some military analysts said that the -- this attack, this large-scale attack, was in some ways a good thing from a U.S. perspective -- they tried, they failed, it won't happen again. Do you agree with that analysis? Or as you say, do you see indications they are attempting these large-scale sort of more -- I guess more willing to die in these kind of attacks is indicative of a bigger problem, isn't it?

POLLACK: Yes, I absolutely think that the -- if there is a trend toward greater willingness of the Iraqi insurgents to fight and die in these kind of ambushes, that's a very bad trend for the United States. I mean, certainly it is true that the Iraqi insurgents will probably look at this and say, you know what? Maybe it wasn't such a great idea for to us take on a convoy with four Abrams tanks and four Bradleys. But the fact they're willing to make this kind of effort, that's really something new, and it's a very important break with the past.

We don't know if this is going to be the trend, but if it is the trend, it suggests a much more determined adversary than we faced so far.

O'BRIEN: Ken, we don't have a ton of time, but there are two things that I want to get to. You spoke while you were in Iraq with some civil affairs personnel who were out and about in the country talking to people, and you also spoke to some troops. So give me a sense of what you're hearing on both of those areas.

POLLACK: Sure, first start with the troops. The troops kind of innately believe that what they're doing is important, but in truth to tell, they're not really certain why. I don't think the that Bush administration has done a terrific job of explaining to our forces in Iraq why it is so important what they're doing, why it's important that this mission succeed. They need a better sense of that.

The civil affairs personnel -- these are U.S. military civil affairs personnel -- in some ways, they may be the most important people we have in Iraq, and they're doing an excellent job. But what they say is it's all trial and error for them. They are making this up as they go along. There aren't enough of them, and they're not getting the kind of direction and assistance they need from a higher level to kind of coordinate their efforts and learn from other people's mistakes.

O'BRIEN: Ken Pollack, joining us this morning. Ken, nice to have you back. Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

POLLACK: Thank you, Soledad.


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