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4 Spidermen and exploding
frisbees By Nick Turse
So you think that American troops,
fighting in the urban maze of Baghdad's huge
Shi'ite slum, Sadr City, add up to nothing more
than a horrible mistake, an unexpected fiasco? The
Pentagon begs to differ. For years now, US war
planners have believed that guerrilla warfare is
the future - not against Che Guevarist
focos in the countryside of some
recalcitrant, possibly-oil-rich land, but in
growing urban "jungles" in the vast slum cities
that increasingly dot the planet.
this urban-labyrinth description, for instance.
"Indigenous forces deploying mortars transported
by local vehicles and ready
rapidly deploy, shoot and recover are common ...
[Meanwhile,] an infantry company as part of the US
rapid reaction forces has been tasked with the ...
mission to secure several objectives including the
command and control cell within a 100 square block
urban area of the capital ..."
Baghdad? It's certainly possible, since the
passage was written in 2004 with urban warfare in
Iraq's capital already an increasingly grim
reality for Washington's military planners. But
the actual report - by an official from the
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA),
the Pentagon's blue-skies research outfit -
focused on cities-of-the-future, of 2025 to be
exact, as part of "a new DARPA thrust into Urban
Fear of urban warfare has long
been an aspect of American military planning.
Planners remember urban killing zones of the past
where US forces sometimes suffered grievous
casualties, including in Hue, South Vietnam's old
imperial capital, where "devastating" losses were
incurred by the marines in 1968; in the Black-Hawk
Down debacle in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993, where
local militias inflicted 60% casualties on Army
Rangers; and, of course, in the still-ongoing
catastrophe in Iraq's cities.
military planners cannot have been shocked to find
themselves fighting in the streets and alleyways
of Baghdad (as well as Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul,
Najaf and Tal Afar) these past years. Prior to the
Bush administration's 2003 invasion of Iraq,
American newspapers were full of largely
military-leaked or inspired fears that, as Rajiv
Chandrasekaran wrote in the Washington Post in
late September 2002, Saddam Hussein "would respond
to a US invasion by attempting to ... draw US
forces into high-risk urban warfare". It was
feared that the taking of "fortress Baghdad", as
then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld termed it,
might prove costly indeed.
On April 8,
2003, however, the Washington Post reported that
"U.S. Army troops rolled into Baghdad" and
conventional wisdom in and out of the
administration held that "victory" - the very name
given to the first major base the U.S. established
in Iraq, "Camp Victory" right at the edge of
Baghdad International Airport - was close at hand.
That was then, of course. Last October 8,
exactly three years and six months later, the Post
confirmed that the worst pre-invasion fears of
military planners had, in fact, come true - even
if somewhat belatedly and with Saddam Hussein
imprisoned somewhere in the confines of Camp
Victory. The "number of US troops wounded in
Iraq," wrote reporter Ann Scott Tyson, "has surged
to its highest monthly level in nearly two years
as American GIs fight block-by-block in Baghdad."
In fact, aside from the huge Sunni
stronghold of al-Anbar province, Baghdad had, by
then, become the deadliest location for US troops
in Iraq and urban warfare in a slum city,
involving snipers, improvised explosive devices,
suicide car bombs and ambushes of all sorts had,
it seemed, become America's military fate.
DARPA's future war on the urban poor
In his tour de force Planet of
Slums, Mike Davis observes, "The Pentagon's
best minds have dared to venture where most United
Nations, World Bank or State Department types fear
to go ... [T]hey now assert that the 'feral,
failed cities' of the Third World - especially
their slum outskirts - will be the distinctive
battle space of the 21st century." Pentagon
war-fighting doctrine, he notes, "is being
reshaped accordingly to support a low-intensity
world war of unlimited duration against
criminalized segments of the urban poor".
In fact, this past October, the US Army
issued its latest "urban operations" manual.
"Given the global population trends and the likely
strategies and tactics of future threats," it
declares, "army forces will likely conduct
operations in, around and over urban areas - not
as a matter of fate, but as a deliberate choice
linked to national security objectives and
strategy, and at a time, place and method of the
deprivation and poor housing, the hallmarks of the
urban slum, are, the manual asserts, what makes
"urban areas potential sources of unrest" and
thus, "[i]ncreases the likelihood of the army's
involvement in stability operations". And "idle"
urban youth (long a target of security forces in
the US homeland), loosed in the future slum city
from the "traditional social controls" of "village
elders and clan leaders" and prey to manipulation
by "nonstate actors" draw particular concern from
the manual's authors.
Given the assumed
need to be in the urban Iraqs of the future, the
question for the US military becomes a practical
one: how to deal with these uppity children of the
Third World. That's where