In Baghdad, Army Adapts to Try to Win Over Civilians
BAGHDADThe Army is adapting tactics and technology to try to avoid needlessly making enemies among the civilian population as soldiers hunt insurgents and militia gunmen. On a recent raid, that meant knocking on a home's door rather than breaking it down and humiliating the occupants. And soldiers employed a new high-tech identity-verification device to avoid detaining Iraqis not suspected of being combatants.
The new measures were used during Operation Arrowhead Strike 9, a 34-day effort to clear insurgents and armed extremists from two largely Sunni neighborhoods in West Baghdad, Ameriyah, and Mansour.
Just before dawn one day this week, U.S. soldiers from the 3/2 Stryker Brigade skirted piles of trash and obstacles that residents had put in the streets to deter car bombs. Following his soldiers into a two-story concrete house, brigade commander Col. Steve Townsend noted their efforts to use "soft entry" methods that avoid breaking down doors.
"We have modified our tactics over time," he said. "We try to avoid alienating people, since many of the searches turn out to be dry holes."
Friend or Foe?
Inside the house, a father smoked nervously as he answered soldiers' questions. His family huddled on cushions nearby. He professed to know nothing about two dead bodies, bound and gagged, with bullets to the head, that lay in the street outside the housea clear sign that all is not well in this corner of the Ameriyah neighborhood. The father gave several different explanations about the stash of medical equipment found in a back room. Various tips indicated that enemy fighters might have been treated at the house.
In earlier days, the man might have been taken away for further questioning. It is hard to tell friend from foe in this kind of conflict, and often the innocent have been rounded up along with insurgents. That has made many Iraqis fearful of the Americans and has fueled hostility when some people are wrongly detained for an extended time. In other cases, insurgents have been caught and released in an often frustrating cycle as soldiers try to piece together solid evidence of criminal activity and the culprits' identities. Now, the brigade carries small hand-held devices to collect retinal scans, fingerprints, and photographs of suspects that can be used to determine whether they are wanted men.
The device is called HIDE, an acronym for Handheld Interagency Identification Detection Equipment. The data on an individual are uploaded into a master database known as the Biometric Automated Toolset. If a suspect is already in the system, a red light will go on in the hand-held device. The father in Ameriyah did not light up the scanner.
Lower Death Rate
Townsend says that Operation Arrowhead Strike 9 has succeeded in bringing down the number of Iraqi deaths in the Mansour neighborhood and especially in Ameriyah, where several Sunni insurgent groups are known to operatesometimes clashing with one another. Some 120 Iraqis were detained over the past 34 days, of whom 46 were held. Several hundred weapons, tons of munitions, and bomb-making materials were also seized.