'Raid and aid' tactic by British forces
Troops hand out leaflets in suburbs to reassure civilians
Thursday April 3, 2003
British troops on the outskirts of Basra were yesterday distributing leaflets in an attempt to reassure local people that their intentions were benign.
"This time we won't abandon you," the sheets said, in a reference to 1991 when the Shias were encouraged by the US and Britain to rise up against Saddam Hussein only to be let down as their revolt was brutally quashed.
The reverse of the leaflet, written in Arabic, reads: "People of Basra, we are here to liberate the people of Iraq. Our enemy is the regime and not the people. We need your help to identify the enemy to rebuild Iraq. English speakers please come forward. We will stay as long as it takes."
British special forces, Royal Marine commandos, troops from 7 Armoured Brigade - the Desert Rats - and gunners from the Royal Horse Artillery have been engaged in "raid and aid" tactics, attacking hostile forces while trying to make friends with civilians. The problem comes when they are mingled or when troops cannot tell one from another.
"The way we go about solving this problem of fighting in cities is A, very delicate, and B, very subtle," Air Marshal Brian Burridge, commander of British forces, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "It is a question of developing absolute situational awareness, as we say in the jargon, so that we know what is going on.
"For example, in Basra we know that the Ba'athist militia are terrorising the people; we know that they are using death squads in order to make some of the regular forces who have already deserted return to their equipment," the air marshal said. "It is a question of understanding where they are operating from, focusing on that, and thereby giving the people confidence."
For more than a week, British troops have tried to secure Basra, Iraq's second largest city, whose capture, it had been hoped, would deal a blow to President Saddam's regime and encourage Iraqi commanders elsewhere in the country, including Baghdad, to give up.
The 25,000 or so British troops and marines in southern Iraq have secured the deep water port of Umm Qasr, an important base for the supplies of humanitarian aid. They have also secured the oilfields of Rumaila to the west, and the Faw peninsula to the south-east, according to military sources.
Towns to the south of Basra and the city's western and southern outskirts have also been taken by British forces. However, pockets of Iraqi fighters continue to present a threat: British troops came under mortar fire yesterday.
British commanders are not using the army's handbook on fighting in built-up areas, which tells them to take towns block by block. In Basra, a senior officer said, the plan is to "separate the forces of the regime from the local population".
He added: "We need to establish we are here to stay, to show we can operate at will and demonstrate to those controlling the city they are losing their grip on the population. It is a battle of minds as much as physical control."
British and American special forces are gathering intelligence in the city, as well as interrogating captured Iraqi troops and Ba'ath party officials, to try to minimise civilian casualties.
Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, at US central command in Qatar, described how "in one particular encounter, UK forces captured a motorcycle courier ... The motorcycle courier and crew had maps in their possession which showed artillery positions".
He added: "The UK forces went to find the artillery positions - found them, destroyed all their artillery and also found three other missiles and destroyed those as well."
Overnight, US aircraft dropped 16 2,000lb laser-guided bombs on an intelligence compound in Basra, US officials said.
The British tactic is not to surround Basra, but to allow the estimated 1,000 Fedayeen and other Iraqi special forces in the city of 1.5 million people an escape route to the east.
Meanwhile, hundreds of civilians continued to stream out of the city. However, the exodus appeared to have slowed from previous days and, according to a British military spokesman, civilians were reporting increasingly brutal measures by Iraqi government forces to stop people fleeing, including one case of a woman being publicly hanged.
They said Saddam loyalists were forcing Iraqi troops to fight using death threats, shooting people if they tried to flee, using children as young as five as human shields, and hiding armed fighters in schools.
On the "hearts and minds" front, British troops started to distribute thousands of boxes of children's medicines seized in a raid on a militia headquarters in Zubayr, near Basra.
But water remains a priority. Troops from the Royal Engineers have built a
pipe from the Kuwaiti border to Umm Qasr. Water is being distributed from
barrels on the back of trucks.
How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?
The WorldPeace Banner
To the WorldPeace Peace Page