Saturday, November 05, 2005

Route Irish - On A Road To Nowhere

The Washington Post today has an entirely uncritical story, under the byline of Jackie Spinner but in reality parroted by said writer on behalf of the Pentagon. It tells the story of how the most dangerous road in Iraq - the road from the airport to the Green Zone - has become the safest.

It used to be the most dangerous highway in Iraq, five miles of bomb-blasted road between Baghdad International Airport and the capital cityscape. It was a white-knuckle ride, coming or going. To reach Baghdad or leave it, you had to survive the airport road first.

For 2 1/2 years, the road was, in many ways, a symbol of the U.S. failure to secure Iraq. Military convoys roared past in a frantic attempt to escape the looming dangers of suicide bombers, grenades, rockets and booby-trapped litter. But insurgents' relentless attacks claimed a steady toll.

...Then, two months ago, the killings stopped. In October, one person was wounded on the road and no one was killed, according to the U.S. Army, which also calculated the April deaths. The turnaround was owed to simple, boots-on-the-ground military tactics, Army officials said.

The article quotes Lt. Col. Michael Harris, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 6th Battalion, 8th Calvary Regiment and the man who was given the job of securing "Route Irish" as the road is known as saying "we've kept up a vigilant presence".

That presence involves his entire battalion and at least one Iraqi Army battalion (the article isn't specific on how many more, if any) :

Harris started by slowing down the convoys, forcing soldiers to look out and see the passing landscape. Then he sent troops into the surrounding neighborhoods. Barriers went up, preventing cars and trucks from reaching the airport road unless they passed through a military checkpoint. The Iraqi army set up positions and stayed 24 hours a day.

Now admitedly the turnaround has been spectacular in and off itself:

Between April and June, 14 car bombs went off along the airport road, called Route Irish by the military. There were 48 roadside bombs, officially known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, and 80 small-arms attacks. Sixteen people were killed.

In the past two months, there have been no car bombs and nine IEDs. One Iraqi soldier has been killed.

But that turnaround has been attained by the constant presence of over 1200 U.S. and Iraqi troops with armored vehicles along a six mile stretch of road right next to the U.S.' biggest base in Iraq and all the artillery support, air support and ease of logistics that entails. What is truly noteworthy is that it's taken this long to accomplish!

And all it has really accomplished is to move the insurgents off to other stretches of road, such as the thirteen miles from Mahmudiya to Iskandariya - a road which starts some fifteen miles South of Baghdad and is considered by many to be the new most dangerous stretch of road in Iraq, a place where numerous journalists, soldiers and contractors have been ambushed, robbed and, often, killed.

Let us put this report in perspective, then. There are over 25,000 miles of road network in Iraq (that's the military's estimate - the International Road Federation says 45,000), and reports have come up for some time saying that this network has practically come to a halt because of a deterioration in security and the closure of main roads by U.S. forces. To afford the same level of safety by the same troop presence over every mile of that road network as has been attained on the airport road would require, at a conservative estimate, 200 troops per mile or at least 5 million U.S. and Iraqi troops! Even just covering the major routes would denude the cities of security and bring an end to having manpower for new sweeps of AlQaida controlled territory.

This is supposed to be good news? Imposing security in Iraq is like trying to hold sand...something always leaks.

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