Friday, January 27, 2006

File Under: Hearts and Minds

Something tells me that tactics such as these could, perhaps, backfire, no?

The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of "leveraging" their husbands into surrender, U.S. military documents show.

In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. In the case of a second detainee, one American colonel suggested to another that they catch her husband by tacking a note to the family’s door telling him "to come get his wife."
Aside from the obvious, these decisions betray a supreme ignorance of Iraqi culture and societal relationships. Because tribal bonds are deemed extremely important in Iraqi society - and beyond that familial ties are even stronger - actions such as these will likely have significant negative repercussions in a much broader population pool.

I mean, a nursing mother? That detail in particular likely caused a visceral reaction in the exact population we are trying to win over. Obviously, no culture would take kindly to such aggression, but in Iraqi culture in particular, targeting women in such a way is beyond provocative.

In one memo, a civilian Pentagon intelligence officer described what happened when he took part in a raid on an Iraqi suspect’s house in Tarmiya, northwest of Baghdad, on May 9, 2004. The raid involved Task Force (TF) 6-26, a secretive military unit formed to handle high-profile targets.

“During the pre-operation brief it was recommended by TF personnel that if the wife were present, she be detained and held in order to leverage the primary target’s surrender,” wrote the 14-year veteran officer.

He said he objected, but when they raided the house the team leader, a senior sergeant, seized her anyway.

“The 28-year-old woman had three young children at the house, one being as young as six months and still nursing,” the intelligence officer wrote. She was held for two days and was released after he complained, he said. [...]

Of this case, command spokesman Johnson said he could not judge, months later, the factors that led to the woman’s detention.
The second incident described in the article:

The second episode, in June 2004, is found in sketchy detail in e-mail exchanges among six U.S. Army colonels, discussing an undisclosed number of female detainees held in northern Iraq by the Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division.

The first message, from a military police colonel, advised staff officers of the U.S. northern command that the Iraqi police would not take control of the jailed women without charges being brought against them.

In a second e-mail, a command staff officer asked an officer of the unit holding the women, “What are you guys doing to try to get the husband — have you tacked a note on the door and challenged him to come get his wife?”

Two days later, the brigade’s deputy commander advised the higher command, “As each day goes by, I get more input that these gals have some info and/or will result in getting the husband.”

He went on, “These ladies fought back extremely hard during the original detention. They have shown indications of deceit and misinformation.”

The command staff colonel wrote in reply, referring to a commanding general, “CG wants the husband.”

The released e-mails stop there, and the women’s eventual status could not be immediately determined.

Of this episode, Johnson said, "It is clear the unit believed the females detained had substantial knowledge of insurgent activity and warranted being held."
If this woman was really detained because of her "substantial knowledge," then why the discussion about using her as bait/leverage to get at the husband? And even if this is true, it might be worth considering whether or not the intelligence value derived from a female detainee such as this would be worth the cost in terms of hearts and minds calculations.

Especially because of the image most Iraqis have of what American-run detention centers look like. As they are no doubt teaching in all those new counterinsurgency classrooms, Abu Ghraibs have their costs. Detaining women and using them to put pressure on their husbands too.

(cross-posted at American Footprints)

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