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The Associated Press March 29, 2003

Suicide attacks another threat to U.S. forces in Iraq

By Leigh Strope

U.S. forces now have another worry - guarding against suicide attacks by Iraqis. For decades, the U.S. military has been a target of this unconventional and low-tech threat.

Coalition forces must adapt to a wave of fanatical tactics promised by Iraq to help avoid a prolonged war. From World War II to Lebanon, if history is any guide, the results could be mixed.

"I don't think the coalition can afford to let suicide attacks be a tactic," said Mark Burgess, an analyst with the Center for Defense Information. "People are going to start thinking about Lebanon."

The Iraqis probably already have.

America's peacekeeping mission in Lebanon ended within months after a truck packed with explosives drove into the U.S. Marine base at Beirut International Airport and exploded in the early morning on Oct. 23, 1983, as the troops slept. The attack killed 241 American servicemen and leveled the base.

Another attack provoking a muted American response - and emboldening its aggressors - was the USS Cole.

In 2000, the United States sent FBI agents, not troops to Yemen after a boat filled with explosives rammed the destroyer, killing 17 U.S. sailors.

Those and other confrontations have made adversaries think that "Americans are not warriors, that if you bloody the Americans, they'll quit," said James Carafano, senior fellow at the Center for Strategy and Budgetary Assessments.

Against the world's superpower, Iraq had no other feasible strategy but to attempt guerrilla tactics.

"You have no advantage, so you basically try to hold on by creating the impression you can outlast them," Carafano said. "It has nothing to do with operationally significant missions. It's designed to demonstrate that Americans are vulnerable, to try to turn world opinion."

Suicide attacks also represent desperation, said Loren Thompson, military analyst with the Lexington Institute.

"It can be quite devastating psychologically to its intended victims, but it seldom can be used as a sustained method of winning wars," he said.

In World War II, Japanese kamikaze pilots were a tremendous problem, sinking ships and wreaking damage. "But to a certain degree, the U.S. naval forces had to live with it," Burgess said. "They adapted."

U.S. military leaders promised Saturday that suicide attacks would not change how American-led forces proceed in the war, except that they would take more care in vulnerable locations such as checkpoints.

Col. Will Grimsley, commander of the brigade that was hit, said force protection remained the highest priority, "but that doesn't mean we're going to back into little holes and hide."

"I think it only tightens the resolve of why we're here," he said.

As a result of the attack, soldiers will be much more cautious when approaching and dealing with civilians, some of whom may be killed because of miscommunication, experts said.

The four American soldiers were killed when a taxi stopped and the driver summoned for help. When soldiers approached, the car exploded.

"Everything the Iraqis have been doing has been intended to make it more difficult for the Iraqi military and Iraqi civilians to surrender to Americans," said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org. "It's going to make Americans nervous around all Iraqis. With Americans consistently afraid, the fear will become mutual."

That could prolong the war. But, Pike said, suicide attacks have "little prospect of altering the final outcome."


Copyright 2003, The Associated Press