By Melinda L. Larson
American Forces Press Service
July 21, 2007 - Success on the ground in Iraq is being overshadowed by spectacular attacks designed to draw attention from good things that are happening there, a U. S. Central Command officer told online journalists and bloggers in a July 19 conference call. "What we see is this violent and desperate enemy, as it will do these singular and very spectacular acts of violence in order to derail or to take the focus off of the good things that are happening," Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert H. Holmes, deputy director of operations for U.S. Central Command, said.
Holmes explained that spectacular acts by al Qaeda and extremists present a paradox.
"The more successful you are, the more spectacular the events," Holmes said. "The spectacular attacks are what I call attacks using weapons for mass effect. And they're designed, in my mind, to do just that, to create this mass effect for spectacular coverage in the media, to create spectacular terror in the mind of a population, to create chasms in national wills, (and) to create doubt in military forces."
For Holmes, there is no doubt that it's an asymmetric battle coalition forces are fighting because there's more than one enemy. He explained to the bloggers that the battlefield contains a combination of resistance, insurgent and terrorist fighters.
"It's a combination of all three -- resistance fighters, insurgents and terrorists -- because in my mind it's threaded through many interest groups that range from, in some cases, organized crime, to ethnic and tribal interest groups, to some external-actor interest groups, to the terrorists. And they're all in a feeding frenzy to have this terrain."
While the principles of war apply, fighting a variety of enemies is a new concept for military leaders, Holmes explained.
"This is a fight where all of the metrics and rules for conventional, linear warfare don't necessarily apply. Many of the principles apply, the principles of war apply, but the metrics that we've been comfortable with for so many years don't necessarily apply in this kind of warfare," the general said.
As the paradigm shifts from linear to asymmetrical warfare, coalition forces on the ground have to remain vigilant and anticipate an enemy's next move, Holmes said.
"The nature of the enemy is to adapt, to flex and to move somewhere else. So we've got to go, 'OK, we're being successful here, but now what does this mean elsewhere so that we don't lose our guard?' And those 'elsewheres' might even be outside of Iraq," Holmes said.
Holmes added that it's the nature of al Qaeda to proliferate.
"In addition to being very violent and very adaptive with its violence, it's very creative; it's very adaptive with regard to its transnational means to proliferate itself and to communicate across the Internet with itself, to train across the Internet and to recruit across the Internet."
While al Qaeda may be signing up new recruits, its leadership has taken a hit in Iraq, Holmes said.
"In some cases we've stripped through the leadership of that, whereas before a cell would have a leader taken out and another person was ready to step up and fill the gap," he said. "What we see in some cases, I think, is that it's becoming more difficult for certain cells to repair."
While al Qaeda in Iraq leadership may be faltering, Holmes said, tribal leaders within the country are stepping up. Holmes acknowledged that some are doubtful of tribal leaders entering the fight, but he said he is hopeful and sees it as a positive sign.
"The tribal leaders are taking up arms, working with the coalition forces, because they hate al Qaeda more than they hate the U.S. and the coalition forces," he said. "That may be, but you know what? If Iraqis are fighting for Iraq, that's OK."
Part of the fight and key to its success is not on the battleground, Holmes said.
"So we are engaged in a hearts-and-minds (struggle). That's clearly important in this kind of endeavor. It's what I like to call a guns-and-roses campaign. And while you've got the guns to do what has to be done to the bad guys, you've got to accompany that with roses that do go out to the hearts and minds," Holmes explained.
The roses Holmes hopes to deliver to the people of Iraq are cultivated from within.
"The majority of us all as people share the same kind of hopes and dreams and desires to have a peaceful and prosperous life. And that's very important," he said.
Holmes was quick to point out to the journalists that the guns-and-roses campaign is not about propaganda, but rather about sharing a common goal.
"I want to be very clear in this. It is not a propaganda campaign to go in and say, 'Made in the U.S.A.; do it our way.' It's to have an international community that shares hopes and desires and prosperity so that we live peacefully."