More on Basra:

Reader J.M. sends this article by a UK army officer on the Basra mission. Except for the idea of running a tank into the building, he says, it was a great thought:

Right up to the point when someone thought a 17-ton armoured vehicle was the right negotiating tactic to spring two British special forces operatives from an Iraqi jail, the fact that two SAS troopers were disguised as locals (and sneaking around in a civvy car) showed the British Army was doing what it has always done, usually pretty well: getting down and dirty with the locals and gathering information.
Well, fair enough, insofar as it's true. However, I can't help but notice that "getting down and dirty with the locals" apparently encompassed shooting Iraqi police. Doubtless this improved their credibility with the local insurgents tremendously -- but the rest of the Iraqi population has every right to take the demonstration just as seriously.

Why, precisely, were they doing this?
The Army is struggling to win the intelligence battle. When your enemy communicates through use-once-and-throw-away mobile phones, or motorbike couriers, when you don't speak the language, and the locals are all related, come from the same village, and won't talk to strangers, gaining actionable intelligence is very hard. Hence the covert ops.
The author then compares this with the American method:
And technology won't help.

Faced with the language problem, the US army bought electronic translators. The British hired teachers.
Indeed they did, and also brought on as many human translators as they could locate or train. They also, however, hired teachers. And not just language teachers: cultural instructors as well. I know a charming young mother in Washington, D.C., who was introduced to me as an "urban warfare instructor." I was a little taken aback by the introduction, given that she didn't seem to have the build for urban warfighting, so I later asked her just what it was she had taught. It turned out that the Army had sought her out for roleplaying exercises with troops heading to Iraq. A Muslim from the Middle East herself, she was hired to teach them what to expect and how to deal properly with the cultures involved.

We'll return to that in a moment.
When your threat is a man with an AK47, spy satellites aren't going to tell you that someone has moved into the empty house next to the centre-forward's cousin.

This is nothing more than good old-fashioned policing - the Bobby on the Beat, albeit with a 155mm howitzer on call. What the British Army - and even more so the American forces - need is far fewer Rambos and a lot more Jack Warners.
The "Bobby on the Beat" is a little out of place in Iraq today. I don't see a future for this particular sort of SAS-style "old fashioned policing" either. The fellow has diagnosed the problem nicely, but has no remedy to hand.

There is an intelligence gathering method that works. It starts with building personal relationships, which in turn starts with treating people properly. The US Army knew that years ago -- that's why they hired instructors, like my kindly friend in D.C., to train deploying infantrymen. The dividends are paying off in Mosul, as Yon's pieces demonstrate, and throughout the USMC's AO.

The US military is using local tips, gathered from people who've decided they have a stake in the new Iraq. They've decided that partially because we've been winning on the military front, so the insurgents can't hold territory or guarantee peace. We've also been doing it because people have been building personal relationships, built on respect and honesty -- not sneaking around in sneakers and shooting your allies.

I hope the British army produces a better explanation than this for the little contretemps in Basra.

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