U.S. reportedly mulling elite hit-squads for Iraq


Sun Jan 9, 2005 03:16 AM GMT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Pentagon is debating whether to set up elite hit-squads to target leaders of the Iraq insurgency in a new strategy based on tactics used against leftist guerrillas in Central America 20 years ago, Newsweek magazine reports.

One proposal would send U.S. Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads of hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, Newsweek said on Saturday, citing military insiders familiar with the discussions.

The squads may operate across the border in Syria, Newsweek said on its web site, but added it was unclear whether they would assassinate leaders or be involved in "snatch" operations.

The magazine said the plan is being called "the Salvador option" after strategy instigated during the Reagan administration's battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s.

Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers.

"What everyone agrees is that we can't just go on as we are," one unidentified senior military officer told Newsweek. "We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defence. And we are losing."

Newsweek said Pentagon sources emphasize there has been no decision to launch the special squads. The Defence Department had no comment on the Newsweek article.

Amid concern over a bold and growing insurgency, the Pentagon is sending retired Gen. Gary Luck to Iraq next week to review overall military operations.