Small Wars Journal

Confronting Iran: Securing Iraq's Border (Updated)

Confronting Iran

Securing Iraq's Border:

An Irregular Warfare Concept

By Brigadier General David L. Grange (U.S. Army ret.) and Scott Swanson, MSI

Special to Small Wars Journal

Contributions by Major General John Singlaub (U.S. Army ret.), Billy Waugh (U.S. Army Special Forces ret.), Rowdy Yeats (U.S. Army Special Forces ret.) and Chuck de Caro (U.S. Army Special Forces ret.)



Iran is intentionally employing disruptive, anti-US activities that complicate the peace process in the Iraqi Freedom Theater of operation. Iran's actions kill US personnel, drain resources, and compromise stability in the region. While these actions -- particularly cross-border activities into Iraq -- are a significant menace, international attention to Iran's destabilizing efforts has largely been overshadowed by concerns about its uranium enrichment program, which has garnered the priority for debate, diplomacy, and sanctions. The US could, however, confront Iran's hostile actions in Iraq by addressing their illegal border movements with a regional special operations strategy that can work in conjunction with the nuclear proliferation conflict. Findings from some historical successes and challenges in Special Operations Forces (SOF) efforts during previous conflicts offer possible solutions for the Iraq/Iran border today that can be expanded to other border issues with Iraq/Turkey, Afghanistan/Pakistan, and Iraq/Syria. These border issues are related to Iran's regional influence capabilities and offer an excellent platform for the US to deter some key Iranian endeavors.


The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Forces and their irregular sub-elements, such as al Quds (Jerusalem) Force, enact disruptive activities against western interests and sectarian factions. They coordinate extremist group, insurgent, and resistance actions on behalf of the Iranian regime agenda through a chain of command up to the Ayatollah. The IRGC Quds Force trains foreign personnel in Iran and abroad to organize and participate in terrorism and subversion. The Quds force is allegedly the pre-eminent force behind Iran's involvement in Iraq. Conventional US military or political action in opposition to the Quds, however, has been ineffective against their cloaked operations; autonomous, decentralized, operational networks; and safe havens in Iran.

The US must halt Iran's meddling in Middle Eastern peace initiatives to ensure regional stability and the security of US forces operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there are serious obstacles to operations countering Iran. Any attempt by the US military to engage the Quds across Iran's border would be viewed internationally as a violation of Iran's sovereignty and an attack against Iran. Sanctions and political efforts against Iran have proven to be ineffective. The US must also act swiftly to reduce the mounting pressures of area allies like Turkey from exploiting the Iraqi situation while American hands are tied in the regional commitment.

The proposed solution presented in this report involves an augmentation of SOF along the Iraqi border to thwart illicit arms traffic, infiltration activity, and insurgency support. This solution for the Iraq/Iran border can be applied elsewhere in the region. SOF units have historically provided border security and can again successfully control border traffic. Enhanced capabilities in recon, direct action, information operations, unconventional warfare, and local commerce exchanges—to include animal and drug trade—would further bolster SOF efficacy. More aggressive US "small-war" initiatives can destroy, disrupt, interdict, and deter the elusive Iranian alliances and complex networks supporting Iraq's civil clashes through their recruitment, motivation, procurement, sanctuary, and funds. It is through these support groups that the Quds and other Iranian elements create the ability to operate against the US. SOF is the ideal human element defeat mechanism for this conflict. They are uniquely experienced and attuned to the delicate interaction and trust building required between communities of vying sects, tribes, clans, factions, and families. Some seasoned Special Operations community members compare the Iran/Iraq situation to cross-border challenges posed by North Vietnam's forays into Laos and answered by US Special Observation Group (SOG) operational missions to thwart such movements. The SOG mission in Vietnam and its bordering countries, like the mission of SOF teams operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, was to: interact with locals to enable human factor resistance activities, gather intelligence, hinder enemy infiltration through air strikes, conduct ambushes, mine roads and trails, sabotage trucks and equipment, and capture prisoners. U.S. tactical air, fixed wing and rotary wing gun-ships were authorized to exploit opportunity targets within the full depth of the authorized Area of Operations. By locating the enemy before they had an opportunity to strike, SOG teams were also able to avoid future attacks against U.S. forces. Similar SOG projects could be enhanced immediately in Iraq and Afghanistan to confront Iranian cross-border activities.

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Report Update:

Confronting Iran: U.S. Options

Convened by: American Foreign Policy Council and McCormick Tribune Foundation

Cantigny Park

Wheaton, Illinois

August 22-23, 2007

This report represents the final product of the second working group on Iran organized jointly by the American Foreign Policy Council and the McCormick Tribune Foundation. The first such working group, convened in August 2006, examined the scope of Iran's global influence and potential U.S. responses to it. Confronting Iran: U.S. Options is an extension and amplification of that work - one designed to provide policymakers with concrete, actionable suggestions about how to address the growing challenge to U.S. foreign policy and American interests posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.