Monday, July 18, 2005

Nerf War and Real War: IRA vs. Al Qaeda

Gary Brecher:

Q: How can you blow up London without casualties?

A: Phone in lots of warnings, hours before the bombs are due to go off.

That's what the PIRA started doing in the late 1980s. To cause maximum property damage, they started using trucks packed with fertilizer-based explosives and also equipped with booby traps, so any attempt to defuse the bomb would set it off and vaporize the bomb experts working on it. In the late 1980s you could always tell an IRA man: he was the customer who ordered ten tons of fertilizer even though he lived in a London highrise.

The PIRA's new London cadre was English-raised, so they didn't have that giveaway Belfast accent. They were classic urban guerrilla material: disciplined, young guys who held day jobs and didn't talk.

Their first success with this kind of bomb came on April 10, 1992. A PIRA man drove a truck packed with more than a ton of fertilizer bomb mix to the London financial district, parked it and walked away. No worries about parking tickets, and any towtruck driver who messed with it would be real, real sorry.

Then PIRA operatives started calling in warnings about the bomb, starting hours before it was set to go off. They even called radio and TV stations because they were afraid if they only called Scotland Yard's Special Branch, the spooks there might not pass on the warning, since any casualties hurt the PIRA and helped the Brits.

The warnings were passed on, the financial district was evacuated, and the bomb went off on schedule. Some of the most expensive corporate real estate in Central London turned into crushed glass and confetti. The financial cost to the UK was huge. The claims for bomb damage helped put Lloyd's of London in financial trouble for the first time in history. And there were other costs, like the slowdown in British economic performance when every package and car has to be searched, and the thousands of non-producing security jobs you have to create.

Next year they did it again, with the same MO: huge truck bomb, financial district of London, lots of warnings. And it worked. Only one death, and that was a photographer who went back into the danger zone without permission. It was total victory for the PIRA: a deadly blow for the UK economy with no bloody-civilian photos in the papers to ruin it.

The PIRA leadership figured they'd made a point and tried something even more radical: they declared a ceasefire. Their leaders, like Gerry Adams, were arguing that propaganda was the way to go -- butter up Clinton, get Slick Willie to force the Brits out. They said bombs were a bad look, and figured they could come across as peaceniks if they quit.

But the Brits were in no mood to make a deal. Prime Minister John Major didn't want to be the man who lost Ulster, so he ignored the ceasefire. It was like the opposite of that old line, "what if they held a war and nobody came?" This was like, what if one side declares peace and gets snubbed?

After 17 months of boring ol' peace, the PIRA decided to send a little reminder that they hadn't gone totally soft. They started a new bombing campaign, this time with no attacks in Ulster at all. Their networks in England were so strong they could make life in London unbearable without fouling their own neighborhoods in Ulster -- an urban guerrilla's dream situation.

In February 1996 a truck packed with a half-ton of fertilizer exploded in London, near the offices of some of the most anti-PIRA tabloid papers. Once the echoes of the blast faded, all you could hear was car alarms, sirens and the sound of insurance agents sobbing.

The follow-up act came fast: in June 1996 the PIRA decided to do a little road trip. They set off their biggest bomb ever, more than 3,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, in central Manchester. Same tactics: lots of warnings, no dead, huge damage.

There was a silver lining to this one: the center of Manchester was a disgusting slum, and the bomb cleared it right out. Urban planners were the only demographic that jumped up and down for joy when the evening news came on, and downtown Manchester is now, from what I've read, the cutest little yuppie paradise in the UK.

PIRA cells were operating in every big English city and the Special Branch just wasn't catching them. As long as the supply of fertilizer held out, the PIRA was sitting pretty. If they'd wanted to, they could have put no-warning bombs all over the London transit system and killed tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of commuters. But that wasn't the idea. They were taking it slow and soft, annoying the Brits to death instead.

The cost to the Brits in money, embarrassment and nerves was just getting out of hand. When Tony Blair was elected in early 1997, he went to Belfast and met with the PIRA leadership. A few months later, after months of schmoozing from Clinton, the PIRA declared a ceasefire.

Now you can see the total contrast between the little fancy-schmancy Nerf warfare the PIRA was doing and the total war Al Qaeda practices. They're not courting the Western press the way the PIRA leaders are. They don't want us to like them. They aim to kill as many civilians as they can. They don't want to sweet-talk us out of the Middle East; they want to smash our fingers until we let go and drop.

For them, shots of bloody commuters stumbling out of the Tube stations are GOOD publicity.

And it works, sometimes. In Spain: 200 dead on Madrid commuter trains, the government falls, and Spanish troops flee Iraq: mision cumplida!

In fact, that's how I knew instantly it wasn't the Basques who set those bombs back then, like the Spanish government tried to claim: because the Basque "army," ETA, runs by the same faggy rules as the IRA, and tries to blow stuff up without hurting anybody.

Al Qaeda plays by the good old rules: kill as many as you can, and eventually there'll be nothing left but brave corpses and live cowards.

The fact that the IRA tried to minimise human casualties while Al Qaeda tries to maximise them is an important distinction between the two organisations.


At 10:11 AM, Anonymous DaveB said...

Yes, the IRA are compassionate terrorists, always thinking of others
Al Qaeda are bad terrorists, BOO Al Queda.
The IRA are gangsters, read The Killing Rage by Eamon Collins

At 10:53 AM, Blogger Diarmid said...

Actually, the IRA are fighting a war against colonialism. If you want to find some "gangsters" in the north of Ireland then you should look at the loyalists who combine organised crime with a desire to maintain British colonial rule in the Six Counties.

At 7:39 AM, Anonymous DaveB said...

Oh come on! You cant honestly believe that the IRA are not gangsters in the same way that the loyalists are? They have certainly got better PR, how do you dismiss the McCartney murder and do you also deny that the IRA are drug dealers?

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Diarmid said...

You cant honestly believe that the IRA are not gangsters in the same way that the loyalists are?

The IRA have been fighting a war against British colonialism. Fighting colonialism does not make someone a gangster.

They have certainly got better PR, how do you dismiss the McCartney murder and do you also deny that the IRA are drug dealers?

The McCartney murder was perpetuated by a couple of IRA men who were drunk at the time. It was not perpetuated by the entire Irish republican movement. Also, the IRA does not engage in drug dealing. If you have any proof of drug dealing by the IRA then please reveal it.

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Sinn Feiner said...

Give it to em.

"I'll wear no prison uniform,
nor meekly serve my time.
That Britain might brand Ireland's fight as 800 years of crime."

You want gangsters look at Mad Dog Johnny Adair.

At 6:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

all acts of warfare consist of a "native" and an "intruder" .. these are just technical strategic terms and in no way imply a moral high ground. BUT you can choose to give it a moral filter, so Isrealis in Palestine are "intruders", English in Ireland, Cortez in Mexico etc etc


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