Thursday, March 27, 2003
Tomorrow's Washington Post has an interesting article on military casualty predictions for this war. It appears that our military has already suffered more casualties than we predicted, largely because of flawed assumptions in our original war planning where we predicted scant Iraqi resistance. Iraqi unconventional tactics have taken a dreadful toll on American and British forces, along with some bad luck such as the 507th convoy mishap and the lucky Iraqi RPG shot that killed 10 Marines in one armored vehicle.
The numbers of U.S. servicemen killed, wounded or missing on the Iraqi battlefield are mounting steadily, and military experts warn that Americans might soon be confronting military carnage they have not seen since the Vietnam War.Analysis: The $64,000 question here is how America will respond to increasing casualty tolls in the coming days, weeks and months. Northwestern University sociologist Charlie Moskos has studied the military and society for 30 years, and he thinks it might have a significant detrimental impact on public support for this war. "We don't really know if the country will accept casualties like this because it hasn't been tested in 30 years." I really can't put my finger on the pulse of this issue either. My friends and family react viscerally to casualties because we know so many people in the military -- it really hits home. But on the aggregate level of American public opinion, I'm not sure what the effect will be over time. If President Bush makes a strong case for the righteousness of this cause to the American people, they may accept the cost. If Iraq employs chemical/biological weapons, or a terrorist attacks the U.S. during this fight, America may develop a stiffer resolve for casualties. (The Post makes these points later in its story as well)
About 30 U.S. servicemen have been publicly reported killed in a week of combat, along with 20 British soldiers and marines. But that total could be considerably higher, because news from the battlefront has been slow to be tallied. The number of wounded appears to be soaring.
Officials at Camp Lejeune, N.C., released a curt tally yesterday morning, listing 11 Marines from the 2nd Expeditionary Force as missing within the past 24 hours and 14 as wounded in action in fighting near Nasiriyah. Defense Department officials quickly informed the public affairs office at Camp Lejeune that the release was a violation of Pentagon policy, said Marine Maj. Michele Flynn, a base spokeswoman. Casualty totals are supposed to come from Washington, and the Pentagon has released those numbers reluctantly.
Reports from the battlefield tell of violence that is not reflected in the upbeat assessments issued at press briefings at the Pentagon and Central Command in Doha, Qatar. More than half of a contingent of 120 Marines were wounded Wednesday when they were hit with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades on the approach to a bridge at Nasiriyah. Fifteen of their Humvees and seven-ton trucks were destroyed.
"Nasiriyah was supposed to be a six-hour fight," a wounded gunnery sergeant said at a field hospital yesterday. "It's already been five days. Five days of nonstop, 24-hour fighting."
Coda: One interesting note about casualties is buried about halfway down in the story:
Body armor that protects the head and torso has done wonders to keep troops alive, but officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District have been told to prepare for an influx of wounded soon.It's not just the body armor -- it's also the amazing military medical system that's currently supporting our men and women in harm's way. I was lucky to know some medical officers at Fort Hood and they taught me a lot about this system. Suffice to say, I'd rather be shot in combat than on the streets of Los Angeles. You can't imagine the number of highly-trained medical professionals working at every echelon from company on back to save these brave soldiers' lives. The body armor makes a big difference too. During the brutal battle of Shah-i-Kot Valley in Afghanistan last March, many soldiers were hit by mortar and small-arms fire -- but almost all emerged with superficial wounds due to the body armor they were wearing. In summary, U.S. soldiers may survive wounds today that might have killed them in Vietnam, or even Gulf War I.
Rick Atkinson is probably the most overqualified journalist in Iraq right now. He won a Pultizer reporting on the military in the early 1980s, reported on Gulf War I, and wrote one of the best histories of that conflict called Crusade. Now, Rick is back in Iraq (bad alliteration) covering the 101st Airborne Division for the Washington Post. It appears from his Friday dispatch that he's taken a step back from the tactical situation to interview several colonels and generals in that unit and V Corps to get an overall feel for the battlefield. Among other things, Rick senses that the plan is not going well. But surprisingly, the officers he's talking to admit that -- and that itself reveals a great deal about their character.
"The enemy we're fighting is different from the one we'd war-gamed against," LTG William Wallace Wallace, commander of V Corps, said during a visit to the 101st Airborne Division headquarters here in central Iraq. Wallace, a plain-spoken cavalryman whose command is based in Germany and is operating a few miles north of here, gave public voice to what senior officers in Iraq have been saying privately for several days. Asked whether combat developments in the past week increased the likelihood of a much longer war than some planners had forecast, Wallace said, "It's beginning to look that way."Analysis: I think we're seeing something important here. First, we have intelligent officers leading our units in Iraq that understand the complexities of military operations. They're not dumb; they know they have to be flexible in the face of enemy contact. For what it's worth, LTG Wallace is a Vietnam veteran who's been around the Army for a long time. Second, these remarks reveal some "big picture" knowledge of the battlefield, even at the lowest levels. Col. Hodges is not a senior commander; he only commands a brigade. Yet, he has a fairly accurate picture of the entire battlefield -- he's able to see himself, see the enemy, and see the terrain. That situational awareness enables him to make informed judgments about how/where/when to employ his forces.
Speaking about the need to pause, resupply, and secure supply lines, Wallace adds: "We knew we'd have to pause at some point to build our logistics power," Wallace said. "This is about where we'd expected."
"Everybody's frame of reference is changing," Col. Ben Hodges, commander of the 1st Brigade of the 101st, said shortly after arriving here Wednesday night. "The enemy always gets a vote. You fight the enemy and not the plan. I personally underestimated the willingness of the Fedayeen to fight, or maybe overestimated the willingness of the Shiites to rise up."
I think we'll start to see some really innovative things from V Corps in the coming days and weeks. These commanders are not going to let the Iraqis seize the initiative. They're going to gather intelligence, develop a plan, and take the fight to the enemy. More to follow.
Slate has a brilliant piece today inspired by SGT Hasan Akbar, the soldier who allegedly murdered two officers in the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, earlier this week. Articles like this one, not to mention Akbar's actions, should give lie to the perception that the American military is some monolithic, stereotypical, mercenary organization that votes for Republicans and has no dissent in the ranks. Far from it. In fact, I saw more political, racial, ethnic, religious, and intellectual diversity on active duty than I see now at UCLA law school. Unfortunately, some of this diversity is not good for the Army or the nation, as the Akbar case makes abundantly clear.
The episode is unsettling for a number of reasons, most of all because it exposes a fact about our military that commanders have tried their best to ignore: the presence of radical, anti-American Muslims in the ranks. Akbar, a convert to Islam, reportedly said when he was captured: "You guys are coming into our countries and you're going to rape our women and kill our children." It's increasingly clear that there is a small group of soldiers for whom anti-American fatwas issued in mosques around the world supercede the oath of loyalty they took to their nation.
Almost nothing is known about radical Islam in the ranks. Very little is known about Islam in the ranks, period. Today, there are somewhere between 4,000 and 15,000 Muslims in the U.S. military. The estimates are so vague because Muslims, like Jews, often prefer not to declare their religion, and the armed services don't require that declaration. Some American servicemen and women are Muslim by birth. Many are converts, and most of the converts are black Americans. It was during the first Gulf War that the U.S. military first grappled with the issues raised by Muslim conversion in the ranks: As many as 3,000 U.S. soldiers may have embraced Islam since then. [Click here for more about the Islamicization of the military in Gulf War I.]
Clint Eastwood used those three words to describe the way that U.S. Marines respond to difficult situations. It could be applied to Iraqi combat forces today as well. Today's New York Times reports on a number of areas where Iraqi forces have changed the way they fight in accordance with lessons learned from Iraqi wars against Iran, Kuwait and the United States. Iraq fought Iran to a standstill and lost decisively to the U.S.-led coalition in Gulf War I. This time around, he's trying to win.
A Pentagon official conceded: "It's clear that Saddam went to school on Desert Storm. It is clear Saddam went to school on Kosovo. He has learned how America attacks."Analysis: I've written on Iraq's asymmetric response already, and the ways that Iraqi infantry have taken to disguising themselves as civilians and fighting as unconventional forces. That's something we predicted would happen, and I'm not surprised to see it playing out in the form of the "fedayeen."
The North Vietnamese, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland and the Serbs in Kosovo have all shown how an outmanned, outgunned force can fight back.
Mr. Hussein has obviously concluded that he cannot win a Soviet-style land battle against an adversary that controls the air, so this time his tanks are not arrayed on the desert, waiting to be plastered by allied missiles, although he appears to be willing to use armored divisions south of Baghdad. Nor can he be confident that a centralized command will work. It, too, would be vulnerable to allied air attack.
So the Iraqi leader is leading a kind of guerrilla defense, conducted by the fedayeen irregulars, who number perhaps 60,000, plus hard-core members of Mr. Hussein's Baath Party and other paramilitary forces. American intelligence officials say command has been devolved to provincial level.
However, what's more significant is the adaptive capability the Iraqi army is displaying on a grand scale. The U.S. military establishment exhaustively researched Gulf War I for "lessons learned", which have since been captured in a number of open-source documents like the Gulf War Air Power Survey. We have since gathered lessons learned from Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. If Saddam is reading those reports and using them as a template, we have a real problem. Our after-action reviews tend to be brutally honest, both about our successes and failures. One of the best ones I've read is Victory Misunderstood by Stephen Biddle, in which the author accurately dissects a major land battle to tease out the critical variables that influenced success or failure on the battlefield. Some of those variables include things like digging fighting positions into the ground, as opposed to piling dirt on the surface around the armored vehicle. Until now, we have not seen Iraq as the kind of adaptive adversary that would learn from its past mistakes. However, we may now be seeing indicators that Iraq is doing exactly that.
CNN reports that "120,000 additional troops were being deployed to the region" to join offensive operations as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "Twenty thousand troops from the U.S. 4th Infantry Division will leave Fort Hood, Texas, for Iraq in the next few days, and another 100,000 ground troops have received deployment orders and will head to the Persian Gulf region next month."
CNN rushed to get this story on the wire, so it's short on details. The only unit listed is the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, which has already been ordered to the gulf but not sent. (4ID's personnel have sat at Fort Hood for two months while its equipment sailed to Turkey and sat there.) Presumably, this deployment order will send the 1st Armored Division and 1st Infantry Division from Germany down to Southwest Asia, as well as more light infantry from the United States who are not already fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq. More to follow as this story develops...
Enough strategy for a minute... we can never forget the human dimension of war. Friday's Washington Post will include a great story reported from a military hospital in Germany about Staff Sgt. Jamie Villafane and his heroic capture of several Iraqi prisoners on the battlefield. His story is worth reading. Thousands more men and women like SSG Villafane serve in our military, mostly going unnoticed. Their heroic actions -- in peace and war -- never stop amazing and inspiring me.
LANDSTUHL, Germany, March 27 -- A U.S. Army sergeant today described how he captured four Iraqi soldiers by himself near Nasiriyah Saturday after a rocket-propelled grenade blew him out of his Humvee and left him with a serious shrapnel wound in his left arm.
The prisoners were concealing Iraqi military uniforms under civilian robes, he said.
Staff Sgt. Jamie Villafane and two other injured servicemen spoke to a news conference at a U.S. Army hospital here, where they are being treated before returning to the United States. He said his training had prepared him well to be in combat, but he had no desire to return to battle after being wounded.
"Getting shot at wasn't really that bad. It was the getting shot part that sucked," he said.
Walter Pincus and Dana Priest report in the Washington Post today on some pre-war estimates and assumptions that were ignored by the White House, the Pentagon, CENTCOM, and operational planners as they built the plan for assaulting Iraq. Specifically, the article mentions a number of Intelligence Community estimates that predicted a high level of resistance from the Iraqis, as well as the Iraqi resort to unconventional means of warfare.
Intelligence analysts at the CIA and Pentagon warned the Bush administration that U.S. troops would face significant resistance from Iraqi irregular forces employing guerrilla tactics, but those views have not been adequately reflected in the administration's public predictions about how difficult a war might go, according to current and former intelligence officials.Analysis: I can guess what happened here. A bunch of intelligence analysts are really upset that their estimates weren't picked up by their bosses, and they're even more upset now that those estimates have come true. In Washington, there are few ways to even the score better than leaking your opinions to the Washington Post. It embarasses your bosses and scores points in the court of public opinion.
CIA analysts "thought there was a good chance we would be forced to fight our way through everything," said one intelligence official who sat in on many briefings. "They were much more cautious about it being an easy situation."
With U.S. and British troops being forced to defend a more than 200-mile supply line from the Kuwaiti border to U.S. troops 50 miles from Baghdad and to fend off small-scale attacks by the Iraqi irregular forces, analysts at the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency are complaining that their reports would be softened as they moved to the White House. "The caveats would be dropped and the edges filed off," the intelligence official said.
"The intelligence we gathered before the war accurately reflected what the troops are seeing out there now," one military intelligence official said. "The question is whether the war planners and policymakers took adequate notice of it in preparing the plan." At least one pre-war intelligence analysis described potential threats of Iraqi irregular forces mining harbors, planting bombs and firing at troops while disguised in civilian clothes, according to one senior intelligence official.
In addition, it's not clear that these were the most persuasive -- or even the most accurate -- predictions we had in front of us before the war started. Hindsight is always 20/20 and it's easy to say in retrospect that these analysts predicted how Iraq would fight. But in the intelligence-prediction business, nothing is ever that simple. Intelligence preparation of the battlefield involves the preparation of lots of estimates -- worst case, best case, and everything in between. Though I think it's significant that we had intelligence estimates like this, I don't think this adds up to negligence on the part of military planners. The Administration and CENTCOM may have started with an optimistic plan. Right now, I'm sure they've got several pessimistic operational planners (like me) in their basement busy working on a new and improved plan.
Why were the Pentagon's pre-war estimates so far off the mark?
Today's Washington Post has a great analytic piece on the gap between our commanders' expectations of the war and the reality they're now facing. Early setbacks, as well as the stiff resistance from Iraqi soldiers fighting on their home turf, has led many military officers to adjust pre-war predictions of how the campaign would play out. Specifically, Pentagon officials are revising their estimates of how many troops it will take to get the job done.
While some top planners favor continuing to press north, many Army commanders believe that the pause in Army ground operations that began yesterday is critical. A relatively small force is stretched thin over 300 miles, and much of the Army's killing power, in more than 100 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, has been grounded by persistently foul weather or by battle damage from an unsuccessful pre-dawn raid on Monday. To the east, the Marine Corps advance on the city of Kut was also hampered by skirmishing along its supply line and fuel shortages at the front.All of this begs the question: how did the Pentagon develop these pre-war estimates in the first place? The answer is that the American military uses number of "war games" to analyze and predict how thousands of variables will interact in the event of war. (Examples include the BCTP Warfighter exercise, Victory Scrimmage exercise, Foal Eagle exercise, and others.) The military uses these wargames in peacetime to train staffs and commanders for war, as well as to predict the amount of resources it needs for the American military. Current troop strengths are based, in large part, on the predictions of these war games for what it would take to fight two wars in Korea and Iraq at the same time. In wartime, or the weeks leading up to war, these simulations are used to test operational plans and tease out the most important variables and problems with the plan.
* * *
More forces are coming, including the Army's 4th Infantry Division, which has begun pushing equipment from 35 ships into Kuwait after Turkey refused to allow U.S. forces to use its bases for a second front, into northern Iraq. But it will probably take the better part of a month for that tank-heavy division to get into position and provide combat power. Other forces heading to this region, including the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based at Fort Carson, Colo., and the 1st Cavalry Division, from Fort Hood, Tex., will require months to move their tanks and other armor from their bases into combat, the defense officials said.
Ultimately, these plans are based on assumptions. Some of those assumptions are fairly simplistic and static, like "U.S. units will start the fight with at least 95% of their personnel." Other assumptions are quite complex and dynamic. At some point, a level of Iraqi resistance and resolve has to be built into the plan. This variable then appears in the simulation as "The number of dead an Iraqi unit has to take before it crumbles," or something along those lines. Enemy skill is also a huge factor in these simulations, expressed as "probability of kill," or how many rounds an Iraqi has to shoot in order to inflict one U.S. casualty. According to at least one high-ranking U.S. general, some of these assumptions may have been wildly inaccurate:
"The enemy that we're fighting is different from the one we'd war gamed," U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace told Washington Post correspondent Rick Atkinson. Wallace is commander of the V Corps, which was tested by an Iraqi ground probe overnight. "We knew they were there -- the paramilitaries -- but we didn't know they'd fight like this," he said. Asked if this signaled a longer war than projected, he replied, "It's beginning to look that way."Analysis:I served under LTG Wallace when he commanded the 4th Infantry Division, and he's a man of unimpeachable integrity. He's also got a very accurate picture of the battlefield right now, from his vantage point of V Corps Commander. No one is better situated to comment on the assumptions in our pre-war simulations -- not even Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. I take his judgment at face value that these assumptions were wrong. The task now falls to the Pentagon and the four services to rapidly deploy combat power to the Persian Gulf. Our plan was based on a number of core assumptions about the Iraqis that are now proving to be wrong. We cannot afford to fight that plan any longer -- we must fight the enemy in front of us.
The Associated Press and others report that sandstorms and rainstorms have cleared up over Iraq, opening the skies for U.S. and allied aircraft to bomb Iraqi troop formations from both high and low altitude. Reports continue to indicate that that the weather is outside the envelope for Apache helicopters, but I'm not sure if this is true. (Ground winds in excess of 45mph can ground helicopters, even in combat) Nonetheless, this is encouraging news for the attack on Iraq. Just as it mattered to Allied troops in the Battle of the Bulge, the mix of good weather and airpower can make all the difference for our fortunes in Iraq.
Legal issues seem to be percolating in the desert like coffee at a Starbucks. Treatment of POWs, targeting of Iraqi facilities, rules for surrender, rules for humanitarian relief -- they're all tough issues with a long legal history. International law is one of the most amorphous bodies of law out there. It includes "customary" law, which is essentially those customs and norms which have become generally accepted throughout history (vague, huh?). It also includes "positive" law -- those treaties, laws and other documents which bind states, NGOs, and other formal bodies. Overlapping this in many respects is the law of war, which includes domestic, international, military, ecclesiastical, and other sources. To cut through the mess, I've found one site to be pretty useful: Crimes of War. It has detailed interviews with noted scholars in this field, a great "definitions" section that reads like an encyclopedia, and other features. The site is part of the international human-rights community, and thus is more left-leaning in its interpretations and opinions. Despite that, I recommend it as a great resource.
In an extremely sterile press release, the Pentagon formally announced the status of all the soldiers killed, missing and taken prisoner during the ill-fated 507th Maintenance Company mission earlier this week. Briefly, here is the listing:
Dead are:Phil's Thoughts: What disturbs me isn't the dead (2 is light for this type of ambush) or the POWs (that happens when a unit gets overrun in this way) -- it's the large number whose status is "unknown." We have a norm in the military that you don't leave a buddy behind -- ever. The Ranger Creed says it this way: "Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country." As soldiers, it's extremely important to know that your buddies will come for you after you've fallen -- whether you're wounded, dead, captured or unknown. We owe it to these soldiers and their families to confirm their status, and if possible, to recover them for their families. I realize this may sound sentimental, but we can never forget the human dimension of war.
Spc. Jamaal R. Addison, 22, of Roswell, Ga.
Pfc. Howard Johnson II, 21, of Mobile, Ala.
Listed as Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown are:
Master Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, 38, of Cleveland, Ohio
Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto, 18, of El Paso, Texas
Spc. James M. Kiehl, 22, of Des Moines, Iowa
Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch, 19, of Palestine, W.Va.
Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata, 35, of El Paso, Texas
Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, 23, of Tuba City, Ariz.
Pvt. Brandon Ulysses Sloan, 19, of Bedford, Ohio
Sgt. Donald Ralph Walters, 33, of Salem, Ore.
Listed as Prisoner of War are:
Spc. Edgar Adan Hernandez, 21, of Mission, Texas
Spc. Joseph Neal Hudson, 23, of Alamogordo, N.M.
Spc. Shoshana Nyree Johnson, 30, of El Paso, Texas
Pfc. Patrick Wayne Miller, 23, of Walter, Kan.
Sgt. James Joseph Riley, 31, of Pennsauken, N.J.
CNN reports (along with other sources) that U.S. heavy bombers (such as B-52s) have found, bombed, and destroyed the column headed south towards the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division and various Marine units. Many thought this Iraqi column represented a counterattack; an attempt to exploit the effects of a sandstorm on American close air support. Unfortunately, the Iraqis learned the hard way that such weather degrades them more than us, and that we have a robust all-weather capability to destroy things from the air.
Waves of B-52 bombers pounded a convoy of Iraqi military vehicles overnight before they could reach the lead elements of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Najaf, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, CNN's Walter Rodgers reported Thursday.Analysis: This vignette is great for illustrating how "sensor-to-shooter" links work in a digitized, networked military. Despite what the Air Force personnel with 3-7 Cav are saying about this mission, it's doubtful they actually had eyes on these guys when the Air Force bombed them. The sandstorm would have obscured visual observation too much for that; the controllers would have had to get inside the safety distance of the B-52 to see these guys. What's more likely is that we acquired these vehicles as "moving target indicators" using the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) and other "technical" means like satellites. That precise information was then probably confirmed with UAV or satellite reconnaissance and relayed directly to the Air Force -- the "shooters" in this case. If everything worked, the JSTARS picture was being fed in real time to the Air Force to enable them to hit Iraqi vehicles on the move. This is roughly how a good sensor-to-shooter loop works -- the sensors see the target, relay the information, and the shooter hits the target.
Air traffic controllers with the U.S. Air Force told Rodgers, embedded with the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry of the 3rd Infantry, that the bombers pounded the convoy "almost into oblivion."
Brooks at Central Command said that the Iraqi force was smaller than initial intelligence reports suggested and that most of the force was destroyed.
Coda: What if these Iraqis were moving south to surrender? I raise this as a possibility, though I don't think it's probable. They weren't actually in contact with us on the ground, so there's no way to accurately discern their intentions besides the fact they were moving south towards us. International law certainly doesn't require us to discern intent before bombing someone in this situation. If we take prisoners from this column's remnants, I'm sure we'll interrogate them as to this question in order to get an idea about how the Iraqis see the battlefield right now. We need to do all we can to get inside the head of our enemy.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Holy War, Inc. should be the starting point for anyone seeking to learn about global terror networks generally, or Al Qaeda more specifically. Peter Bergen is an outstanding writer, and he really brings the leadership of Al Qaeda to life on the pages of his book. In Holy War, Inc., Bergen tells the story of Osama Bin Laden (who he personally interviewed) and how a ragtag band of "Afghan Arabs" became one of the most adaptive, innovative, and deadly terror organizations in history. The book is exhaustively researched -- and extremely well footnoted. It enables scholars like me to find the original sources behind Bergen's work and draw our own conclusions. I can't believe I took so long to purchase and read it, but am glad I finally did. This book gets my enthusiastic recommendation. (PS - Buy the paperback version because Mr. Bergen has updated it since Sept. 2001 with a wealth of new information on what he calls "Al Qaeda 2.0.")
Other recent book recommendations:
- Jarhead by Anthony Swofford
- American Empire by Andrew Bacevich
- The New Face of War by Bruce Berkowitz
Sitting on my bookshelf and waiting to be read next:
- Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris (and its companion The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt)
- A War of Nerves by Ben Shephard
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
CNN reports that a heavily armored force is being airlifted in to join the 173rd Infantry Brigade (Airborne) in Northern Iraq.
The 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor, part of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, equipped with Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, was expected to be airlifted into northern Iraq as soon as the airfield was secure.Analysis: The 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor will add a significant armored punch to the light fighters of the 173rd Infantry Bde, especially if it brings along the enablers normally carried by an armored task force -- combat engineers, air defense, artillery, logistics, and more. Moreover, the light/heavy combination that this infantry brigade now has is a potent combined-arms mix. Light infantry are good at fighting in complex terrain (e.g. mountains and cities); mechanized forces are good for open terrain -- now the 173rd BCT has both. The question now is whether we will continue to fly heavy forces into theater to join them. In theory, we can put a heavy battalion on the ground every 2 days if we're ferrying them from Europe.
The U.S. military had hoped to transport vehicles and troops over land, but failed to reach an agreement with Turkey about using its bases and airspace.
The Associated Press reports that roughly 1,000 American paratroopers from the Italy-based 173rd Infantry Brigade (Airborne) have hit the ground in Iraq. It's unclear from the story whether these soldiers parachuted into Iraq, landed by helicopter, or entered by fixed-wing aircraft. However, this represents a significant development in the war with Iraq.
The soldiers from the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade landed at about 4 p.m. EST, a senior Pentagon official said. He said the troops did not encounter any hostile fire.Analysis: It's critical that the U.S. deliver additional combat power to support these paratroopers in the next 6-12 hours. Though trained as some of the world's best light infantry, they remain just that: light. Without heavy weapons systems (e.g. tanks), they cannot hold off a determined counterattack for long. Moreover, without mobility assets (e.g. trucks), they have only their boots to carry them. I can't tell from the news reports what this force is being used for -- whether it's to open a second front, secure WMD sites, or conduct other missions. More to follow...
Pentagon officials have said for weeks they would have U.S. forces in northern Iraq to open another front against Saddam Hussein's forces. The vast majority of the coalition ground troops in Iraq are moving toward Baghdad from the south after entering from Kuwait.
"I can only tell you yes, they've gone in. They're on the ground," said Lt. Col. Thomas Collins, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's Southern European Task Force. The 173rd, based in Vicenza, Italy, is part of the task force.
Future airlifts into the area will include tanks and other vehicles, supplies and support personnel for the 173rd's fighters, defense officials said. Several hundred U.S. special forces already were in northern Iraq, one official said, declining to elaborate on the mission. Coalition airstrikes in portions of northern Iraq controlled by Saddam's regime have hit Iraqi military forces in the field and other strategic targets, the official said.
* * *
Besides the strategic cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, another key target in northern Iraq is Tikrit, Saddam's hometown and the tribal center for most of his inner circle. Most of the Adnan Division of Iraq's Republican Guard relocated from the Mosul area to the Tikrit area shortly before the war began.
Update: The Washington Post confirms that these paratroopers did, in fact, jump into Iraq from C-17 Globemaster aircraft. That makes this one of the largest airborne operations since World War II. The option of air-landing the force was raised, but the Post reports that "Commanders also favored the psychological impact they expect the airborne assault will have on all parties in the region -- Iraqi, Kurdish and Turkish."
A thousand paratroopers from the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade jumped into Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq today at a strategic airfield to open a northern front for U.S. forces. The operation is also aimed at discouraging Turkish troops on the border from crossing into Iraq in large numbers, a move that could precipitate fighting with Kurdish forces.
"Americans are asking you to make the world a better place by jumping into the unknown for the benefit of others," Col. William Mayville, the brigade commander, told the paratroops before they boarded Air Force C-17 jets. "Paratroopers, our cause is just and victory is certain," Mayville added. "I want you to join me tonight on an airborne assault."
The force dropped into northern Iraq includes rifle companies, platoons armed with mortars and antitank missiles, engineers for clearing mines, sniper teams, long-range surveillance teams, Air Force ground teams and Humvees equipped with missiles and .50-caliber machine guns. Heavy weaponry, equipment and more troops to support and expand the brigade's position will arrive in coming days, officers said.
While reading news coverage of the war over the past week (and before), I was puzzled by the fact that that V Corps is in charge of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division and 101st Infantry Division (Air Assault). Why is this odd? LTG William Wallace's V Corps is based in Germany, and in peacetime, it commands the 1st Armored Division and 1st Infantry Division in Germany. 3ID and 101ID are based in Georgia and Kentucky respectively, and they normally fall under the Army's XVIII Airborne Corps. So where are they? The XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters is in Afghanistan, commanding other units from the Army's 82nd Infantry Division (Airborne) as they continue operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Confused yet? Why does any of this matter? In an ideal world, you'd fight with the command team you trained under for years. Corps and division-level headquarters have a certain way of doing things. The Army shares a common doctrine, but each unit has its own "Tactics, Techniques and Procedures" called "TTPs", as well as a "Tactical Standing Operating Procedure" or "TACSOP." Learning those things on the fly can be tough, and it adds to the friction of war. I think V Corps is doing a fine job in the desert of minimizing this friction. But I also think there are a number of areas where this friction is causing problems -- missed reports, garbled communications, crossed wires, etc.
Today's New York Times has a good piece on why underdogs choose urban combat as their preferred form of asymmetric response to America's overwhelming conventional responsibilities. This is something I've wrote about before, largely by referencing the body of work on "4th Generation Warfare." Urban combat undermines American superiority in almost every way -- it's manpower-intensive, full of civilians, slow, and casualty-intensive.
Since Stalingrad and Berlin in the Second World War, to the American assault on Hue, Vietnam, in 1968 and on to the war zones of Beirut or Nablus, Belfast or Mogadishu, urban warfare has become a central part of the underdog's arsenal — a fight without scruples for the high ground of propaganda that exploits civilian losses and denies the intruder's superior might.
And it is precisely that messy, manipulative and murderous kind of fighting between conventional forces and elusive defenders that could beckon Americans as they approach Baghdad.
"The Iraqis will want to fight close and dirty, with Iraqi tanks darting in an out of garages and buildings; they will conduct small-scale offensive actions with dismounted soldiers supported by mortars," wrote Gen. Wesley Clark, the American former commander who led NATO forces during the Kosovo campaign.
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"Urban warfare usually benefits the defender," said Clifford Beal, the editor of Jane's Defense Weekly, a leading publication on military matters. Not only that, urban warfare "will negate the technological advantage of the coalition."
He added: "The Iraqis will be jumping in and out of alleyways. It tends to become a low-tech, house-to-house situation and that kind of combat can become very costly for combatants and others."
A war depending on low technology and high numbers of combatants and casualties is precisely the opposite of what the modern American Army is trained to do. And even the British Army, with three decades of experience fighting the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland, would not be familiar either with the Iraqi terrain in cities such as Basra or Baghdad or with the much greater firepower that Iraqi troops could use in urban areas.
Today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has a provocative (though cynical) piece about the internecine fighting going on right now between the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines for news coverage. Ultimately, the motivation for such infighting boils down to one thing: money. The service that gets the most publicity out of Gulf War I will gain political capital for budget fights in years to come.
The friendly and not so friendly rivalries among various U.S. military branches have long been documented. But that competition has sharpened during the current conflict, the most publicized war in history, as the branches battle for air time -- and credit for defeating the enemy. Unlike the often-skeptical peacetime coverage of the services, war coverage by journalists living with combat troops is usually livelier and less critical.
For now, as nearly 400 journalists are generating a stream of mostly positive coverage of its troops, it appears the Army is winning the media war.
In some quarters of the military, there is a school of thought that the amount of publicity -- especially bad publicity -- affects the amount of money a particular service gets. Small wonder, then, that many in the military support embedding, the practice of placing journalists with combat troops. "I'm a big fan'' of the embed program, said Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces here.
But it seems not everyone is getting a spin on the dance floor. The Air Force, in particular, has seen relatively modest benefits from its 18 embeds, far fewer than the 83 it had planned to host. Many Air Force bases are in nations that strictly limit the presence of journalists because the war is a politically touchy issue among their Muslim populations. "Do we wish we were getting more coverage? Yes,'' says Air Force Brig. Gen. Ronald Rand. "Do I think we're getting equal coverage? No. But I think we're getting a fair amount of coverage, given what we have to work with.''
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Meanwhile, the 24-hour news channels are bursting with coverage of the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division as it churns north toward Baghdad, and most major U.S. newspapers have chronicled the division's exploits. Since Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made no secret that he would eventually like to slim down the Army, the heavy media coverage has especially pleased Army officials.
The Marines, which have about 150 reporters traveling along, are faring well, too, though there were occasional news blackouts imposed on their embeds when they battled stiff resistance from Iraqi Army units in the areas around Basra and Umm Qasr in the southeast. On Sunday, MSNBC, a 24-hour cable-TV news station, devoted more than six hours to dramatic coverage of Marine units trading shots with Iraqi Republican Guards near Umm Qasr.
Although the Navy has 141 embeds on ships in the region, it has its own complaints. Last Thursday, on the opening night of the "shock and awe'' air attack, Navy officials say Central Command imposed a 12-hour blackout rule on broadcasts of cruise-missile launchings from sea. The blackout drained much of the drama and urgency out of the Navy's contribution to the campaign.
Analysis: It may be a cynical perspective military/media relations, but unfortunately, I think it's also an accurate one. Every year, the services fight for scarce dollars on Capitol Hill, where the stakes are millions and billions of dollars. Generally speaking, it's a zero-sum game where the Army's victory means the Marine Corps' defeat -- and vice versa. Defense contractors and interest groups join the mix, aided and abetted by Congressmen and Senators with bases and factories in their districts and states. The outcomes of Gulf War II -- specifically the performance of certain systems like FBCB2 and JDAM bombs -- will drive these budget fights for the decade after this war ends.
Noah Shachtman writes for Tech Central Station that this war is being fought in "Internet time". One thing that's driving this is the proliferation of global, networked communications which enable dispersed, networked organizations -- whether they be military, civilian or media. Information is moving a lot faster in this war than ever before, moving Gulf War II towards a concept commonly called "network centric warfare."
Since Rommel, generals have wanted to attack ever-faster. The hope with network-centric warfare is to put the battle on hyperspeed, on - pardon the cliché - "Internet time." By sharing all this information, U.S. forces will be able to make decisions quicker. And this will, in turn, make them more agile, more speedy. U.S. troops will be able to take out foes with precise, nimble strikes, not crush opponents with leaden feet. Think Allen "The Answer" Iverson, instead of Shaquille O'Neal. Think 2003's quicksilver rush to Baghdad, instead of 1944's march through Europe.
"The point is to move so quickly that it's hard for your enemies to figure out what they're going to do next," said William Martel, a national security affairs professor at the Naval War College. "They react to us instead of us reacting to them."
The ultimate application of network-centric fighting - giving every soldier a headset, which transmits all that they see - is a long, long way off. But a number of new technologies are helped to give American forces some Answer-esque moves right now in Iraq. Drones that fit in backpacks are now giving battalion leaders their very own set of eyes in the sky. Tanks and armored vehicles are now equipped with GPS transmitters - and, in some cases, computer workstations - that can help give a much more precise fix on the locations of friend and foe. It sure beats use a pencil and a paper map.
Cindy Webb has a running column in the Washington Post on the media's coverage of the war, which also includes some coverage of the weblogs covering the war. So far, Intel Dump hasn't made the list, but a number of my favorites like LT Smash have. Cindy also has some good thoughts on embedded coverage and Al Jazeera.
In what may be a possible counter-attack, the Associated Press reports that a large force from the Iraqi Republican Guard is moving south towards U.S. Marines in central Iraq.
Word of the Republican Guard advance came as U.S. units in central Iraq appeared to be shifting their strategy because of the attacks from Iraqi militiamen. Instead of racing to Baghdad, some units were moving slower to clear out pockets of opposition.
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Cobra pilots resupplying Marines in central Iraq cited military intelligence reports that 3,000 Republican Guard troops were moving from Baghdad to the city of Kut, and 2,000 more were seen south of Kut.
The Iraqis, meanwhile, issued their first report of battlefield action by the Republican Guards. A military spokesman said a Guard special forces unit attacked coalition troops in south-central Iraq, destroying six armored vehicles and inflicting an unspecified number of casualties. There was no allied confirmation of such an attack.
Together, the reports appeared to signal that the Republican Guard, Saddam Hussein's best trained and most loyal force, was still prepared to take the offensive despite days of allied air strikes and missile attacks on its positions.
Analysis: If Iraqi commanders are watching CNN, this is the time they would choose to launch a counterattack. Media coverage has focused on the setbacks of U.S. forces and the need to take a tactical pause. That may have induced the Republican Guard to consolidate, leave their defensive positions, and launch a counter-attack. (It's entirely possible that this war coverage has been intentional disinformation on our part) Now, we've got the Republican Guard right where we want them. They're massed, on the move, and out of their holes. Coalition aircraft can now easily find them and hit them with everything we've got.
Update: An educated reader writes quite intelligently: "Not if our boys are stuck in a 60 mph sandstorm, with a very thin line of resupply. Not too many planes or choppers flying right now, are there Phil?"
True. Weather hurts our aircraft a great deal, especially our low-flying tactical aircraft like the AH-64D Apache helicopter and A-10 Warthog. However, we still have a number of aircraft that can drop bombs in sandstorms, especially since we have shifted to GPS-based munitions like the JDAM instead of laser-guided munitions. Moreover, weather cuts in our favor on the ground. Our tanks and Bradleys employ thermal sights which can see through sandstorms (to a point); the Iraqis use largely night-vision sights which cannot see through sandstorms because they magnify ambient light. This, combined with the M1 and M2/M3's ability to shoot long distances, means that we have the capability to see and shoot the Iraqis on the ground before they get close to us.
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
The Associated Press reports that Major Gregory Stone, U.S. Air Force, has succumbed to his wounds from the grenade attack allegedly launched by SGT Hasan Akbar against the 1st Bde/101ID staff in the Kuwaiti Desert. Major Stone was an Air Force officer, and presumably was one of the Close Air Support specialists assigned to the brigade command post. CPT Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, an Army intelligence officer from Easton, Pa., was killed and 14 other soldiers were injured in the attack. I was certain before that Akbar would be charged with capital murder -- and that the death penalty would be sought without the possibility of a plea bargain. This second death makes me even more certain of that conclusion.
The AP reports that "There are six people on the military's death row, but there have been no military executions since 1961." I can think of a few hundred thousand soldiers who would like to see SGT Akbar be the first.
In the same article, Vernon Loeb reports that it may take quite some time for heavy forces from the United States to arrive in the Iraqi theater of operations.
Rumsfeld said reinforcements are arriving in theater on an hourly basis. But defense officials said it would probably be three weeks before 35 ships carrying the equipment of the 4th Infantry Division, sailing from the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, would finish unloading in Kuwait.
Once that takes place, it would likely be another month and a half before the ships returned to the United States to pick up the equipment of another heavy Army division, the 1st Cavalry, based at Fort Hood, Tex.
Analysis: This creates a significant problem for Gen. Franks and his CENTCOM staff. As the theater matures, a number of requirements have developed for additional forces (e.g. guarding prisoners, securing supply lines, patrolling for Iraqi guerillas, etc). In addition, 3ID has run flat out towards Baghdad and it may need time to regroup, rearm, and refit before any assault on the capital. If Gen. Franks had additional forces in theater, he could manage those issues with relative ease. Unfortunately, he doesn't. And from Secretary Rumsfeld's comments, it will be some time before heavy units from the states arrive in theater. It's possible that units from Europe could rush down to join the fight. But I'm not sure if the U.S. has enough strategic lift assets (ships and planes)_to move more than one heavy division at a time. I will follow this story as it develops -- more to follow...
Wednesday's Washington Post has an article buried deep inside on Page A25 that's very important. In it, Vernon Loeb reports that the Army's 3rd Infantry Division has pulled some of its combat power (translation: armored vehicles and infantry) to secure critical assets in the division rear area. Iraqi forces appear to be wreaking havoc in the 3ID rear area, ambushing convoys, taking prisoners, and disrupting the American lines of communication.
Security along hundreds of miles of supply lines -- vital for providing fuel, food, water, medicine and equipment to the 3rd Infantry and the Marines -- has been an issue of intense concern since an Army maintenance convoy took a wrong turn in southern Iraq on Sunday and was ambushed by Iraqi forces.
Five soldiers from the convoy were taken prisoner; eight others are dead or missing. The Marines recovered the bodies of two of the eight Monday. Iraqi television has broadcast gruesome pictures of the bodies of four or more. They are believed to have been executed.
Task Force Tarawa, a regimental combat team of 5,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., is now guarding two bridges in Nasiriyah that are critical for the flow of food and fuel north. The task force fought a pitched battle Sunday to secure the bridges.
"That's such a key spot logistically, you'd want to leave a sizable force there," said one defense official.
Another senior defense official declined to specify how much combat power the 3rd Infantry Division had diverted from its advance on Baghdad to protect the rear.
But one Army official said that a military police brigade from Germany was also engaged in protecting the supply lines, and that Army units were following procedures for manning checkpoints and massing vehicles as they moved to concentrate as much firepower as possible to protect themselves.
Analysis: This is a prudent and necessary response to the kind of Iraqi activity we've seen in the last 48 hours. Iraq's combat forces have melted away in the face of the 3ID assault, only to coalesce and fight as infantry behind American lines after the main unit has passed. Pulling combat power from the front lines to secure critical assets (command posts, logistics, roads, etc) is a hard decision because it takes soldiers out of the main fight. However, it's also a necessary measure, and one that's long overdue. In the 4th Infantry Division, we learned during several "Warfighter" exercises that you absolutely have to devote combat power to the division rear area. If you don't, the enemy will seize on the opportunity to wreak havoc in the U.S. rear area with relatively small and lightly-armed commando units. The 3ID commander assumed a lot of risk with his "bypass criteria" on the headlong advance towards Baghdad. Reallocating combat power to the rear area is the best way to hedge that risk and ensure that American forces don't get shot up by bypassed Iraqi forces.
There's another point to make in response to retired-Gen. Barry McCaffrey's argument that perhaps the U.S. should have waited to bring more combat power into the theater before attacking Iraq. It's a relatively simple point, but one that deserves mention anyway: time helps the defense much more than the offense. I wrote an essay two weeks ago outlining exactly how French and German obfuscuation in the Security Council was helping Iraq prepare its defenses. I still think this is the case -- every day of delay enabled the Iraqi army to prepare its defenses that much more.
As diplomats haggle in New York, American soldiers in Kuwait are preparing for war. The enemy is foremost on their minds - how will the Iraqis fight? In battalion and brigade command posts, American intelligence officers are briefing their infantry commanders right now on the defensive preparations of the Iraqis. With every day, these preparations grow stronger.
Tick, tock. Dig.
At first, Iraq's army spread south from Baghdad like a reception party, arrayed in dispersed formation but without any order or reason. Slowly, those formations began to organize themselves, digging in and building fortified defensive positions. Today, the Iraqis have established a formidable ring around Baghdad, arrayed north towards Turkey and south towards Saudi Arabia.
In war, soldiers dig to survive. Iraqi soldiers dig foxholes to take cover from our aerial onslaught. Combat engineers dig holes for Iraqi armored vehicles so they may survive as well - at least until the moment comes to leave their holes and shoot at advancing American soldiers. Critical weapons - including chemical warheads - are buried as well, lest they be destroyed in the open by American aircraft or soldiers.
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Defensive preparation takes time; it's not the sort of thing that gets done over night. The Union Army might have been defeated at Gettysburg had it not been for a critical night of defensive preparation, during which the Union Army threw up "breastworks" of wood and dirt that protected Union infantrymen from Southern rifle fire. Hours and minutes can sometimes make the difference, as Hal Moore showed with his defense of the Ia Drang Valley in 1965 against waves of North Vietnamese troops. France, Germany and Russia aren't just giving the Iraqis hours and minutes - they are giving them weeks and months to prepare their defenses.
Tick, tock. Emplace a mine.
Iraq's best hope for delaying and attriting U.S. forces lies in its cities. If Iraq can fortify its cities and lure American forces into them, it stands a chance of inflicting sufficient casualties to give American commanders pause. Urban combat chews up the best of armies, and urban areas would counter-balance many of America's greatest technological advantages in war. It would also allow Saddam Hussein to bring civilians into the fight. If recent experience in Mogadishu is a guide, we can expect to see an armed resistance from thousands of Iraqis, fighting a war of national survival against the American invaders. The worst-case scenarios are quite bloody indeed - for both sides.
Every day that passes enables the Iraqi army to further strengthen its hold on the cities. The work of fortifying cities is tedious. It involves the creation of obstacles, laying of mines, and emplacement of machine guns to inflict maximum casualties on an attacker. Snipers must build nests in tall buildings and practice shooting from their perches. Logisticians build up supplies of ammunition in basements and attics. All of this requires time. The more time the Iraqis have, the more American casualties they can inflict. This is the simple calculus of urban defensive warfare. American casualties are a function of time plus defensive preparation.
Bottom Line: I have no doubt that Gen. Tommy Franks would like to have two more divisions and a cavalry regiment at his disposal. Sure, the orders had gone out to these units and they might have gotten there in 4 weeks if we'd let the UN debate the issue a little more. But on the other hand, Gen. Franks has to weigh the the effect of that added time on the Iraqi defenses. Time helps a defender prepare, train, emplace mines, register artillery -- things which raise the cost in blood for an attacker. Gen. Franks probably had those things on his mind when he advised President Bush to launch the assault. It's too early to tell whether that was the right decision, but I think it was probably wise given what we know now about Iraqi defensive preparations.
Several commentators, including retired-General Barry McCaffrey and Billmon at Daily Kos, have opined that the American battle plan may be too optimistic. Specifically, their criticisms focus on the maneuver plan that pushed 3ID so far, so fast, and so alone into the Iraqi desert, and the decision to go without the 4th Infantry Division and other heavy forces on the ground.
Mark Kleiman poses some questions on this subject that I'd like to try and answer.
1. To what extent were war plans, and especially the relative economy of ground forces, shaped by overoptimism about the prospects for a coup, mass Iraqi defections/surrenders, and uprisings in support of the liberating forces? I know Barry McCaffrey has been complaining about this. Is he right?
I'm not sure whether the war plans were shaped by optimism in this way. I've served as an operational planner in the 4th Infantry Division, and our plans were driven by a complex calculus which accounted for best-case, worst-case, and probable-case scenarios. If anything, I think we built in a number of assumptions to our plan that have now turned out to be false (e.g. the ability of Saddam's forces to regroup and fight us with unconventional warfare in our rear area). That's okay -- no plan survives first contact without change. The key to success is for the coalition to fight the enemy, not the plan. We must adapt our plan to the operational reality on the ground. To borrow from John Boyd's theories, we must introduce feedback into our OODA loop in order to respond to events on the ground.
It would be nice to have more combat power on the ground, but the political reality did not allow for that. That said, I still think we have enough combat power in theater (especially airpower) to fight the Iraqi army, though we eventually will need to bring 4ID and 1CD into the fight.
2. Were the troops in the field given overoptimistic views of the likely reaction of the enemy? (There have been several reports of US soldiers surprised that the Iraqis were fighting back.)
American troops, by and large, did not have combat experience before this operation. (Lieutenants in Gulf War I are now field-grade officers; colonels are now 3- and 4-star generals; most soldiers who fought in Gulf War I are no longer on active duty. Only a few units have seen combat since then in places like Somalia and Afghanistan) Our collective combat experience in the American Army mostly consists of force-on-force rotations at the National Training Center and Joint Readiness Training Center. Those experiences are intensely realistic -- but they still don't come close to combat. There is something jarring about the first bullet that hits your vehicle. It shocks the senses and provokes a sense of disbelief. At that point, well-conditioned soldiers fall back on their training and react. It's only natural that our soldiers would report these sensations to the reporters traveling with them. I don't think that tactical-level intelligence officers were briefed incorrectly on enemy capabilities or dispositions. If anything, I think we're just going through the initial psychological experiences of combat, adjusting to the new reality at hand.
3. If there was overoptimism, to what extent was it shaped by a White House intolerant of bearers of bad tidings?
I'm not sure this is right... but you're close. The media and the public have created an untenable situation for the White House and the Pentagon. The news cycle for this war is unlike anything we've ever seen. The biggest problem I've seen thus far is the media tendency to magnify single tactical setbacks (e.g. the 507th Maintenance convoy ambush) into something of strategic importance. In combat, bad luck sometimes plays a role, as it did with the convoy getting lost and blundering into an Iraqi ambush. This may be a setback for that company of 100+ personnel, and those soldiers' deaths are tragic. However, it is not a setback for the U.S. on a grand scale. You wouldn't know that from the reporting, however. Every casualty and incident is painted as a major setback for American forces, something which is not necessarily true. Of all the setbacks thus far, I'd say the only one with strategic significance was the turnback of the Apache helicopter assault on the Medina Division. Most of the others -- the convoy ambush, the lucky RPG shot that killed 10 Marines, and others -- are isolated instances of bad luck.
What strikes me as odd is that the very same people who described SH's rule as "Stalinist" -- which seems to be a good description -- also expected the regime to fold quickly in the face of an attack. That never really added up. Does the name "Stalingrad" ring a bell?
Mark, you may be eerily prescient. Stalin was undoubtedly a more evil tyrant than Saddam Hussein, but the Soviet people fought for him anyway. Why? Largely because World War II was a war of national survival for the Russian people. This kind of war mobilizes people to fight in a way like no other. America believed after Pearl Harbor that it was fighting WWII as such a war, and thus no cost was too high. We did not feel the same way in Vietnam; our enemies did. Israel's performance in the Golan Heights in 1973 provides another instructive example of how armies fight in wars of national survival when their back is against the wall. Soldiers and civilians fight hard when they believe in their hearts and minds that their nation, their family, and their way of life is at risk. Whatever atrocities Saddam has inflicted, he has managed to convince his people that they are fighting a war of national survival. With the American Army at Baghdad's doorstep, it's not hard to see why the Iraqis believe they are fighting for their survival.
The Bush Administration awarded two major contracts today to private firms for seaport reconstruction and oil-well work respectively. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced the award of a contract to Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) for the rebuilding and management of the deep-water port at Umm Qasr. This is a critical contract for the allied war strategy, as it will allow for seaborne delivery of war materiel and humanitarian supplies.
Separately, the Administration also announced the awarding of a contract to Halliburton Corp.'s subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root to put out oil fires and make emergency repairs to Iraq's oil infrastructure. (Halliburton said it has subcontracted the firefighting portion of the contract to Houston-based companies Boots & Coots International Well Control and Wild Well Control.) Conspiracy theorists have already made the connection between this second contract and Vice President Dick Cheney, who used to serve as CEO of Halliburton. Unfortunately, those conspiracy theories are probably baseless. Halliburton's subsidiary is the preeminent government contractor in this field with decades of experience working with the U.S. military overseas. Brown & Root contractors work alongside soldiers in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and elsewhere. They have the resources and expertise to accomplish this mission.
Sequel: The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has an on-the-ground report about the efforts to put out the oil fires set by Saddam's forces as they retreated across the desert. Put simply, the situation is worsening with every day of delay. Chip Cummins reports for the Journal from Kuwait City:
Workers for Kellogg Brown & Root, a unit of Halliburton Co., and Boots & Coots International Well Control Inc., both of Houston, postponed work in Iraq's South Rumeila field for a second day Tuesday. U.S. and British forces clashed with Iraqi irregular forces late Sunday in the region, which is just over the Kuwaiti border, leading military officials to postpone oil-field assessment and rehabilitation work scheduled to begin earlier this week.
* * *
Ray Rodon, Kellogg Brown & Root's project manager in Kuwait City, said there is concern that if contractors aren't allowed to enter the Iraqi fields soon and properly shut down the facilities, there could be further damage. Some wells in Iraq's southern fields still are pumping oil, but valves at processing plants have been shut down. This could cause increasing pressure along flow lines between the wells and the plants. The pressure could rupture the pipelines, resulting in oil spills and potential new fires.
Mr. Rodon said he has already heard reports of some ruptures along flow lines, the smaller pipes running from wells to processing plants, and a major rupture at a pipeline between a separator plant and a pumping station south of the Iraqi city of Basra.
The Associated Press reports that American units have killed between 150-500 Iraqi soldiers in a fierce fight near An Najaf, a town that's strategically located on the road to Baghdad. It appears that lead elements of the 3rd Infantry Division were hit by lightly armed Iraqis, to which they responded which overwhelming force. The unit referenced below is the 3rd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, which is the divisional cavalry squadron for the 3rd Infantry Division. One of its main missions is to conduct reconnaissance and security for the rest of the 3rd Infantry Division; and it appears that's exactly what it was doing.
Elements of the 7th Cavalry Regiment were east of An Najaf when they suddenly came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades, the official said. The Iraqis were on foot and it was not clear whether they were from regular army units, paramilitary forces or the Republican Guard.
Some of the 7th Cavalry's equipment was damaged in the attack, the official said. Early estimates of the number of Iraqis killed in the fight varied widely, from 150 to 500. It was not immediately clear what weaponry the Americans used.
The U.S. troops were hunkered down during a severe sandstorm when they were attacked by a combination of Republican Guard and paramilitary Iraqi troops, another U.S. official said.
Analysis: I'm not worried at all by the way this battle unfolded. 3ID's div cav squadron did exactly what it was supposed to do by screening/guarding the rest of the division. 3/7 Cav killed these Iraqis before they could wreak havoc on the rest of 3ID. However, I am concerned that the Pentagon is fixated on body counts. I think this is being driven by the friendly casualty counts in the media, and it's a dangerous path to start down. We ought not make enemy body counts our metric of success for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
We may kill hundreds or thousands of Iraqis and not suceed, or conversely, succeed without killing hundreds or thousands of Iraqis. Ultimately, our success will be driven by strategic metrics of the kind identified by Fred Kaplan in an earlier piece for Slate. Our military should be driven by how many cities it liberates, how many weapons of mass destruction it secures, how long it takes to dismantle this regime. Those measures of success may or may not correlate with Iraqi casualties. In any case, measuring our success by the number of Iraqis we kill will not tell us how close we are to achieving those political goals. Instead, these metrics will degrade our strategic vision by forcing us to focus on a macabre metric of blood.
The Shiite population of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, began rising up against government troops in their midst Tuesday, the first sign of a popular insurrection against the Iraqi regime but also a development that could add to growing chaos and humanitarian problems there.
The city of more than 1 million citizens is largely without water and power -- the result, U.S. and British officials say, of sabotage by Saddam Hussein loyalists as the war began -- and a variety of Iraqi military types have retreated into neighborhoods to hide from nearby British troops. On Tuesday, the city's Shiite population, which has long seethed at Mr. Hussein's strong-arm rule, was rising up to attack the government troops in their midst, U.S. and British officers said.
Reporters on the scene said that Iraqi troops were firing on the protesting citizens, and in turn being fired on by British artillery. With the growing chaos, about 4,000 British soldiers surrounding Iraq's most important port city were preparing to lay siege to it Tuesday.
Despite concerns about security and a possible humanitarian crisis, the Basra uprising could represent the first significant good news in several days for coalition forces, who have faced unexpected resistance in the south and not seen the widespread support from Iraqi citizens that they expected.
Analysis: Again, it's still too early to tell what's really going on in Basra. Many things remain unclear, such as the role that allied special forces are playing in fomenting this uprising, and whether this uprising will be successful in dislodging Saddam's forces from Iraq's second largest city. I hope we let Iraqis fight for their own city, since they will be the ones who take ownership of the nation after we leave. Doing so carries some risk because these Iraqi partisans may not obey the U.S. and U.K. during or after the war. However, I think that risk is vastly outweighed by the benefits of letting the Iraqis fight for their own turf, and suffer the casualties that urban combat is sure to bring.
CNN is reporting that a "popular uprising" is underway in Basra, Iraq's second largest city, against the Baath Party apparatus and the Iraqi military force stationed there. The British are currently laying siege to the city, and details are extremely sketchy right now. We should see some better reports in several hours -- or perhaps tomorrow -- that tell this story with some more fidelity. But right now, I don't feel comfortable offering any analysis because everything I've seen thus far is a "first report."
BASRA, Iraq (CNN) -- British commanders said it appeared a popular uprising against the ruling Baath Party was under way in Basra as British troops and tanks were maneuvering under the cover of darkness near the southern Iraq city.
Juliet Bremner, a correspondent with the British network ITV with troops outside the city, said the commanders told her they had seen groups of 40 to 50 citizens at various locations on the streets and that British forces had taken out an Iraqi mortar that had been firing on the apparent protesters.
* * *
The residents of Basra, an important center of Iraq's Shiite population, staged an uprising after the Persian Gulf War of 1991. But without backup from any coalition forces that had driven Saddam Hussein's regime out of Kuwait, hundreds of thousands were killed.
In Washington, a U.S. official said there were "mixed reports" about a possible civilian uprising in Basra. "It's more like chaos than anything else," the official said.
When Clausewitz wrote of the "fog of war", he was constructing a metaphor for all the things that hinder a commander in visualizing the battlefield (see yourself, see the enemy, see the terrain). Today, the Washington Post and others report that a major sandstorm has moved in over Central Iraq, literally obscuring the battlefield for American forces and forcing units to halt in their tracks. Even with the most sophisticated technology like FBCB2, units must halt to ensure they don't accidentally run off the road and into minefields, stray off course, or blunder into an enemy ambush.
Driving with no headlights through the sandstorm over open desert, "you couldn't see anything," said Capt. William Marm, the maintenance officer in charge of the convoy. "When guys can't see anything, they stop."
The 3d Division is about 50 miles from Baghdad, advancing in parallel with U.S. Marines to the east. The closer they get to the capital, military commanders say, the more intense resistance they expect from Iraq's Republican Guard and other troops loyal to President Saddam Hussein. Air strikes throughout the day aimed at softening up those troops in preparation for a ground assault, commanders said.
Most high-altitude airstrikes can drop bombs through a sandstorm and have the hit the target. This is because modern bombs, like the JDAM, use GPS systems to find the target instead of visual or laser-based targeting. However, the high winds can affect the bomb as it descends, to the bombing becomes somewhat less precise. Bad weather like this seriously hinders Apache helicopters and other low-level close air support. Without the ability to see friendly and enemy troops on the ground, such air support is almost meaningless. Moreover, such aircraft can't fly safely through such conditions. Thus, it's best to wait out the sandstorm and fight when the conditions are set for success.
The Associated Press reports that the Army plans to transfer murder suspect SGT Hasan Akbar to Germany for pre-trial confinement and possibly for his court martial. A U.S. Army magistrate in Kuwait found probable cause to believe that Akbar committed the crime, thus justifying his detention.
In a statement issued by Fort Campbell, the 101st Airborne Division's home base, the Army said Akbar was taken Monday to Camp Virginia, Kuwait, where a magistrate reviewed evidence. The military magistrate "found that a crime was committed, that it is probable that the accused soldier committed that crime," the statement said.
"It appears that the explosions were the result of three grenades that were thrown or rolled through the front door of each of these three tents," the statement said. "These grenades were both fragmentary and incendiary devices designed to cause either death or serious battlefield injuries."
Akbar was then taken from Camp Virginia to Camp Doha, also in Kuwait, and was to be transported to Mannheim, Germany, to await formal charges and a pretrial investigation.
The Army stressed Akbar should be considered innocent until proven otherwise.
What comes next? The military justice system looks a lot like the civilian criminal court system. Contrary to popular perception, the military system actually has more procedural safeguards than the civilian system because the military is a coercive society by nature and these safeguards are necessary to protect defendants' rights. It's unclear whether Akbar has received his Art. 32 hearing yet, but that would be the next step. This is a lot like a civilian grand-jury proceeding, except that Akbar will have the chance to present his own evidence (something civilians can't do before a grand jury). If the Art. 32 hearing finds enough evidence to prosecute him, a convening officer (at least a 2-star general) can decide to bring charges in a general court martial.
Prediction: SGT Akbar will likely be charged with capital murder and a number of other military offenses in such a trial. He will have a right of defense counsel, a right to cross-examination, and a right to put on his defense -- all the rights that a criminal defendant would have in L.A. County. Akbar will have the right to a military jury, which at his option can include enlisted members and officers. That jury must find him guilty by unanimous verdict. If convicted, Akbar can appeal to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, and then to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces -- both of which will be mandatory appeals if he receives the death penalty. After the CAAF, he can appeal his case to the Supreme Court. In total, he has one more court of appeal than civilian defendants do. Ultimately, I predict that Akbar will be sentenced to death and executed for his heinous crime which took the life of CPT Christopher Seifert.
Today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports that the vaunted Medina Division has gone to ground. As the U.S. pummels this Republican Guard division with artillery and aircraft, the division has reacted by dispersing into smaller concentrations and into civilian areas. This latter part poses the hardest challenge for American-led forces, because it represents an attempt by these forces to suck us into bloody urban combat amidst hostile civilians.
To make the confrontation more complicated, those troops are dispersing. The U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq pledging to spare its citizenry of hardship and death as much as possible -- a pledge the Republican Guard is taking to heart.
"They're not in their final fighting position,'' one senior U.S. military official in the region says. "They're either mixed into civilian areas or they're dispersed to areas where there's religious shrines or antiquities or things like that.''
As of last evening, the Air Force planned to spend a night bombing Republican Guard positions almost exclusively, the military said, and planned to pinpoint its attacks. In the first night of the air war, coalition planes and naval vessels fired on 1,000 targets. Monday night, the plan was for 200 targets.
Amatzia Baram, a professor and former Israeli army battalion commander who has studied Iraq's military for years, says the Guard will take advantage of U.S. pledges to limit civilian deaths and is prepared to fight a war in populated areas. "Their tanks are not as good as American tanks but they'll hide their tanks behind houses," he predicts. "The soldiers will be inside houses. They know this is America's weak point."
Analysis: Once again, we're seeing a classic asymmetric response by a force faced with overwhelming conventional strength. In response to our strength, the Iraqi army is adapting on the fly to minimize their exposure to our reconnaissance, surveillance and target-acquisition capabilities. Hiding in cities and civilian clothes makes sense from an Iraqi perspective. The U.S. has said over and over that it will not deliberately target such areas, now will it target civilians themselves. We've broadcast that fact very clearly to Iraqi forces too, with our extensive psychological operations campaign. If I were an Iraqi commander, I'd probably take advantage of that and change my modus opperandi to fight like a guerilla.
What about the legality of such a move? On its face, this is an illegal use of non-combatant status for belligerent purposes -- a per se violation of the Geneva Convention (III). However, 4th Generation Warfare is a lot like a "post-modern" form of warfare in that it rejects conventional norms, rules, and lines that are associated with the dominant form of warfare practiced by the Western world. In an eerily prescient paper on 4GW in 1989, several Marine Corps officers wrote that "The distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point. It will be nonlinear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between 'civilian' and 'military' may disappear." This is the style of warfare we are seeing today.
Before I start today's analysis, I want to acknowledge Mickey Kaus at Slate for his generous mentions of my weblog in his column yesterday. This publicity has generated more than a 3,000% increase in site traffic. I've watched the hit counter spiral upwards since Mickey's column ran, and it's amazing. I will endeavor to reward all of your clicks with more good content over the coming weeks and months.
Second, Yahoo! has a new section in their directory for war-related weblogs and diaries that's worth a look. It includes a number of news reporters' weblogs, as well as a couple of soldiers who are deployed like L.T. Smash.
Monday, March 24, 2003
Analysis: 3ID will not fight until the "conditions are set"
Tuesday's Washington Post has another great analysis by Tom Ricks of the current situation in Iraq. The 3rd Infantry Division sits poised to strike beneath Baghdad, with the vaunted Medina Division of the Republican Guard in its path. One Army officer ominously told Ricks that "This engagement will determine if this is a long or short war." I think that's right. The successful destruction of the Medina Division is almost certainly a critical precursor for the U.S. advance on Baghdad.
The impending battle confronts U.S. forces with a dilemma that goes to the heart of the complex mission in which they are engaged: They can maximize the advantages of their overwhelming firepower and bomb a wily adversary hiding heavy weapons in built-up areas, which would inflict civilian casualties and set back the U.S. campaign for public opinion. Or they can try to attack precisely with low-flying helicopters and ground forces, which could mean losing more U.S. troops.
If the fight against the Medina Division ends in just a day or two, or if parts of the unit even surrender without a fight, that will send a powerful signal that the climactic battle for Baghdad won't be as difficult as some have predicted, or won't occur at all.
But if the 10,000-man Medina division manages to undercut U.S. momentum, and especially if it inflicts heavy casualties in the process, or if it just retreats from a battlefield strewn with dead civilians, then the tone of the war probably will change. A bitter fight that takes a week might even persuade the U.S. military to alter its strategy and dig in to wait for reinforcements from the Army's tank-heavy 4th Infantry Division -- which probably would take at least two or three weeks.
Early indications are that it will be a tough battle. In the first engagement between the U.S. Army and the Medina Division, before dawn Monday, about 35 Apache attack helicopters flew over part of the division, which is spread out in wooded and built-up areas east of the town of Karbala, about 50 miles southwest of Baghdad.
Officials portrayed the foray as "reconnaissance by fire" and declared it a success. At a briefing in Qatar, Army Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks said the helicopters "were very effective in their mission." But returning pilots sounded less certain, saying they hit a handful of tanks and armored vehicles but were forced to cut short their effort because of heavy ground fire. They also said their rules of engagement had prevented them from firing on some targets. One helicopter was downed either by fire or a mechanical failure, and its two crew members were declared missing.
Analysis: Everything I've seen thus far indicates the U.S. running with a deliberate plan of attack that tracks Army deep-operations doctrine closely. Before we fight the Medina Division, we want to "shape" the battlefield as much as possible -- to mold it and change it until we're a fighting on terms that are favorable (or at least not unfavorable). We will continue to hit the Medina Division with deep attacks using artillery, Apaches and Air Force sorties to attrit their combat units, kill commanders, eliminate weapons systems, disrupt defensive lines, disrupt communications, and demoralize them. Gen. Tommy Franks undoubtedly has some "end state" in mind -- some picture of how he wants the battlefield to look when he fights the Medina Division. Those conditions are probably quantifiable (i.e. Medina Division combat units at <70% strength), and we undoubtedly have all our "eyes" focused on the Medina Division right now to assess the effectiveness of our deep operations.
Bottom Line: we will not launch the ground assault on the Medina Division -- and subsequently on Baghdad -- until those conditions are met. We will attrit Saddam's forces from afar until we have set the conditions for American success on the ground. We will continue to launch aircraft and artillery towards this goal until the mission is accomplished. That may slow our advance; our ground forces may halt a day or two while the deep attacks work over the Medina Division. Ultimately, this does not represent a setback so much as a deliberate pause to avoid needlessly flinging American lives at an Iraqi unit which still has the ability to fight back. America does not like to fight toe-to-toe slugfests if it doesn't have to. We have the capability to hit the Republican Guard from long distances, and we're going to use that capability to make this an unfair fight.
CNN reports on a Pentagon press conference where officials laid out a series of acts by the Iraqi Army that add up to violations of the laws of war. Specifically, it appears that Iraqi soldiers are concealing themselves from U.S. observation by dressing up as civilians, then at the last minute, opening fire on U.S. units. Iraqi soldiers are also setting up defensive positions in areas still inhabited by civilians, using the presence of civilians to mask their activities from American eyes.
"They are sending forces out carrying white surrender flags or dressing them as liberated civilians to draw coalition forces into ambushes," Asst. Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke said. "Both of these actions are among the most serious violations of the laws of war."
These actions - called "perfidy or treachery" by law - are strictly prohibited because of the effect they have on attacking troops. Those troops would be loath to accept surrenders from troops who engage in such acts.
Secondly, disguising soldiers as civilians mean that occupying troops cannot protect civilians. "Such acts involve the enemy willfully violating the laws of war, while simultaneously taking advantage of the coalitions' compliance to the laws of war," Clarke said.
Analysis:The real problem here is this: if Iraqi soldiers disguise themselves as civilians, we cannot effectively distinguish between Iraqi civilians and Iraqi soldiers. That, in turn, frustrates our ability to discriminate in our targeting between combatants and non-combatants. Our soldiers are operating with fairly restrictive Rules of Engagement right now, partly because indiscriminate uses of force will cause us great heartburn after the conflict in our occupation of Iraq. This subterfuge by the Iraqi army makes that problem even worse. Moreover, U.S. technology is little help when trying to distinguish combatants from non-combatants. It's easy enough to conceal a rifle or light machine gun, and as good as our technology is, it can't see into the hearts and minds of Iraqi soldiers to tell which ones will fight and which ones won't.
Legally, the Iraqis are violating Art. IV of the Third Geneva Convention by wearing civilian clothes in lieu of uniforms and by concealing their weapons. This law criminalizes the conduct of war by combatants who do not 1) wear uniforms or other symbols, 2) carry arms openly, 3) operate in recognizable units/command structures, and 4) follow the laws of war. If captured, such fighters may not enjoy legal "prisoner of war" status, as in the case of the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters imprisoned at Guantanamo. Furthermore, the U.S. cannot be held legally responsible for excessive collateral damage that occurs because it's efforts to distinguish between civilians/combatants were frustrated by this subterfuge.
Additionally, the Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War outlaws the use of violence in armed conflict against "persons taking no active part in the hostilities." Several other treaties and canons of international law also prohibit the deliberate targeting of civilians in armed conflict. This doctrine commands belligerents to not deliberately or negligently target civilians and other non-combatants (like the Red Cross). However, this doctrine also makes it illegal to take advantage of that protected status for belligerent purposes. Thus, a commando unit cannot use an ambulance in lieu of a jeep to conceal its activities.
Coda:It may seem that the "law of war" is an oxymoron, kind of like "military intelligence." However, combatants have recognize that such restraints on warfare are necessary to prevent war from degenerating in a complete bloodbath. Though observed in the breach by many nations, these laws make a big difference in the way the U.S. wages war. We assign lawyers to every level of command, from CENTCOM all the way down to the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division. These lawyers play a key role in vetting and approving target lists and operational plans for conformance with the laws of war. Ultimately, America wants to be seen as the good guys, and that means fighting under the laws of war.
Heavy ground fire turns them back; claims two aircraft and one crew
The Washington Post and others are reporting that America launched a "deep attack" against the Republican Guard today with Apache AH-64D "Longbow" helicopters. The aircraft were launched by the 11th Aviation Regiment, which includes Apache units from Europe and the 1-227th Aviation Regiment from Fort Hood, Texas.
The pre-dawn attack was aimed at tanks and other armament of President Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard around Karbala, south of Baghdad. Col. Bill Wolf, commander of the Army's 11th Aviation Regiment, said the air assault by Longbows crippled four or five Iraqi tanks and several light vehicles.
But pilots said they were forced to abandon most of their targets because of an intense curtain of fire that rose from streets, roofs and backyards, hitting nearly all their aircraft.
"It was coming from all directions -- I got shot front, back, left and right," said pilot Bob Duffney, 41, a chief warrant officer 4 from Springfield, Mass., who flew combat helicopters in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. "In Desert Storm, we didn't have a firefight like this," he said.
Why did these helicopters fly so deep into enemy territory on this kind of mission? The answer lies in Army doctrine, which calls for Apache helicopters, Air Force planes, and artillery to "shape" the battlefield before ground forces advance. Basically, this boils down to killing as many enemy ground forces as possible from the air before we have to fight them toe-to-toe on the ground. Typically, Apaches will target enemy units anywhere from 50-100 kilometers in front of the front lines, focusing their efforts on critical enemy units like command posts, artillery units, and logistics bases. In theory, Apaches and other "deep attack" forces can attrit enemy forces to the point where a) they can't effectively resist at all or b) they are outnumbered by U.S. forces when the ground fight starts.
The barrage of bullets was shocking to both seasoned Army pilots and newcomers to combat, like Lt. Carrie Bruhl, 26, a co-pilot and gunner.
"It sounds like a sledgehammer," said the native of Oceanside, Calif. "The first round that came in, I couldn't feel my legs. Then we got pissed off people were shooting at us. So we shot back."
When her helicopter got back to base at about 2:30 a.m., she said, the first thing she did was "make sure my legs were still working."
This excerpt caught my eye because I know the pilot being quoted. I went to UCLA with Carrie and we became friends in Army ROTC there. I also know another officer in the 1-227th Regiment well, having served with him and his wife at Fort Hood. The war means a lot to me as a reservist, but it means even more because of my friends in harm's way. Carrie is an amazing person and superb Army officer. With young men and women like her leading the charge, we will prevail.
Michael Gordon, the New York Times' embedded reporter in the V Corps headquarters, reports this morning on the "fedayeen" -- the guerilla force which appears to be fighting U.S. forces in Southern Iraq. This force appears to be a lightly-armed guerilla force that is fiercely loyal to Saddam Hussein. It employs hit-and-run tactics like ambushes, sniper attacks, and raids on less protected U.S. forces like logistics units. And it fights from restrictive terrain (like cities) where U.S. firepower cannot easily discriminate between these forces and civilians.
The fedayeen are a militia that is commanded by Saddam Hussein's son Uday. Their members are recruited from one of several security agencies and intelligence services and from Iraq's Republican Guard. There are an estimated 60,000 members and as many as 1,000 in southern Iraq opposing American forces.
American officials are well aware of the fedayeen and thought they might confront them in Baghdad or in some southern cities. But they did not expect them to be so aggressive.
The fedayeen are equipped with sports utility vehicles, light trucks, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. They do not wear uniforms but are dressed in black or civilian clothes, United States officials said.
* * *
They may not be the only irregular forces operating in the south. Some of the other fighters who have ambushed American troops may include hard-core Baath Party officials and members of Iraq's intelligence organization.
Mr. Hussein has set up multiple security organizations to ensure that his survival does not depend on a single organization and to establish a system in which the organizations watch each other.
The most dedicated members of the fedayeen are organized in the "Golden Company." They are described as a group of militants who are prepared to fight to the death.
Analysis: This is a classic asymmetric response. In general, an asymmetric response is one that seeks to develop a relative area of strength against an enemy's weakness. Saddam is developing a guerilla force which can fight from cities and harass our supply trains because he thinks those are areas of relative U.S. weakness. In one sense, he's correct. Especially since Mogadishu, U.S. forces have been reluctant to engage in urban combat because of the high-casualty risk and risk of killing civilians. And he's correct to see our logistics trains as vulnerable to this kind of tactic.
However, our military trains to fight this kind of asymmetric response. At the National Training Center, Army units learn to deal with just such a force, called the "Sonoman-Coronan Revolutionary Front". Light units also learn how to fight these kinds of units at the Joint Readiness Training Center. Our military will crush the fedayeen just as it has crushed the majority of Iraqi units in its path thus far. Doing so will take time, however, since guerilla forces are notoriously hard to root out. The American public needs to have patience. Counter-insurgency fighting is extremely time-consuming and difficult, and it will take time to do it without needlessly jeopardizing American lives in the process.
Update: Wondering what "fedayeen" means in Arabic? Angry clam provides an answer: "When I heard that the Iraqis had a contingent of troops known as the fedayeen, I felt very uneasy. I finally remembered why- I'd heard the word before. 'Fedayeen' means 'suicide commando' in Arabic."
The Associated Press reports that the 3rd Infantry Division is sprinting towards Baghdad right now, in a move reminiscent of Gen. George Patton's dash across Europe with the Third Army. 3ID appears to be moving so fast that it has outpaced some of its logistics trains and its support units. As I speculated below, it's possible that this sprint has left a lot of support units struggling to keep up.
NEAR KARBALA, Iraq - On Monday, the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division dashed north Monday toward the Shiite holy city of Karbala, only 50 miles south of Baghdad, but was stalled by a sandstorm that blew out of the desert.
To the south, British military officials said their troops were engaged in artillery exchanges with Iraqi forces on the outskirts of Basra. British troops have remained outside Iraq's second-largest city, unable to move through it because of pockets of resistance.
A British spokeswoman at U.S. Central Command said the resistance was coming from irregular units, either the elite Republican Guard, Special Security Organization forces or Saddam's Fedayeen, the Baath Party paramilitary organization.
The troops moving on Karbala made their rapid advance under heavy allied air protection that wiped out a column of charging Iraqi armor and sent some of Mr. Hussein's outer defenses withdrawing toward the capital. But the weather -- not Iraqi troops -- halted the long columns of thousands of vehicles that were stretched across the desert and farms.
The trip north passed bombed antiaircraft guns, empty foxholes and berms dug for tanks that had been abandoned by Iraqi forces.
Outside the Shiite holy city of Najaf, south of Karbala, U.S. soldiers skirmished with Iraqi forces before dawn Monday. Iraqis shot rockets and antiaircraft guns at the Americans. Small groups using pickup trucks or on foot tried to approach U.S. positions but were driven back by tank and artillery fire.
Why would 3ID run so fast towards Baghdad? There are several reasons why Gen. Tommy Franks might have ordered 3ID to move so far, so fast, and without mopping up every pocket of Iraqi resistance.
1. Weapons of Mass Destruction. This is what it's all about, right? We want to find Saddam's WMD sites, secure them, and display the goods to the world. Thus far, Saddam has evaded UN weapons inspectors by moving his WMD around like a shell game to dodge inspections. The concept behind 3ID's plan is to seize these sites as fast as possible to prevent Saddam from moving these WMD again. Yesterday, U.S. forces secured a chemical plant that may (or may not) be a WMD site. American strategy in Iraq is designed with this raison d'etre in mind -- secure Saddam's WMD sites for the world to see.
2. Operational tempo. The Army is fighting with a doctrine that heavily borrows from the ideas of Col. John Boyd, who described battle as a competition between two sides where the winner would be the one who observed/oriented/decided/acted first. Boyd called this the "OODA" loop, and the competitor who got to the end of his OODA loop first wins. He initially wrote about the dynamics of dogfights between fighter pilots. But later, his ideas were incorporated into U.S. doctrine writ large because of their applicability to strategic-level conflicts. In the Iraqi context, we're trying to hit their army as hard and fast as possible so they don't have time to respond with a prepared defense. We've got them on the run, but we don't want to give them time to fall back to prepared defensive positions along the way to Baghdad. Hitting them hard with the iron fist of 3ID enables us to do this.
3. The CNN effect. Since the advent of global, instantaneous news coverage, war has become an endeavour the public can follow in real time. Despite Pentagon controls on information and White House spin, information is getting back to the American people and allowing them to form opinions of the war very quickly. The American people have been conditioned by Gulf War I, Kosovo and Afghanistan to expect instant positive results and no negative results from warfare. This time around, as President Bush warned, things may be different. However, the public's not used to that, and thus every setback (e.g. the taking of American POWs) results in a blow to public morale. Historically, our military has always suffered a few initial setbacks in war as it adjusted to the realities of this particular theater. Iraq is no different.
Prediction: 3ID will probably attack towards Baghdad and either hunt for more WMD sites or hunt for the Republican Guard. I can't tell right now whether they're terrain (e.g. WMD sites) focused or enemy (e.g. Republican Guard) focused. But it's clear that they are attacking towards Baghdad with a pace and intensity that we haven't seen in a long time. They're also running into a lot of resistance, but that's to be expected as Iraq fights for its home turf. I think 3ID has done surprisingly well, blowing through the majority of Iraqi positions. However, the hardest fight is yet to come.
Sunday, March 23, 2003
By now, most have read the news accounts of the fratricide attack in the 101st Airborne Division. It appears that SGT Asan Akbar was disgruntled with his unit and his commander. While on guard duty at his brigade command post, he stole four hand grenades and set out to kill some officers. He disconnected the compound's electrical generator, walked over to the sleep tents, and rolled three grenades into the tents. The grenades exploded wounding several officers and sergeants -- and killing one officer (CPT Christopher Seifert, an intelligence officer assigned to A/304 MI Bn.) Akbar then fled the scene, hiding in a bunker until officers found him and detained him. He remains under heavy guard now, and the Army's CID is investigating the matter. My prediction is that he will be flown to the United States, tried for capital murder and other offenses, and sentenced to death by a military court martial.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't end there. The LA Times and others report that Akbar was a deeply disturbed and disgruntled soldier who had recently been disciplined for something -- probably a minor infraction. He also yelled some interesting things as he was being arrested, including "You guys are coming into our countries and you're going to rape our women and kill our children." That made me think he may be more than just a disgruntled soldier. Subsequent news reports shed more light on Akbar's background, indicating that:
- George Heath, a spokesman for the division's home base at Fort Campbell, Ky., said Akbar had been "having what some might call an attitude problem."
- He graduated from UC Davis in 1997 with a double degree in aeronautical engineering and mechanical engineering, after being in and out of school for 9 years.
- Akbar participated in ROTC at UC Davis but did not finish. No one has any idea why he didn't complete that program and become an Army officer, but I'll speculate that his "attitude problems" might have surfaced in college, thus making him an unattractive officer candidate. Alternatively, he might have failed his security clearance or his physical exam, two other major disqualifiers for ROTC cadets.
- Akbar is believed to have studied at the Masjid Bilal Islamic Center, a predominantly black mosque in South Central Los Angeles. Law-enforcement officials visited the mosque Sunday.
- Akbar joined the Army to be a combat engineer, a specialty that includes a lot of training on weapons and explosives. Combat engineers learn how to breach minefields, lay minefields, set boobytraps, build field-expedient explosives, and other skills that would be very valuable to a terrorist recruit.
- Akbar was a Sergeant. But in today's Army, that doesn't necessarily mean he was selected for loyalty or leadership ability. He likely came into the Army as an E-4, one step away from Sergeant, because of his college degrees. His degrees would have given him almost enough promotion points to make Sergeant. In 1999-2000, the Army enacted a policy that all soldiers who made their promotion-point cutoff had to be promoted or counseled as to why they weren't being recommended. Why? The Army was short on sergeants. This meant a lot of soldiers were promoted before they were ready, because units did not have a paper trail to counsel them as to why they shouldn't be promoted.
Analysis: I can't say for sure what motivated Akbar. But it's possible that Akbar was more than just a disgruntled soldier. I'm just speculating here, but it's possible that he was a terrorist motivated by the teachings and writings of Al Qaeda to commit individual acts of jihad against the American Army. Whether he had any actual connection to Al Qaeda is almost irrelevant here. He may have simply embraced their doctrine and decided to act on his own when the opportunity became apparent. The Army CID will surely investigate this angle further, and I'm sure it will become part of his court-martial if any such evidence is found.
(Thanks to Matt at Stop the Bleating for pointing me to this story and driving my thoughts with his postings on the subject.)
The Associated Press reports that another U.S. helicopter has gone down -- this time in Afghanistan -- killing all six soldiers on board. The Army confirmed that this helicopter was not downed by hostile fire, though the exact cause (weather, terrain, pilot error, mechanical failure) remained unknown.
This is latest in a series of helicopters which have gone done in Southwest Asia. Here are some reasons why we are seeing a rash of helicopter crashes:
1. Our helicopters and pilots are operating at the very edge of the envelope. They're taking risks they would not ordinarily take. Specifically, pilots are working off less sleep than normal, and commanders are authorizing pilots to fly when they may not have met the peacetime crew-rest requirements. Why? Because this is combat, and risks that would not be acceptable in peacetime are now acceptable if it means these pilots will save some grunt's life. The helicopter that went down in Afghanistan was on a MEDEVAC mission. I dare say this pilot was pushing the envelope so that others may live.
2. Commanders and pilots are pushing the envelope of their aircraft as well. Specifically, they're flying with maintenance deficiencies that might deadline a bird in peacetime -- but that don't ground a bird in wartime when every bird counts. For an infantry commander making an air assault, having a full company of 8 UH-60s makes a big difference -- it means getting more combat power onto the LZ faster, instead of having to piece-meal your infantry onto the objective. Little things, like a frayed hydraulic line that doesn't need replacement yet -- and other faults -- are likely to be flown with. The desert is very hard on aircraft, especially sensitive parts like rotor blades and air intakes. The exigencies of combat probably force commanders to fly aircraft with parts that would require replacement in peacetime, but are worth the risk in wartime.
3. The weather envelope is also getting pushed. In peacetime, aircraft don't fly outside of certain weather parameters, such as when the ground wind exceeds 45mph. In wartime, the needs of the mission may outweigh such safety concerns, and justify the risk of flying the aircraft right on the edge of their envelope. In peacetime, we err on the side of caution, since nothing we do in training is worth the life of one of our soldiers. But wartime is all about risk -- taking calculated risks with our lives to accomplish the mission.
4. Sheer numbers. In peacetime, aircraft fly as many hours as they can afford in terms of dollars for gas and spare parts. In wartime, aircraft fly without regard to such constraints, as often as the mission requires. In terms of sheer numbers, we're flying more aircraft more of the time than at any time in peacetime. Statistically, that means more birds in the air at any given time that can crash. If you start to do the math and add up all the independent probabilities of a crash, it becomes apparent that we're lucky to not have more crashes. Human excellence -- embodied in the pilots, mechanics and support personnel -- is the only thing keeping many aircraft in the air.
Most Americans watched today in horror as five young Americans appeared on an al-Jazeera broadcast from inside Iraq -- prisoners of Saddam Hussein. They were captured after an Iraqi unit ambushed their lightly-armed convoy of maintenance vehicles and HMMWVs near Nassiriya. Details are still sketchy, but it appears that this convoy wandered into enemy-held territory and was attacked by Iraqi combat forces waiting for armored vehicles.
According to Army officers still piecing together the incident, soldiers of a lightly armed maintenance unit were travelling on Highway 1, a main north-south artery, in a convoy of 15 vehicles before dawn today near Nasiriya. The unit had orders to supply an anti-aircraft battery in the area.
At a certain point the convoy took a wrong turn, mistakenly leaving Highway One. As the convoy moved toward the first of several bridges into town, the Americans realized their mistake, officials believe.
The Americans made a hasty U-turn, but the road behind them was blocked by two buses, and the convoy came under attack from two Iraqi T-55 tanks and a company-sized unit of foot soldiers believed to be fedayeen irregulars, not Iraqi Army troops.
In the clash that followed, the first two cars of the convoy — a Humvee and a recovery vehicle — were separated from the other 13 vehicles.
An Army captain in the Humvee — the commander of the convoy — drove the vehicle through the gunfire, and some of those aboard were wounded. According to one account, the officer drove nearly four miles before being forced to stop because his front tires had been shot out. A unit of American marines on patrol saw the disabled vehicle and called in a medevac helicopter, which evacuated the officer and his soldiers. Some of the soldiers were seriously wounded, one of them shot in the jaw.
The marines resumed their patrol and within minutes came upon four more American vehicles, two riddled with bullets and two on fire. No Americans were in sight. As a result, the Army listed the occupants of those vehicles as missing in action. The fate of the other vehicles and their occupants was unclear.
At least some of the captured Americans were shown on a broadcast by the Arab TV network Al Jazeera, in which an off-camera Iraqi interviewer, holding an Iraqi TV microphone, asked each soldier's name and hometown. The soldiers looked shaken and nervous. They appeared to be indoors in a sparsely furnished room.
How did this happen? First, luck plays a part in all combat operations. If you can imagine the sheer complexity of contemporary combat -- the interaction of thousands of men, machines and vehicles -- then it makes sense that sometimes luck is going to work for the enemy. But there are also a number of more concrete reasons why the U.S. Army lost this convoy to the Iraqis -- reasons which we can do something about before we lose more logistics convoys in this manner.
Bypass criteria. In any offensive operation, the commander sets something called "bypass criteria", which is the size of enemy unit to be bypassed en route the ultimate objective. Let's say the 3rd Infantry Division is attacking towards Baghdad and speed is of the essence. Instead of mopping up every last Iraqi vehicle and soldier, combat units may have orders to bypass units of platoon-size and smaller in order to maintain their momentum. Follow-on forces, like the MP platoon I commanded, would then follow behind the lead units to mop up these bypassed forces and kill them with artillery or direct fire. It appears that the bypass criteria may have been set very high for this operation, in 3ID's rush to Baghdad and the WMD sites en route. High bypass criteria necessarily entails a high degree of risk, as we saw today. (See Tom Ricks' excellent article in the Post for more on operational risk)
Situational Awareness. All of the units in my old unit, the 4th Infantry Division, have a sophisticated set of equipment called "FBCB2" which provides real-time mapping, GPS, tactical Internet and radio connectivity between vehicles. In a nut shell, every vehicle has built in laptop connected to the GPS and tactical wireless Internet that shows a map with his position, friendly icons, and enemy icons. Since they deployed to the desert, the 3rd Infantry Division has received a full fielding of FBCB2 as well. However, that fielding almost certainly did not include the 507th Maintenance Company, a late add-on unit that worked for the 11th Air Defense Brigade out of Fort Bliss. This corps-level maintenance unit did not have the same situational-awareness and communications capabilities of the unit (3ID) it was with. 3ID might have been advancing at a fast clip towards Baghdad and doing fine, but it's non-digital corps enablers might have had trouble keeping up. Quite simply, this unit might just have been lost, without the sophisticated abilities that other American units had to know where the battle lines were. Consequently, they tragically blundered into a piece of terrain still held by the enemy.
Training. This is a sensitive subject, but one that I know well. As an MP platoon leader in a mechanized brigade, my main mission was to protect our high-value assets from enemy reconnaissance and special forces who might raid or ambush them. In other words, my mission was to prevent today's events from happening. I got to see the training readiness of logistics units first-hand. Frankly, most logistics units have very poor training when it comes to basic soldiering skills and force-protection skills. My platoon tried and tried to train logistics units on the fundamentals of convoy defense, base defense, route reconnaissance, etc. For every soldier we trained, there were three more who didn not attend the training because they were busy doing "real world" maintenance. Bottom line: combat training gets neglected in support units because they're too busy turning wrenches to practice fieldcraft. That may have cost these soldiers their lives.
A related note: This was a corps logistics unit. By Army doctrine, they trained to fight in the corps rear area -- a relatively safe place where there aren't a lot of enemy. They probably constructed training exercises at Fort Bliss that assumed a minimum level of enemy contact, since these guys would normally be back with the Patriot missiles far back in U.S.-held territory. I'm not sure what contingency required them to move forward, but that's part of the ebb and flow of combat. Unfortunately, these soldiers may not have been ready for their mission. In general, logistics units do not train as much for combat; their vehicles are lightly armored (if at all); their soldiers are lightly armed -- logistics units are incredibly vulnerable. On a linear battlefield where there are clear battle areas and rear areas, that's okay. On a non-linear battlefield, where the enemy may appear in your rear area at any moment, this creates a major vulnerability.
I am saddened by the loss of these soldiers. However, it falls to us to learn the lessons from their capture and implement those lessons so that we do not make the same mistakes again. Their loss was tragic, but we cannot afford to lose more convoys in this manner by not heeding their tragedy's lessons.
Friday, March 21, 2003
Despite the fact that there's a war on, I will be away from my laptop for most of the next 48 hours to grade undergraduate exams. (I'm working for a UCLA political science professor who's teaching an undergraduate course on Constitutional Law) Please tune in again on Monday. By then, some of the dust may have cleared and we'll have started to get some second reports in from the field (since first reports are always wrong.)
This is a point I've made facetiously for some time now. But William Saletan, Slate's chief political correspondent, makes it in a very articulate and thoughtful way today in Slate. Writing about the new style of 21st Century warfare that depends as much on public opinion and information as bullets, Saletan cites a White House official who said that "What they're trying to do right now is to punish the regime and give forces a chance to capitulate," this insider said. "It's a selective use of force to see if you can separate the people from the regime."
Maybe this strategy will fail. If it does, we'll have to go back to the usual strategy of killing people until the other side gives up.
But if it succeeds, consider the ways in which it will change the nature of warfare. Today's technology enables us to hit targets more precisely and from greater distances. It allows us to put fewer soldiers in the field, where they're vulnerable to conventional as well as chemical or biological weapons. It gives us the ability to communicate more quickly and widely with the population of a target country, making clear that we're after their dictator, not them. We don't have to roll tanks into their towns to show them our firepower. They know about it from television, radio, or their neighbors. We can win by "tipping," not crushing. We spent centuries developing the ability to kill people. Now we're developing the ability not to. Regime change is no longer a euphemism.
Better yet, this strategy works only against a repressive regime. If the people support the regime, it's much harder to separate the two. The nation's soldiers are more likely to fight, and the people are more likely to help them. Moral error produces military failure, forcing the politicians of the attacking country to worry as much about the former as about the latter.
The theory has one flaw. Just because we have the ability to spare people's lives doesn't mean we have the will. Our military is so powerful that our generals could massacre the Iraqis if they wanted to. That's where restraining institutions are needed.
If you're an anti-war protester or politician, this theory of warfare should change the way you think and act. Your efforts to generate resistance to the war before there is any evidence of killing, much less atrocities, contribute to the political strength of the enemy regime. You encourage uncertainty about the war's outcome, increasing the likelihood that the regime's soldiers will fight and die. You make it more difficult to separate the regime from its people. You frustrate the tipping and bring on the crushing.
If you want to minimize the killing, stop resisting the war. Instead, do what you can to make the war transparent and to hold your government accountable for unnecessary deaths. Help the media and human rights organizations monitor the battlefield. Help them get reports and pictures to the people of your country and the world. Build an incentive system that will strengthen your government's will to spare lives. Its ability will do the rest.
I've been intermittently following the news today while I attend classes and work on other projects that need to get done. From all accounts, it appears that Gulf War II is going even better than Gulf War I in the early hours. It's almost like we're in a game of one-upmanship here, where first the Israeli's won in 6 days, then we won in 4 days, and now we're trying to set some new land-speed record for warfare. Of course, our goals are more complex this time than either the Israelis in the Six Day War or the coalition in 1991. Even if we win the war quickly, we have a lot of work to do to ensure the secure future of the Persian Gulf region.
Nonetheless, here's a few encouraging signs from the news wire:
AP: Entire Division of Iraqi Army Surrenders. An entire division of the Iraqi army, numbering 8,000 soldiers, surrendered to coalition forces in southern Iraq (news - web sites) Friday, Pentagon officials said. Iraq's 51st Infantry Division surrendered as coalition forces advanced toward Basra, Iraq's second largest city. The mechanized division had about 200 tanks before the war, according to independent analysts and U.S. officials. The 51st was one of the better equipped and trained in Iraq's regular army forces and was the key division protecting Basra, a major transportation and oil shipment hub on the Shatt al-Arab waterway that leads to the Persian Gulf.
WP: Marines Seize Major Iraqi Oil Facility. NEAR BASRA -- Ground forces from the 1st Marine Division sped into southern Iraq today, seizing a major oil facility that commanders called the "jewel in the crown" of the early ground campaign. Crossing the border in broad daylight, more than 1,100 members of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine regiment, raced north through the Iraqi border village of Safwan to an oil complex west of Basra.
WP: Massive Air Assaults Hit Iraq. A massive U.S. aerial bombardment of Baghdad began today as the Pentagon escalated the war against Iraq into a new phase intended to "shock and awe" the Iraqis into submission. Television images from the Iraqi capital showed immense explosions and pillars of smoke all across the center of the city, on a scale that seemed to rival or even exceed the attacks of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Dozens of government buildings could be seen going up in flames.
AP: U.S., U.K. Forces Seize S. Iraq Villages. U.S. and British forces took over the town of Safwan in southern Iraq and the strategic Gulf port of Umm Qasr as ground forces pushed farther into Iraq, military officials said.
CNN: Congress passes 'support the troops' resolution by overwhelming majority. WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Ending hours of debate, the House early Friday joined the Senate in approving a resolution expressing support for U.S. forces fighting in Iraq, but not without some partisan debate over its wording. The House resolution, approved on a 392-11 vote, "expresses the unequivocal support and appreciation of the nation" to the members of the U.S. armed forces and their families. And it also commends the president for "his firm leadership and decisive action in the conduct of military operations in Iraq as part of the ongoing global war on terrorism," a line that generated anger among some Democrats.
Note: this resolution pales in meaning when compared to the supplementary budget request that will come to Congress soon for this war. That piece of legislation will tell us how much Congress really supports this war.
Bottom Line: So far, so good. But first reports are always wrong, right?
Daniel Henninger has a brilliant essay in this morning's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) and the roots of American power. It's not the most definitive account of why America dominates the world industrially, economically, militarily, politically, and culturally. But given our recent tussles with France and 'old Europe', it provides a nice bit of insight.
Yes, the military inventory and tactical skills on display for all the world to see right now are one reason the U.S. has sole claim to the title of superpower, but that stuff's just one piece of it. Similarly, the Caltechs, MITs, Georgia Techs, Boeings, Northrop Grummans, and innumerable, small high-tech start-ups who made this extraordinary military technology possible are also just pieces of the more interesting American whole.
The whole is in fact a system -- a philosophy of foundational values going back to Ben Franklin and before. It's a social and political system rooted in mavericks, innovation, risk-taking, open intellectual argument, impatience, creative change, failure, the frontier spirit, competition and a compulsion to get ahead. Every American kid who doesn't sleep through school eventually knows how the system works. Some go into lifelong opposition to it. Most just go to work -- at jobs somewhere inside the tens of thousands of businesses or educational institutions painstakingly built up, piece by piece, year after year, in 50 separate states. That's the "power" that created the JDAMs and B-2 Stealth bombers.
We read that one source of the supposed tension now between the U.S. and the Continent is Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld's remarks about "old Europe." Well, there was a time, centuries back, when Europe was the world's primary font of invention and innovation. Europe's intellectual and commercial values once mirrored those now ascendant in the U.S. Then, in the 19th century, France and Germany discovered corporatism and socialism and pulled the plug on homegrown entrepreneurs of the mind and commerce. Visiting Europe today, it's not hard to meet young, very smart Europeans in places like Belgium, Germany and Switzerland who say they enjoy traveling to the U.S. but find it too busy, too competitive for their tastes. Fine. Free world. Their choice. But having made that choice, it's a little difficult to accept their whining about an America that refuses to coast alongside.
* * *
If in the meantime one of the things America does with the system that made it a superpower is build a 21,000-pound Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, or MOAB, rest assured that has nothing to do with a desire to routinely throw its weight around in a resentful world. It's mainly done so that when the 25-year-old down the street ends up in a Kuwait, Kosovo or Iraq -- to personally dismantle weapons of mass destruction -- he has the best chance the system back home can provide that he'll return to his backyard barbecue and kids' soccer games. As history's superpowers go, the world could do a lot worse.
The noose tightened a little bit today on Iraq as American and British forces seized two airfields (H-2 and H-3), according to CNN and other sources. No details are available about the tactics used to take the airfield, presumably because we may use those tactics again. (Thus, I refuse to speculate here) However, what is clear is how this will affect the US war plan. Seizing these "airheads" enables us to fly in resupply for the troops we have there, and fly in new units to fight -- leapfrogging them over hundreds of miles of desert. This will enable us to rapidly mass combat power where it's needed deep inside Iraq -- possibly for a siege of Baghdad.
Tom Ricks has an interesting piece in this morning's Washington Post discussing the strategy being pursued by the U.S. in its war against Iraq. He correctly points out that the measured use of force we're using is a stark contrast to the Weinberger and Powell doctrines. Both of those schools of thought preach the use of overwhelming force immediately to achieve clear military ends, and were conceived as institutional responses by the military to the half-measures and incrementalism of Vietnam. Yet, the U.S. appears to be using a calibrated strategy of striking specific things and seizing specific things. It's not year clear what the U.S. plan is, just as it wasn't clear in 1991 how the U.S. "left hook" attack would unfold until it did. But Ricks' article sheds some light on the subject.
Since the American policy of gradual "escalation" of military force ended in failure in Vietnam, a generation of officers has been shaped by the notion that when the nation goes to war, it must use its overwhelming power to decisively defeat enemies. But the opening phase of the latest Persian Gulf war has been marked instead by a few sharp, narrowly focused blows aimed at bringing down the government of Saddam Hussein without having to resort to a conventional, all-out attack.
Since yesterday, U.S. and British forces have launched about 60 cruise missiles at a few key "leadership" targets, dropped a handful of bombs, and sent Special Operations forces to reconnoiter key targets. Then they accelerated the timing of the ground war, sending several thousand troops across the border from Kuwait. Perhaps most importantly, the United States intensified a months-long psychological operations campaign aimed at turning the loyalties of the Iraqi army, or at least persuading it that resistance is futile. According to a senior Bush administration official, surrender negotiations were underway yesterday between U.S. officials and a number of Iraqi unit commanders.
"What they're trying to do right now is to punish the regime and give forces a chance to capitulate," this insider said. "It's a selective use of force to see if you can separate the people from the regime."
The NY Times updates the story this morning about the Marines and British commandos who died on the CH-46 Sea Knight that went down last night. In addition to this loss, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force appears to have had a Marine killed in action.
As the Pentagon expressed satisfaction with the results of the early stages of the war, military officials said 8 British royal commandos and 4 American marines were killed when their CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed in Kuwait. No further details were immediately available, but early indications were that the crash was not caused by hostile fire.