The Magazine of Future Warfare
Invading Iraq was unthinkable until the 9-11 terror attacks. In January 2000, former President George H. W. Bush told a gathering of industry and government officials in Montreal that he was right not to purse fleeing Iraqi forces all the way to Baghdad to capture or kill Saddam Hussein. "I would have been accused of gunning down people running down the highway; I don't think I could have lived with myself." What's more, he said, the coalition would have collapsed and the U.S. would have become caught in a quagmire. "No one has more animosity in his heart for [Hussein] than me, but you've go to have hard evidence before you expand the scope of the war."
Once the United States began moving military forces to Kuwait last October, it became obvious his son disagrees and decided to attack Iraq. This Washington Post article says the decision was made back in September 2001, but there is no doubt the Bush administration decided months ago to conduct a crusade to Baghdad. Working with the UN to send inspectors was a game which failed. On January 14th, Bush proclaimed: "So far I haven't seen any evidence that he has disarmed." That is not surprising since proving a negative is impossible. No nation can prove they don't have weapons of mass destruction. A few days later, Bush announced that Iraq had violated UN resolutions by hiding weapons because UN inspectors had found none. This twisted logic was accepted by half the victims of America's education system, but not foreign leaders and most news organizations.
Inspectors did find a dozen "warheads", just hollow metal tubes with no rocket motors or fuses attached, which tests showed they had never been loaded with chemicals. Since they were "found" at a known ammo dump UN inspectors were sure to visit, they accepted Iraq's explanation they had been overlooked. Secretary of State Colin Powell rejected this excuse and proclaimed that he, not the UN Security Council, will decide if Iraq is in compliance. Meanwhile, American oil and fuel aid will resume to North Korea after it affirmed it has built nuclear weapons, aid to nuclear armed Pakistan continues, and Israel, a frequent violator of UN resolutions with vast stocks of weapons of mass destruction, may get $15 billion in additional aid. If only evil nations build nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, the USA must explain why it has a 100 times more weapons of mass destruction than Iraq.
These issues are important because world reaction to an invasion may lead to calamity. Unstable dictatorships throughout the Arab world may be overthrown. American bases in the region may be threatened by unruly mobs or renegade soldiers. Worried dictators may send troops to close airfields in use by American warplanes. Local base workers may strike, stay home, or sabotage operations. Terrorists will use the occasion to strike. Even American troops in Kuwait and Bahrain, America's closest friends in the Gulf, are wary of local citizens. Finally, Osama bin Laden is elated that his archenemy, secular Saddam Hussein, may be deposed while pro-western Arab dictators are threatened with an Islamic revolution. Unlike most Muslim nations, Hussein allows 600,000 Christians to worship openly, which includes his Deputy Prime Minister, Tareq Aziz.
The hope in Washington is that a swift American victory will occur before such problems explode. Some "experts" claim the US military is far more powerful than during the 1991 Gulf war. In reality, few improvements have been made, mostly more sealift, while serious organizational problems remain. The airpower priests proclaim that new GPS satellite-guided JDAM bombs have made resistance futile, as was demonstrated in Afghanistan. In fact, the United States simply intervened in that civil war against an unpopular government. American airpower, with the help of the Russian 201st motorized division, and a group of warlords called the "Northern Alliance" (with a billion dollars of new Russian equipment paid for by Uncle Sam) managed to capture Kabul and a few other cities while a few thousand al Qaeda tourists slipped away. The United States did not invade Afghanistan, nor does it have much control; it's just an uninvited guest wearing out its welcome.
If JDAM bombs can paralyze the Iraqi military, why aren't they used to destroy cocaine labs in Columbia? The obvious answer is that finding the labs is nearly impossible. The same applies to Iraq; JDAM is only effective if targets can be found. The air campaign against Iraq began in 1998 with the "Desert Fox" offensive. After all these years, Iraq still has dozens of surface-to-air missile batteries operating, and even MIG fighters flying about. If JDAM bombs are so miraculous, why haven't these targets been destroyed after four years of bombing Iraq? The USA has bombed Iraqi "command and control" sites for years, yet airpower fanatics expect Iraqi Generals to sit in fixed command posts until a bomb or missile kills them. JDAMs will prove ineffective against any targets if the Iraqis purchased simple GPS jammers on the world market, which are nothing more than UHF transmitters like those used by small television stations.
The strategic situation is far different than 1991 when Iraqi soldiers were placed in the open Kuwaiti desert to fight the entire world, including their Arab bothers. They were pounded with bombs and artillery for weeks and starved. Most Americans think the US military crushed Iraq's "million-man army". Disputes after the war led the House Armed Services Committee to investigate the true numbers of Iraqi troops involved. After reviewing US military reports, captured Iraqi documents, and interviews with Iraqi prisoners, they concluded the half-million allied troops faced only 183,000 Iraqi soldiers during the ground assault, not the 547,000 claimed by the Pentagon. Most of this discrepancy was caused by undermanned Iraqi units and the desertion of 153,000 Iraqis. This investigation estimated that 9000 Iraqis were killed in action, 17,000 were wounded, 63,000 were captured, and around 120,000 managed to flee back into Iraq.
Few Americans know that Saddam Hussein had finally agreed to UN demands in 1991 and ordered his troops to withdraw two days prior to the deadline set by President Bush. Iraqi officers fled leaving behind demoralized troops. As a result, the US military attacked a day sooner and raced to encircle the fleeing Iraqis, yet most all the elite Iraqi Republican Guard withdrew in good order. One Guard brigade was positioned as a rear guard element in the open desert and stood its ground while it was decimated by American M1A1 tanks, which simply outranged them. There were no reports of Republican Guard troops surrendering in large numbers. Andy McNabb, a former British SAS commando who was held prisoner in Baghdad for several days in 1991, wrote in his great book "Bravo Two Zero", that Republican Guardsmen he observed were very impressive compared to the Iraqi Army conscripts in the countryside. He wrote they were as organized and professional as any European Army.
A crusade to Baghdad will be the most difficult and dangerous mission for the US military since the 1950 amphibious landing at Inchon during the Korean War. The first Gulf war was brief affair in which allied forces rolled across 100 miles of barren desert after most Iraqis fled. Much of the fighting was near the coast where Navy ships provided firepower from aircraft carriers, and even with 16-inch battleship guns. In 2003, the American force must travel over 400 miles inland and fight far from their airbases and ports. At the same time, the American military must support outposts in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan which may come under attack themselves. There will be no "allied" support either, except the British. Finally, a war is expected to cost the USA over $100 billion dollars. With rapidly rising budget deficits, the Pentagon will be expected to cover much of this cost by shifting funds within its current budgets.
Just getting a powerful force to Baghdad is a major challenge. The first step is to seize oil fields and key bridges to Baghdad before the Iraqis blow them up. Burning oil wells were a major problem after fleeing Iraqis set them afire in Kuwait. Downed bridges would cause major delays since the US Army lacks fully amphibious vehicles to cross water, and building a major pontoon bridge takes a week. This is no secret, but the timing of the invasion is tricky since the Iraqis would like blame the damage on invading Americans. The US military would like to begin the war by dropping a few thousand bombs during an "air campaign" the first few weeks. However, that negates all surprise and allows international outrage to build as the USA explains why it must destroy Iraq in order to save it.
A second factor is dealing with Iraqi surprises in the form of commando attacks anywhere in the region. If they can trigger a counterattack from the Israelis, political chaos will ensue. The Iraqis may cause panic in the Persian Gulf with anti-ship missiles, sea mines, or air strikes and missile attacks. Since Iraq has proven it can still put MIG fighter-bombers in the air, US fighter planes must escort all aircraft. Iraqi rockets in the city of Basra may pound Kuwait for days until their launchers are destroyed. Major oil storage facilities and the large American airfield are within range of not only the few Iraqi SCUDs, but dozens of rocket systems.
The third challenge is dealing with tribal groups who dominate much of rural Iraq. The last time a foreign army sought to capture Baghdad was during World War I when British forces moved up the Tigris from the Persian Gulf to expel the Ottoman Turks who controlled most of present-day Iraq. Expecting the tribes to help fight the Ottomans, or at least remain neutral, the British instead found themselves under attack by several tribes that remained loyal to the Turks. Tens of thousands of British soldiers died, many from disease, before Baghdad finally fell in 1917.
Press reports indicate these same tribes remain loyal to Hussein, and he is shipping them thousands of rifles to fight foreign invaders. These tribes are unlikely to challenge American tanks, but the gaggle of support troops along the 400-mile main supply route will be fair game. A rapid charge to Baghdad implies protecting flanks will be ignored. This means American Division and Corps support troops with limited combat training, many of them women, will be exposed to ambushes, road mines, and banditry. Thousands of scattered Iraqi soldiers will also pose a threat in addition to Islamic rebels who have fought the Iraqi government for decades. Since US Army rear-echelon volunteers never expected to face danger, their performance in a deadly, chaotic war zone is questionable.
The fourth problem is the possibility that chemical weapons may be used. American troops have chemical protective suits, but they can only be worn a few hours. Doctrine calls for troops to flee a contaminated area unless under attack. They must be quickly decontaminated at wash down sites since soldiers cannot eat or even urinate in their suits. The problem of exposure to low-levels of nerve gas remains unsolved since it eventually killed thousands of GIs after the last conflict. If nerve gas is too weak for chemical detectors to sound the alarm, troops will notice nothing except perhaps a sweet smell that will cause them no harm for months. If Iraq has tons of chemical weapons as President Bush claims, that alone is a good reason not invade. Bio weapons are very difficult to employ on the battlefield and pose little threat.
The fifth problem is how the nearby "axis of evil" will react. If Iran feels threatened by an American victory, it can quickly close the Persian Gulf and sever American supply lines. Its forces can flow across the border into Kuwait and cut off American forces fighting in Baghdad. We are told this is unlikely, which is what we were told about the chance Chinese troops would intervene in Korea and cross the Yalu in 1950. If the Iranians simply mass troops along the border, will American units continue northward and hope for the best? At the very least, US troops must expect thousands of radical Islamic guerillas and suicide bombers to cross the border and search for targets of opportunity, even if Baghdad quickly falls.
The final problem is there is no easy way to capture a heavily defended Baghdad. The Iraqi Army may be second rate, but not third rate, and cannot run home this time. They stood and fought powerful Iranian forces for years during the 1980s. Some have suggested the latest night vision equipment will give Americans the edge. It will be a minor edge since offensive operations are difficult coordinate at night, and the Iraqis have older night vision devices too. Most likely, fires will rage constantly, lighting the battlefield at all hours. Huge American M1 tanks are superior open country fighters, but are not designed for urban fighting, and superior technology will not protect them from Iraqi tanks firing out of windows 40 meters away. In addition, the US military conducts no large scale urban warfare training, and has no recent logistical experience supporting heavy combat for several weeks 400 miles from the nearest seaport. In addition, Iraq has concentrated almost all anti-aircraft weaponry around Baghdad to create its own "no fly zone".
Some have suggested that Baghdad can be surrounded and starved into submission. That is a bad idea for several reasons. First, the Iraqis have spent months stockpiling food, water, and ammo in Baghdad. Second, friendly Arab governments will become more unstable each day this war continues, and the USA will look defeated if it sits outside the city for months. Third, leaving troops in the desert for months after a campaign will prove logistically difficult and demoralizing. However, the big disaster will occur when Hussein expels two million women and children from besieged Baghdad for humanitarian reasons. The US military will have trouble supporting its own troops, yet failing to feed and house two million homeless women and children shown on worldwide television will be a public relations disaster.
This why Ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu wrote: "And the worst policy is to attack cities. Attack cities only when there is no alternative...The General, unable to control his impatience, will order his troops to swarm up the wall like ants, with the result that one-third of them will be killed without taking the city. Such is the calamity of attacking cities." Tzu also noted that if a city must be attacked, an escape route should be allowed so defenders can flee, thus limiting bloodshed. Attacking Baghdad will be a nightmare if the Iraqis choose to fight. The mighty Israelis had routed well-armed Arab armies several times in the open desert. In 1982, they rushed up to Beirut to finish off the PLO. After several weeks of bloody urban fighting against lightly armed guerillas, they went back home.
The historical similarities between a 2003 "Battle of Baghdad" and the 1942 "Battle of Stalingrad" are alarming. The German 6th Army which advanced to Stalingrad was the same size of today's American force, and also attacked over 400 miles inland with powerful air support. They were far better equipped, trained, experienced, and motivated than hastily assembled Russian conscripts (see the movie "Enemy at the Gates") Even though Stalin was a brutal dictator, untrained peasants stood and fought against overwhelming odds. A summary at this website includes these eerie comments:
"At the end of 1941 Hitler wondered what could be holding Russia together."
"Against the advice of his generals Hitler attacked Stalingrad."
"Hitler also greatly underestimated the power of the Red Army."
"The Luftwaffe played key roles including the destruction of the Soviet air force."
"Also by this point the Russian soldiers heard of the horrible POW camps [Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?] and now preferred to die in battle than be captured."
"The German army encountered fierce resistance from not only the determined soldiers of the Red Army, but also from the patriotic civilians as well."
By the time it was over, the mighty Germans lost 147,000 men killed and 91,000 were taken prisoner by Russia's peasant army. Hussein must be aware of Stalingrad since he said to be an admirer of Stalin; they even look similar. Of course there are many differences between Stalingrad in 1942 and Baghdad in 2003. Baghdad is twice its size and Iraqi troops are better trained and equipped with modern automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. When Russian armored forces attempted to put down a rebellion in Chechnya from 1994-96, they were slaughtered in urban fighting by light infantry with modern weapons. There is little doubt the US military can capture Baghdad, but the question is how fast and how many will suffer. This is why two former Commander-in-Chiefs of the Central Command (which spans the Middle East), Generals Anthony Zinni and Norman Schwarzkopf, oppose an attack at this time.
Unfortunately, they are camera shy and afraid to upset the patriotic fervor which precedes every war. The American media is also reluctant to upset the march to war, and a chance to triple their news ratings. Americans are denied expert analysis like those found in the British media. Besides, there are plenty of incompetent retired Generals who are happy to proclaim victory is certain within a few days because of "technology". Such people were described by recently retired Marine General Paul Van Riper, who warned the New York Times last September: "There's an unfortunate culture developing in the American military that maybe should make you nervous. I don't see the rich intellectual discussions that we had after Vietnam. I see mostly slogans, clichés and unreadable materials."
President George Bush has insisted that war with Iraq is not imminent, so Americans should have no objections as loyal opposition attempts to head off this dangerous gamble. We've managed to live with Fidel Castro in Cuba just 90 miles from our border for decades with no harm. Hussein is 65 years old and will die long before he can rebuild his military. While Iraq probably hid weapons, they can't do much so long as inspectors remain. Moreover, no one expects Hussein to attack his neighbors or anyone else. Hussein would love to become an American ally again, and help fight Islamic fundamentalists in Iran or Saudi Arabia. If the US invades Iraq to remove an evil dictator, will it remove dozens more evil dictators around the world? Moreover, invading Iraq without approval from the UN Security Council is a violation of the UN Charter, which obliges member nations to come to its defense. This is why all Arab nations, most European nations, and even many in the Pentagon oppose an attack.
In the days of chivalry, the US Congress would formally declare war. However, it has proven too spineless to assert its constitutional role, so we must accept their vote last October in support of the President as consent. Therefore, if a ground invasion begins, all Americans must work together and support the troops as they fight for a quick resolution to whatever lies ahead. If things turn ugly, blame the President, blame your Congressmen, but don't blame the troops for fighting. Let's pray the march to war is halted, or the USA gets lucky and the Iraqis choose not to fight.
Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com
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February 2003 Articles
have been returned to the Members Library
Letters - comments from G2mil readers
Drag Chutes are Needed - for aircraft safety
Time to Retire Tent City - mobile artillery units
Sky Ramp Interceptor - global reach
Shrink the Officer Corps - no more than one officer for every six enlisted
The Mythical North Korean Threat - the USA wastes resources "defending" powerful South Korea
The GPS Vulnerabilities - from the US Army
The Long-Term Implications of Current Defense Plans - new CBO report
The United States of America has gone mad - famous author
Israel to kill in U.S., allied nations - nothing new
Columbia's Problem Began on Left Wing - big problems to fix
Scrap the Space Shuttle Program - the November 2002 G2mil editorial
Previous G2mil - January 2003 issue
2005 Base Closure List - modified again
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