A careful reader of the limited news coming out of Iraq will discover the US military situation is perilous and a few more bad moves could send the US Army and Marines retreating back to Kuwait in the same manner they fled southward 54 years ago in Korea. That was when a million Chinese foot soldiers suddenly appeared and attacked as overextended US forces approached the Chinese border. American firepower, airpower, and technology was unable to compensate for the confusion and lack of supplies for American ground troops.
The main problem in Iraq today is the massive logistics effort required to sustain US Forces at a over a hundred dispersed camps. Over 95% of supplies arrive by ship, and the closest major seaport is in Kuwait. This means everything must be hauled hundreds of miles over war torn roads among hostile natives. This is far more difficult than Vietnam, which had a long coastline where supplies could be dropped off. A recent article by Tom Ricks of the Washington Post noted that most convoys are attacked, and that soldiers must stop to check each bridge for explosives because there is not enough manpower to guard them. Other reporters tell of recently destroyed bridges, forcing convoys to travel on secondary roads which doubles their travel time. In addition, many civilian truck drivers have refused to drive and many foreign logistics contractors have left Iraq.
Many reports tell of ammunition rationing. The US military was not expecting a prolonged conflict, and drawing and transporting dangerous ammo from limited worldwide stockpiles is a challenge. Senior Army officials told the House Armed Services Committee last month that nearly all the wartime stockpiles in Southwest Asia and on the island of Diego Garcia have been issued, as well as equipment stashed in Europe—a total of 10,000 tanks, personnel carriers, trucks, and other vehicles. Only the Army's equipment for one brigade in Korea and the Marines' brigade stock in Guam remain untouched. In addition, the desert sand and heavy use of helicopters and equipment is wearing them out many times faster than usual. This demands many more spare parts and shortages have developed. Ammunition and most military spare parts cannot be purchased on the commercial market. Assuming the military supply and contracting bureaucracy can quickly identify needs and place orders, it takes months to boost production. Meanwhile, Generals must juggle budget allocations with semi-legal account shifts since the Bush administration has announced that it will not ask Congress for supplemental funding until January, after the presidential election.
Back in Iraq, US commanders need more troops to guard supply lines and provide security, but more troops require more supplies. Moreover, the Army is stretched to the limit and has no forces ready to deploy. There are several National Guard divisions available since most Guard combat units have not been mobilized since 9-11. However, that would cause an election year embarrassment for the Bush administration, and there is no money allocated to pay them anyway. While President Bush often proclaims the nation is at war, he has failed to request a tax increase to pay for it and has become hesitant to mobilize more reservists to provide the manpower Army Generals say they need. Meanwhile, combat units have been diverted for an election year offensive into the rugged Afghanistan mountains in hope of capturing Osama bin Laden, while the Spanish and other allies pull their troops from Iraq. Finally, hundreds of heavy M-1 tanks were shipped back to the USA last year as the Army expected only light peacekeeping duty. Only 70 are left in Iraq, while 28 are inbound from Germany in an emergency airlift personally ordered by Secretary Rumsfeld. The 1st Marine Division brought none of its 58 tanks and was forced to borrow some from the Army to support recent fighting.
Americans forget the Bush administration had promised democracy in Iraq. Eventually, they realized that since the Shiite represent 60% of Iraq, the country would come under the control of fundamentalist religious leaders who are likely to demand the US military leave. The US is building four large, modern "enduring" bases in Iraq, and apparently wants to shift forces now based in Germany to permanent bases in Iraq, which is to become America's military bastion in the Middle East. Iraqis are not fooled by statements that "sovereignty" will be granted on June 30th. All this means is that some new English speaking Iraqi puppets will be appointed to represent US interests. While the US military attempts to win their hearts and minds with billions of dollars in aid, Iraqis show little gratitude since the US caused most of the damage with bombings and a ten year trade embargo.
Sensational reporting by Arab television networks has aroused anti-American hatred throughout the Arab world. The religious co-leaders of unstable Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa (a law) urging Muslims to use "all means" to stop what it called "the fierce onslaught" on Muslims by "occupation forces" in Iraq. It "urges every fair person among Muslims and others in the world to denounce this fierce onslaught and strive by all means to stop it and punish those responsible for it", said the fatwa, carried by the Saudi state SPA news agency. This was not reported by American media, and the effect is difficult to measure, but worrisome enough that the US government immediately ordered all non-essential US citizens to leave Saudi Arabia. President Bush further infuriated Arabs by announcing that he would not seek an agreement to end the Israeli occupation of Arab land, but will support whatever Israel wants to do.
As a result, Iraq has become a magnet for young, adventurous jihadist from Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran whose leaders have begun to openly voice disapproval of the situation. Iran has a population of 70 million, compared to 25 million in Iraq. If one million armed Iranians slip across the border and attack American infidels, the US may have to retreat. Anyone who thinks this is implausible should read about the US Army's embarrassing retreat from North Korea in 1950. Army Generals were extremely optimistic, dismissive of their enemy, and thought airpower could always protect them. This historical document: Staff Operations: The X Corps in Korea, December 1950 includes these comments:
"It seemed as if the war was winding to a successful close. So sure were Almond and his staff of the enemy's weakness that they thinned forces across the entire front. Almond told officers of one regiment: "We're still attacking and we're going all the way to the Yalu. Don't let a bunch of Chinese laundrymen stop you." That regiment was overrun a few days later, by Chinese laundrymen.
"General Willoughby-asserted that a Chinese intervention was highly unlikely but that if it occurred the Chinese would suffer massive casualties to UN air power. This optimism colored the plans and ideas of all subordinate commands."
"At the start of the massive Chinese intervention, the X Corps staff at first tried to ignore it or downplay its effect on the corps' offensive plans. In response to the new guidance and in an attempt to react to the rapidly changing situation for which they had no contingency plans, the X Corps staff prepared a succession of orders, each outlining vastly different types of operations." X Corps and the 1st Marine Division managed a semi-organized bloody retreat from all of North Korea which was embarrassing and costly.
American forces in Iraq cannot be defeated in standard military engagements. However, insurgents know the weak spot; the long main supply routes. If camps run short of ammo and spare parts, they must retreat toward Kuwait and hope that the Army's cash strapped logistics bureaucracy can meet the surging demand to save them from catastrophe. The Army must take five steps to prevent an embarrassing retreat: 1) Secure the main supply routes and establish emergency supply caches inside Iraq; 2) Develop plans to quickly abandon vulnerable camps in a crisis; 3) Avoid alienating the Arab world with offensive operations until the first two steps are accomplished; 4) Stop calling Iraqi insurgents thugs, terrorists, and criminals. That encourages poor treatment of all Iraqis by American soldiers and makes negotiations to end violence impossible; 5) Americans must not destroy Iraqi cities in order to save them, lest they find themselves overrun by irate Muslim laundrymen.
Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com
G2mil editorials may be freely distributed without permission
May 2004 Articles
Letters - comments from G2mil readers
Soldiers Need Greyhound Aircraft - to fly from aircraft carriers
Interceptor Body Armor - a old G2mil article from before 9-11
PG-7VR - a newer Russian RPG that sliced into an M-1 heavy tank
Defense Acquisitions (pdf) - GAO assessments of major weapon programs
Hollow Force - the US Army is breaking down
The Sunk Cost Fallacy - reinforcing failure
US Army National Guard Force Structure - 13 divisions worth, at least on paper
Weapons of the Insurgents - in Iraq
Shape Dummy Military - Chinese decoys
Frantically, the Army tries to armor Humvees - death traps
China Warns North Korean Dictator - shape up
Retired General Assails Iraq Policy - Zinni says heads should roll
How to Create Insurgents - how the British empire failed
Shuttle Derived Vehicle - avoiding progress
Blood Money - a US corporation paid off terrorists
Mutiny in the Ranks - of the new Iraqi Army
Extremism in the Defense of Liberty - losing our souls
GAO Say Army on Road to Ruin - the FCS scam
Previous G2mil - April 2004 issue
Past Editorials - by Carlton Meyer
2005 Base Closures - likely closures
Library Tour - visit G2mil's library
Library Entrance - members only
All material in G2mil Copyright 2004 G2mil, patents pending on some items. Links to www.G2mil.com are encouraged.