May 5, 2003
War archives, etc.
|* so far
NOTE: Includes all deaths, caused by enemy forces or not. Excludes military personnel (currently 72) whose names have not been released because their next of kin have not yet been contacted.
May 5, 2003
April 9, 2003
The daring, unexpected push into the heart of Baghdad by U.S. troops has once again confounded the "conventional wisdom" of pundits. Rather than pausing to replenish their supplies, as is standard practice, U.S. commanders chose to keep up the momentum from their recent victories. This was a calculated risk that paid off big time. The urban blitzkrieg caught Saddam Hussein's loyalists off guard, thus averting the bloody street fighting that many people feared. I had speculated about such a sudden grab of downtown turf on March 27 (albeit with helicopter-borne troops rather than tanks), but I didn't think U.S. commanders would actually try something so bold. My apologies to the U.S. Army! Now the people of Baghdad are dancing in the streets, exhilarated and perhaps intoxicated by the sweet air of liberty, which very few of them had ever known.
The liberation of Iraq's capital city comes three weeks after the outbreak of war, exactly the length of time that I had estimated the entire campaign would take on March 21. (Coalition casualties thus far have been much lower than I was expecting, thank goodness.) The Battle of Baghdad does not signify the end of this war, however. Some military resistance is likely to continue north of Baghdad -- around the town of Tikrit, the home town of Saddam and most of his henchmen, and around the oil-producing cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, toward which U.S.-led Kurdish rebels have been advancing. The situation in the north is very volatile, and there is still a risk that Turkey might intervene militarily to prevent the creation of an independent Kurdistan. Nasty surprises from Saddam's loyal thugs may yet await us, but American commanders have learned the lessons of Beirut in 1982 and Mogadishu in 1993, and our troops are presumably vigilant about possible terrorist attacks and ambushes.
The sudden triumph poses an interesting question for military analysts: What about the 4th Infantry Division and other reinforcements that are currently assembling in Kuwait? Those units were originally planning to invade Iraq from the north, but after Turkey rebuffed Colin Powell last month, the ships carrying their heavy equipment had to be diverted from the Mediterranean Sea to Kuwait, via the Suez Canal. One is tempted to wonder whether all that anguish might have been part of a ruse intended to make the Iraqis think that there would be no attack on Baghdad until at least mid-April, to get them to let down their guard. No doubt those reinforcements will still be needed to mop up die-hard resistance and to police the streets during the chaotic "interregnum" between the old despotic regime and the future democratic regime.
Beyond that, having a strong American force on hand in the Middle East for the next few months may also serve as un unsubtle hint to recalcitrant rogue regimes that they had better stop tolerating terrorists within their borders. As President Bush has said, the liberation of Iraq is by no means the final chapter of the long-term war against "terrorism," i.e., Arab-Islamic fascism. (As Middle East expert Bernard Lewis recently wrote in the National Post, the brutal regime of Saddam has no real roots in the local culture, but was in effect "imported" from the West. The Baath Party was founded during the early 1940s when fascism was on the rise. Lewis sees this as a "perverted" form of modernization.) No one is expecting U.S. forces to liberate Syria or Iran, of course, but televised images of grateful Iraqi people being freed from tyrrany by friendly GI's and Marines will undoubtedly have an enormous "demonstration effect" on those countries and others in the region. Authoritarian governments in the Middle East will gradually find that the old, reliable habit of instilling hatred for the United States in their people as a means of maintaining political control just doesn't work the way it used to.
As Donald Rumsfeld said, today marks a pivotal moment in history rivaling the fall of the Berlin Wall. Just as in 1989, the radical change in concrete politial circumstances will give rise to a corresponding radical change in the world psychological climate. Nevertheless, this is not the happily-ever-after "end of history," so it behooves us to recall the political objectives toward which the military action was aimed. (As Karl von Clausewitz said, war is the conduct of politics with other means.) Of course, flushing out terror cells and weapons of mass destruction are worthy goals in themselves, as is the liberation of 23 million Iraqi people. Beyond those, however, comes the more nebulous but ultimately far more important goal of de-legitimizing terrorism. Until now, Arab nationalists in Palestine, etc., and Muslim extremists in many countries have flaunted with impunity their terrorist "weapon" while many people in the Western world cowered and made excuses for them. No more. Thanks to the decisive, courageous leadership of President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, the will of the United States and Great Britain to resist intimidation and to prevail over barbaric terrorists is manifest to all. Arab-Islamic fascism is not dead yet, and years will pass before we can start to feel truly safe again, but the ultimate goal of a world of expanding freedom is now in sight.
FOOTNOTE: The B-1 bomber that dropped the JDAM smart bombs on the "leadership target" (Saddam?) two nights ago is part of the 34th Bomb Squadron that is normally based at Ellsworth Air Force Base, near Rapid City, SOUTH DAKOTA.
April 4, 2003
MSNBC has a story with more details about last summer's war game called Millennium Challenge. Retired Marine Corps General Paul Van Riper complained in a private e-mail that the exercise was "scripted" in advance rather than serving as a critical device. This was subsequently leaked to the Army Times, sparking a small uproar in the Pentagon.
After two weeks of hard fighting, the U.S. Army and Marines have suddenly broken through Iraqi defensive positions and arrived at the gates of Baghdad. Given the relatively small size of the invasion force, the terrorist tactics used by Saddam's Fedayeen, and the tenuous logistical situation, this campaign must rank as one of the most outstanding military achievements in history. The crushing defeat of Republican Guard forces around Karbala and Kut after three days of heavy attacks by American forces may signify the effective collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, but it is too early to tell whether his loyalists will stage a bitter last-ditch stand inside Baghdad. Recent military events certainly do fit the historical pattern of sudden collapse that is the hallmark of defeated totalitarian regimes, which are prone to issue hysterical lies and make blood-curdling threats right up until the bitter end. As I wrote on March 22, such regimes are more brittle than most outsiders realize, and thus prone to lose control in an astonishingly rapid fashion.
There are many other puzzles about the way this war has been fought so far. For example, why were most of the Iraqi army divisions originally deployed in the north, facing the Kurdish militias? There were only two Iraqi divisions on the southern front on March 19: the 11th Infantry, in Nasiriyah, and the 51st Mechanized, in Basra. (By the way, I heard news reports on March 20 that both of those divisions had surrendered, when in fact, resistance at both cities was fierce and prolonged. This may have been a case of U.S. "disinformation.") As for other mysteries, John Keegan applies his Euro-centric analytical mind to figure out what Iraq is up to, and is stumped:
Saddam, or whoever is in charge, is fighting the strangest war. It is tempting to wonder, on the evidence so far presented, whether the Iraqis have been fighting a war at all.
Iraq's seemingly incoherent response may be nothing more than the result of U.S. bombs having "decapitated" the regime at the very outset of the war, it may be deliberate irrationality ("crazy like a fox") to sow doubt in the minds of Coalition commanders, or it may be trap to entice U.S. forces into a Stalingrad-like battle in the streets of Baghdad.
Likewise, some people have wondered why Iraqi forces have not used the chemical or biological weapons they are widely believed to possess. It's no big mystery: For one thing, Saddam's main line of defense against the Anglo-American Coalition is world opinion, which would turn against him if he actually used such weapons. Also, his missiles, aircraft, and artillery are by and large not suited for delivering chemicals. Finally, the U.S. and British ground forces are well trained and equipped to handle chemical attacks, so it probably wouldn't give him much if any of an advantage. So why does he (probably) maintain such an arsenal? Simple: To instill terror in other countries. It's a cheap way to amass psychological power over one's opponents, a typical example of an "asymmetric" strategy used by rogue regimes and rebel movements seeking to even the tables with their "oppressors." This kind of behavior, which confounds conventional rationality and thus is to a large extent immune to great powers' "containment" efforts, is a reflection of the unique security predicament facing leaders in the Third World, one of the main themes of my dissertation. It also calls attention to the considerable risk that Saddam might find it convenient to "share" (for a proper price, of course) his doomsday weapons with non-state political movements who share a common enemy -- US!
What now? U.S. forces will probably pause to replenish their supplies and prepare for the final assault. U.S. control of the former "Saddam International Airport" just west of Baghdad will make it possible to quickly fly in troops from the 82nd and/or 101st Airborne Divisions. The big question is whether they will wait for reinforcements from the 4th Infantry Division and 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which are now assembling in Kuwait. Some military experts anticipate a steady but cautious advance into the city, seizing key points when the opportunity arises but not making a mass assault which would risk civilian casualties. This would follow the example of British forces besieging Basra, and it would serve to maintain the psychological sense of inevitability upon which U.S. strategy is based -- as long as the U.S. government is not distracted by other crises. (Are they paying attention in Pyongyang?) According to an article in the Washington Post, the Bush administration may simply declare victory even if there is no formal surrender. Some guerrilla resistance and terrorist attacks will no doubt continue on a sporadic basis for months to come. Whether or not total victory is at hand, it at least appears that the Iraqi people no longer fear Saddam and are beginning to cheer the liberators.
March 31, 2003
A front-page story in last Friday's Washington Post included an unusually candid quote from Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, the Army's senior ground commander in Iraq:
"The enemy we're fighting is different from the one we'd war-gamed against...
We knew we'd have to pause at some point to build our logistics power. ... This is about where we'd expected."
What was unexpected, however, was the zeal of Iraqi paramilitary fighters.
"We're dealing with a country in which everybody has a weapon, and when they fire them all in the air at the same time, it's tough," Wallace said
The "Sgt. Stryker" Web log followed up on this story by getting some inside information from one of the staff officers who participated in the actual wargames:
The most elaborate war game the U.S. military has ever held was rigged so that it appeared to validate the modern, joint-service war-fighting concepts it was supposed to be testing, according to [Paul Van Riper] the retired Marine lieutenant general who commanded the game's Opposing Force.
If so, it defeats the whole purpose of wargaming in the armed services. If staff officers don't feel free to speak their minds, it is easy to abuse wargames so as to "validate" a preconceived notion. The social norm of obedience to authority in military organizations always carries a latent risk of suppessing dissenting viewpoints, which can be dangerous. (That reminds me of the saying inscribed on the side of the Centro de Altos Estudios Militares [CAEM] building in Lima, Peru: "Ideas are to be expounded, not imposed.") Victory in war tends to breed an overconfidence among commanders who thus pay less attention to the novel kinds of threats to national security that continually emerge. Looks like "Desert Storm Syndrome."
Once again, Seymour Hersh has written an article in the New Yorker magazine that portrays Bush administration officials in a very unflattering light. He claims that, during the last few months, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld turned down repeated requests for more troops for the Iraq invasion force from General Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. Central Command. What's more, he writes, Rumsfeld has allegedly micromanaged conduct of the war, angering many officers in the Pentagon. Retired General Barry McCaffrey corroborates the second charge. If Hersh's article turns out to be substantially accurate, then Rumsfeld should be held accountable just like then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, who resigned under intense pressure a few months after the 1993 "Black Hawk Down" fiasco in Mogadishu. At the time I was infuriated by the fact that Aspin had declined requests for armored reinforcements by the commanders of the light infantry units who were patrolling in Somalia. Lack of adequate armaments was one of the main reasons why so many U.S. soldiers died in that awful tragedy. (Aspin died of a heart attack several months after that.) I like Rumsfeld's blunt, candid style (much as I liked former Secretary of the Treasurey Paul O'Neill), but Rumsfeld has made ill-considered remarks that offended potential U.S. allies more than one occasion, and he often shows signs of hubris.
Unlike many pundits who have criticized the U.S. failure to deploy sufficent ground forces prior to the war, General McCaffrey was NOT "second guessing". Here is what he said way back in the January 6 issue of the Washington Post:
If we get three heavy divisions plus the 101st and a Marine division, they will manhandle the Iraqi military in 21 days.
The forces we've apparently got targeted on Iraq are more than enough to do the job, but the opening moves shouldn't be modulated force to see if we can do it on the cheap. The biggest mistake you can make in boxing and combat is to lead tentatively into battle, instead of dominating it from the start.
In fact, there was only ONE U.S. heavy division available for the invasion on March 19, not three, though there would have been one more if Turkey had not refused passage to the 4th Infantry Division. Just as McCaffrey warned, the "undisputed heavyweight champion of the world" got a bloody nose in the first round of this fight. To be fair, the "premature" U.S. ground attack probably did yield a big benefit: It seems to have caught Saddam Hussein off guard, so his criminal henchmen didn't have enough time to torch very many oil wells.
Austin Bay makes some (revised) estimates on how long the war will last, while James Dunnigan offers some timely thoughts on the ugly specter of urban guerrilla warfare in "Saddam Succeeds with the Secret of Stalingrad," both on the Strategy Page Web site.
Whither the 101st Airborne Division? Well, its Apache attack helicopters are busy hunting for Iraqi tanks near Baghdad, but its highly-trained airmobile infantry units are deployed in rear areas, guarding supply lines along with units of the 82nd Airborne. What a waste. If the unique capabilities of U.S. airborne units are not exploited in a more aggressive fashion soon, this war might indeed drag on for several more weeks.
March 27, 2003
As I said at the outset, the employment of U.S. airborne forces will be one of the keys to victory. Part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade has already set up a base for a "second front" in northern Iraq, which will also serve to dissuade the Turks from intervening. Meanwhile, U.S. commanders have deliberately obfuscated the location of the 101st Airborne Division (the "Screaming Eagles"), which is rumored to have moved through the desert to a point west of Baghdad, presumably preparing for a sudden encirclement and/or assault. There have been a large number of news reports about all the difficulties on the battlefield faced by Coalition forces, and the weeks it is expected to take before the 4th Infantry Division and other reinforcements arrive, suggesting the possibility of an extended campaign. Could this all be a ruse to get the Iraqis to let down their guard? Just imagine another, even bigger "shock and awe" bombardment in the next few days that forces every living creature in Baghdad underground. A few minutes later, hundreds of U.S. helicopters have landed thousands of U.S. troops downtown, and suddenly it's all over. Hmmm...
March 26, 2003
The fact that the U.S. blitzkrieg has encountered resistance has shocked some observers who lack a solid background in military affairs. Obviously, this won't be the kind of "cakewalk" that some warhawks such as Paul Wolfowitz expected. If a large number of Iraqi people are indeed hostile to the Coalition liberators, this casts doubt on prospects for pacification and eventual democratization. Nevertheless, British military historian John Keegan warns against hasty gloom in response to the minor battlefield setbacks. Many Westerners are under the illusion that modern war is a fast, clean "video game," when in most ways war is as ugly and dirty as it ever was. Winning on the battlefield is still ultimately up to "grunt" infantry soldiers lugging rifles through often-harsh conditions. In fact, the 3rd Infantry Division's advance of over 250 miles in only four days ranks as one of the most superlative executions of "blitkrieg" tactics ever. Keegan does caution, however, that the amazingly swift early advance has concealed the thinness of the Coalition forces, who are now spread out across a vast area, exposing their supply lines to sabotage.
Retired General Barry McCaffrey has questioned whether the Coalition had sufficient forces on hand in Kuwait to launch a successful attack into Iraq. I don't always agree with McCaffrey, but this time I think he's right. There is only one heavy U.S. Army division (the 3rd Infantry) in the entire Iraqi theater right now, and the second one (the 4th Infantry) apparently isn't expected to be ready for combat until mid-April. (That was the unit that was originally intended to travel through Turkey on the way to northern Iraq, until the Turkish parliament turned down the proposed agreement.) The news that it will take three more weeks to get ready surprised me, because the ships carrying the 4th Division's equipment should have passed through the Red Sea by now, and presumably will dock in Kuwait within four days or so. The division's soldiers have begun arriving in Kuwait via air transport from the United States, and it will probably at least a week to "marry up" the troops with their equipment. After that, there are two other heavy divisions slated for deployment to Iraq.
I am hugely relieved that U.S. forces have not targeted "infrastructure" targets such as the electrical power grid or water distribution systems. That was one of the most shameful aspects of the 1999 U.S. war to liberate Kosovo from Yugoslavia. Protests notwithstanding, U.S. bombing attacks have been extremely precise and discriminating military from civilians thus far. Of course, there will be human errors and technical failures, as U.S. commanders have frankly acknowledged. The more that Iraqi "Fedayeen" irregular forces hide in off-limits civilian facilities such as hospitals and use civilians as "human shields," the higher civilian casualties will be. Comparing how the two sides abide by the Geneva Convention should leave no doubt in anyone's mind as to who the "good guys" are. Nevertheless, the casualty-avoiding conduct of the war thus far raises doubt about U.S. determination. American combat deaths thus far total about 30, a small number when you consider the huge accomplishments on the battlefield, though the that figure could rise sharply if Baghdad and other urban centers are assaulted. Inasmuch as one of the main objectives of the war is to demonstrate U.S. and Western will to prevail over terrorism, reluctance to finish the job in short order may help the Arab-Islamic fascist movement recruit new fighters.
The bulk of British forces have remained in the south and may soon launch an assault on Basra, which is populated mainly by Shiite Muslims who are hostile to Saddam Hussein. The last time the British Army marched into Iraq was in 1916, when the region was called Mesopotamia, and the defenders were the Ottoman Turks. The British troops advanced from Basra to the city of Kut, where they were soon cut off from their supply lines and forced to surrender.
March 22, 2003
History never repeats itself exactly, but there are always intriguing rough parallels. This war to liberate Iraq reminds one of the final campaign to conquer Nazi Germany from February to May, 1945. Even though it was obviously a lost cause, most German soldiers fought on to the bitter end because -- and this is important -- they were more afraid of Hitler and his Nazi henchmen than they were of the western Allies. Totalitarian systems enforce discipline by instilling fear in the population, and that is exactly what is happening in Iraq today. Loyalty to Saddam Hussein is based on pure unadulterated fear. However, this approach to governance imparts a "brittleness" to the structure of authority that is hard for people living in free societies to understand. Everyone obeys The Leader until a certain point when a "crack" in the government appears, and all of a sudden, defections start to multiply like wildfire. It is a classic "cascading" effect, which is one of the manifestations of chaos theory. This is what happened to Nazi Germany in March when the Americans and British breached the Rhine River, the last line of defense in the west. Imminent conquest robbed Hitler of his total authority, and for the last three weeks of the war, American and British forces advanced at a blitkrieg-like pace. (Germans on the eastern front faced an even more fearsome enemy in the Red Army; they stoutly defended German soil in the vain hope that the British and Americans would save the Fatherland from the Russian hordes.) Some people had feared that the Nazis would continue to hold out in a "National Redoubt" in the Alps, but it never happened; the fear-instilled Nazi myth of Aryan superiority was dead. The same thing happened when the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe suddenly collapsed in late 1989, as Communist ideology was exposed as a big lie. The astonishingly quick demise of the all-poweful Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was the most extreme case; hardly anyone in the West realized how much he was hated. Applied to the current situation, I think it's safe to say that at some point (perhaps very soon, if he is already dead), Saddam will no longer be able to instill fear in the Iraqi population and there will no longer be any reason for Iraqi soldiers to resist the Anglo-American liberation. Arab-Islamic fascism may linger on elsewhere, but its "homeland" in Iraq will soon be cleansed. Questions: Will the postwar U.S. military government carry out a "de-Baathification" program like the post-World War II de-Nazification program? Will Saddam's Baath Party henchmen flee to South America?
March 21, 2003
This new war -- "Operation Iraqi Freedom" -- bears many similarities to the 1991 war known as "Desert Storm" in terms of reliance on high-tech smart weapons, but there are also major differences. For one thing, the ground offensive has already begun, within 24 hours of the commencement of aerial bombardment, whereas in 1991 the Army and Marines did not go forward until Iraqi forces had been pummeled by air attacks for five weeks. In part, that reflects the much lower degree of diplomatic support for the U.S. position this time; without the official seal of U.N. approval, world opinion will be much less patient than was the case during Desert Storm. (It will also be much less forgiving of "collateral damage.") The U.S. military strategy appears at first glance to be quite blunt and obvious -- to roll over Iraqi resistance as quickly as possible -- but it is actually designed to avoid bloody combat by creating an air of invincibility that will hopefully induce Iraqi leaders to defect and lay down their arms. Above all, the political objectives are much grander than in 1991: to forcibly depose a hostile dictatorial regime so as to remove a key sanctuary for terrorists and political extremists, and possibly to encourage a move toward a more liberal democratic form of politics throughout the Middle East.
Being located so close to Kuwait, the city of Basra is the obvious initial target for Allied forces. Its liberation is intended to demonstrate the welcoming attitude of Iraqi people, but the fact that its people are of the oppressed Shiite minority means that it cannot be a reliable gauge of overall Iraqi sentiment. It is also important as a center of petroleum production. Likewise, there are hundreds of oil wells in the northern area around Mosul and Kirkuk, which happens to be where the Kurdish minority lives. The Kurds have had a autonomous zone for the past few years, and U.S. military officers are working with Kurdish militia units to open a second front in the north. The U.S. 4th Infantry Division was supposed to enter northern Iraq via Turkey, but the Turkish parliament turned down the U.S. offer of $6 billion in compensatory aid.
The main question is how aggressively will U.S. airborne forces be employed. The 101st Airborne Division, which uses helicopters, will probably be the spearhead of the invasion, seizing key bridges over the Euphrates River on the way to Baghdad. The two airborne brigades, which use parachutes, may be sent to the northern front or perhaps to the gates of Baghdad itself. Teams of U.S. Special Forces are already operating throughout Iraq, and they may be used to take control of airfields to facilitate rapid insertion of airborne units. Under ideal conditions, U.S. mechanized forces can advance at a speed of over 10 miles per hour, covering up to 50 miles per day. It is almost 300 miles from Kuwait to Baghdad, however, and keeping those gas-guzzling tanks and miscellaneous vehicles fueled over such a long distance from the base will be a huge logistical feat. Iraqi use of scorched-earth tactics (some oil wells have already been set on fire) and/or chemical weapons would delay the U.S. advance by a day or two. Once they reach Baghdad, if the elite Iraqi Republican Guard forces haven't collapsed by then, the campaign will assume a more political, cloak-and-dagger aspect. The U.S. Army desperately wants to avoid the worst-case scenario of large-scale street combat like Stalingrad in World War II, so they will put greater emphasis on psychological operations. The attempt to capture Saddam Hussein might end up looking a lot like the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, when Manuel Noriega evaded capture for several days by taking refuge in a church.
So how long will the whole campaign take, and how high will the casualties be? I'm guessing three weeks *, with about 500 Allied combat deaths altogether. Back in 1991, I expected only a few days of bombardment before the land war began, and I expected the ground campaign to last about a week; it turned out to be only four days. I expected about a thousand Allied combat deaths in 1991, when the actual total turned out to be under 300. When you see all the hysterical protesters marching in the streets and warning of Apocalypse, don't forget that as the ground war phase of Desert Storm began, many people were in a total panic, fearing that we would lose ten or twenty thousand soldiers.
The Washington Post published an excellent full-page map that shows in detail the locations of all major military units in Iraq and Kuwait.
* [bold face added on April 9]