Monday, March 31, 2003
Book Recommendation: The New Face of War by Bruce Berkowitz
I had the good fortune to read and review this book for The Washington Monthly's April 2003 issue -- I highly recommend it to all of Intel Dump's readers. Bruce Berkowitz is a former intelligence analyst with experience in the halls of Congress, the CIA and the Pentagon. That experience makes him uniquely qualified to comment on the role of information in warfare. The New Face of War does just trumpet the coming of a "Revolution in Military Affairs," nor does it preach the value of one particular weapons system like GPS or cruise missiles. Instead, Berkowitz steps back and offers a holistic look at warfare, offering one picture of how war might look in the 21st Century. Here are two excerpts:
“Today the ability to collect, communicate, process, and protect information is the most important factor defining military power,” Berkowitz writes in his new book, The New Face of War. “As the theories and technology of information-driven warfare have developed since Desert Storm, warfare has changed. The ability to maneuver quickly and concentrate firepower have become less crucial. The new capabilities that decide who wins [include]: the ability to pick off your adversary from a distance with a single shot, the ability to maintain a stealthy network of forces… [and] the ability to control information so that you can complete your decision cycle before the enemy completes his.”Update: The Washington Monthly's site has the full review posted here, along with their April 2003 table of contents. If you're looking for independent, informed, provocative analysis, I think this magazine is a great place to start. Their articles usually "scoop" the major news magazines by weeks or months, and the writing is generally quite outstanding. Many of America's best reporters, such as James Fallows and Gregg Easterbrook, cut their teeth writing for the Washington Monthly.
Whatever happened to homeland security?
President Bush took a short break today from the war room to visit a U.S. Coast Guard facility in Philadelphia and praise the USCG members and families there for their hard work in the war on terrorism. I suppose whether you see this as a "break" in the war effort depends on whether you see our war in Iraq as part of the global war on terrorism -- separate. Or, whether you think that our war on Iraq makes an act of terrorism more likely, less likely, or as likely than before. I tend to fall into both camps. I think that our war on Iraq is part of the global war on terrorism -- we cannot let rogue states (particularly those with ties to terrorist groups) control weapons of mass destruction. However, I also think our prosecution of this war abroad makes us vulnerable at home to Islamic terrorism. Thus, the visit to the Coast Guard is much like visiting the troops at Fort Hood, except that he's praising the guys on defense instead of those on offense.
Gunboats on the Euphrates?
A couple of readers have written me to ask why the U.S. military hasn't deployed its riverboat fleet to Iraq to secure the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, as the Navy did with its "brown water" fleet during the Vietnam War. Not being a Navy guy, I scratched my head and said "That's a good question." George Rosensteel at Tulane University was thoughtful enough to write with the ansewr, which with his permission, I've reproduced for you.
In 1835 Francis Rawdon Chesney of the British army hauled two paddle steamships, the Tigris and the Euphrates, overland from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, and the following year he successfully navigated the river to the Persian Gulf. This attempt to find a shorter route to India did not result in steam service on the Euphrates but did lead to regular steamship traffic between Basrah and Baghdad on the Tigris. Waterborne traffic above Basrah has been replaced, largely, by train and road transport, but shallow-draft motorized vessels, small sailing ships, and pleasure boats still use the river. The marsh dwellers of southern Iraq use a variety of motorized boats up to 50 feet (15 metres) in length, along with balams and other traditional craft.Addendum: I'd only add two things to this great analysis. First, the U.S. Marines have a robust amphibious capability that they take with them into combat, and the U.S. Army has a fairly robust river-bridging capability that includes a number of boats. We are bringing some boats into the fight; just not many. Second, the major difference between Vietnam's terrain and Iraq is that the rivers in Vietnam were the equivalent of roads in the lower part of that country known as the Mekong Delta. With thick jungle on either side of the river, it made sense to use the rivers for patrolling and force projection. Although some marshy and complex areas do exist near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq, I suspect we can project combat power on either side of those rivers with helicopters and aircraft. Thanks again George for your note.
Post-Script: As stated earlier, I'm not a Navy guy. But Matt at Stop the Bleating is -- in fact, he's a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who spent several years as a Marine Corps officer. Matt has some important clarifications & amplifications on this issue, such as this:
It's not clear to me just how much of a "Brown Water" Navy we have these days. The SEALS have some high-speed (in both the literal and jargon senses of the word) small craft, but SEALs don't really do the sea control--or, in this case, river control--mission. And beyond them, I'm not sure there's much else. The modern equivalent of a PT boat was the Pegasus class PHM--Patrol Hydrofoil, Missile--which was a really cool, extremely fast little platform that packed a lot of punch for its size. (Its on-foil powerplant was an LM2500 gas turbine engine, which was a very close relative of the engine used to power DC-10 airliners. Imagine a smallish hydrofoil with 21,000+ horsepower, eight Harpoon missiles and a 76mm rapid-fire gun: that was the PHM.) But the PHMs were all decommissioned in 1993. Downsizing and all that, I suppose. I've seen one Navy riverine-type craft, on a trailer parked at Kings Bay when I was stationed there. I inquired about it once, and learned that it was part of a Navy Reserve unit that sounded as if it might have been the modern equivalent of the old Brown Water Navy. But if that force exists at all anymore, I gather it's fairly small and mostly or entirely a reserve force.
Cause and effect
Suicide bombing at checkpoint causes U.S. to respond with more forceful behavior
I speculated yesterday that American units would bolster their force-protection posture in response to the suicide bombing by an Iraqi army officer which claimed 4 American lives. According to an article on the Washington Post website, that response was both immediate and forceful. A mechanized infantry platoon opened fire today in Iraq on a truck full of Iraqi civilians, killing at least 10 Iraqis. Again, my dictum that "first reports are always wrong" applies here -- we can't know what actually happened on the ground. And we should also remember that American "rules of engagement" always state up front that self-defense is the right of every soldier and unit. If I were in these infantrymen's position, I probably would've done the same thing. That said, I'm not about to engage in any Monday-morning quarterbacking from my comfortable seat in Los Angeles while these brave infantrymen fight in the Iraqi desert.
NEAR KARBALA, March 31-As an unidentified four-wheel drive vehicle came barreling toward an intersection held by troops of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, Capt. Ronny Johnson grew increasingly alarmed. From his position at the intersection, he was heard radioing to one of his forward platoons of M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles to alert it to what he described as a potential threat.Update: I blogged earlier about this without much analysis. Now I'm going to add some. First, I think these soldiers did the right thing. They saw a potentially hostile vehicle approaching at high speed in a theater where suicide bombings were an imminent and likely threat. They responded with graduated means, first by warnings shots and then lethal fire. Ultimately, they killed the target. I think they acted in self-defense, but that's something that only an investigation can bring out. That brings home my second point. Do you think any other Army in the world would undertake an investigation in an analogous situation? The answer is no. The American military is unique in this regard. No other military in history has devoted as much effort to scrupulously following the law of war when it comes to distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants, or minimizing collateral damage. Our military assigns lawyers all the way down to brigade level (sometimes lower) to ensure compliance, and we vigorously investigate every incident where a civilian dies as a direct result of U.S. action. In war, such incidents happen. But we make every effort to make sure they don't happen often or systematically, and my personal experience has been that we do a good job.
Setting the conditions for an American-led assault on Baghdad
Popular misconceptions about France aside, their nation has actually contributed some very important things to military history and military doctrine. The most significant of these has to be mass, universal conscription, which was how Napoleon raised his massive armies to wage war on Europe. It's been a while since I read on this subject, but the "levee en masse" was a strategic and political development par excellence. It enabled France to wage campaigns of conquest against other powerful nation states, and for a while, for France to win under Napoleon's leadership. The darkside of this development was that it transformed the nature of battle into a campaign of sheer numbers -- one where success was a matter of grinding your opponent down by inflicting more casualties on him than he inflicted on you. (Or, possibly, more on your enemy than he could politically stand) Through the 18th and early 19th Century, war remained a battle of attrition between large armies. Armored vehicles and maneuver warfare changed this, especially in World War II, when flying columns of armor on both sides fought moving battles over terrain and objectives only loosely correlated with attrition.
Nonetheless, America fought such attrition-based battles in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, and they have been memorialized in films such as "Hamburger Hill," and "Platoon". In attrition warfare, manpower is devalued and soldiers become expendable. Commanders fling soldiers at objectives because manpower is all they have. Today's American military substitutes capital for labor wherever it can, and we now prefer to send a bullet (or cruise missile) instead of a man. Today, the American military has almost fully embraced maneuver warfare. Our four services practice variations of it, and our doctrine emphasizes the need to strike the enemy where he is weak instead of fighting toe-to-toe slugfests.
Consequently, our strategy aims to "set the conditions" before any major ground assault. This means attriting the enemy's forces, disrupting his command and communications structure, disabling various defensive measures like land mines, and generally messing up his plan. Ultimately, we aim to make the odds as unfair as possible -- in our favor. Our Army and Marine commanders never want to fling their volunteer soldiers and Marines into a toe-to-toe slugfest, where the side that wins is the side willing to ante up the highest bet in blood.
Today's Washington Post has a great piece on this by Karen DeYoung. In the article, Ms. DeYoung reports that American commanders have decided to pause south of Baghdad until they can "set the conditions" for an American assault.
The Pentagon's top military and civilian officials indicated yesterday that an all-out ground offensive against the Iraqi capital will not take place until conditions are more favorable to U.S. forces.Analysis: At the Army's National Training Center in August 2000, I learned several hard lessons about "tactical patience" when I charged ahead with a little too much initiative. Tactical patience means waiting to strike until the enemy's unprepared, asleep, outnumbered, or demoralized. Our commanders have learned these lessons too. Sometimes, it's best to wait until the conditions are right to fight the enemy -- no one's in any hurry to die or be shot in the desert. American commanders have the initiative in this campaign, and they can afford to "shape the battlefield" until the conditions are right for an American assault. Frankly speaking, we want to make this an unfair fight. There are no rewards for sportsmanlike conduct in war when such conduct means losing more of America's finest sons and daughters in combat. Or, to use Gen. George Patton's oft-quoted line: The goal in war is to make the other [guy] die for his country, not to die for yours.
Intel Dump's readership is benefitting from two new referrals. Time magazine included an article in this week's issue about weblogs and war, listing my website as one of the places to turn for military analysis. USA Today also sent some readers my way today, with an online weblog of its own about the war. Thanks for the publicity, and I welcome any readers referred from these sites.
Kellogg Brown & Root fails to nab Iraq reconstruction contract
Contrary to popular belief, competitive bidding for government contracts sometimes works. Insiders don't always win, and the lowest bidder sometimes does. Despite the high-level connections of its former CEO, Halliburton's subsdiary Kellogg Brown & Root did not make the final round of competition for the lucrative ($900 million+) contract to rebuild Iraq. USAID would not comment on who the two finalists were, but they did indicate that Brown & Root would not get the contract. I wrote before that KB&R might be the best bidder for the contract, given its experience with the military overseas in Bosnia and Kosovo. But there are other great companies out there, such as CSC DynCorp, who are capable of the same thing. Moreover, KB&R has one of the contracts right now to help with extinguishing and restarting Iraqi oil wells, so it's not completely out of the picture.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, which is responsible for handing out the main postwar reconstruction contracts, confirmed that KBR, formerly Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Houston-based Halliburton Co., was not among two finalists for the contract.
Did "shock and awe" work?
All the major newspapers have produced articles over the last week questioning the Pentagon's "shock and awe" strategy in the Gulf. Most have looked superficially at the strategy itself, focusing instead on the media strategy used to market the plan to the American public. Sometimes, it becomes confusing who's actually supposed to be shocked and awed -- the Iraqis or the American TV-watching audience. Nonetheless, I'd like to clarify some of my thoughts on "shock and awe" generally, and "effects-based operations" specifically.
"Shock and Awe" is the title of a book written in 1996 by Harlan K. Ullman, an influential defense-policy thinker and author whose ideas found a receptive audience inside the Pentagon's E-Ring where the Secretary's office is. The term itself is not quite accurate; the better term is "effects based operations," an idea championed by Major General Dave Deptula (US Air Force) and others. I'm not an expert on this theory by any measure. But from what I've read, the premise of EBO is quite simple. You model the way that your enemy, e.g. Iraq, works. Planners look for key vulnerabilities. The strategic plan, including both the land and air component, is designed to affect the enemy in a certain way, e.g. to shut down his Command/Control system or critical infrastructure. These effects are what drives the strategic, and they form the metrics of success. Body counts, terrain, and other traditional measures do not drive the strategy, unless they relate directly to the "effects" being sought.
Okay, sounds great. Why isn't it working? First, it's not clear that EBO is not working. It's only clear that Iraq has not capitulated yet. Of course, no nation (not even France) has surrendered in less than a week, so maybe we need to have more patience with this strategy to see if it's working. Second, EBO is still in its infancy. Fred Kaplan wrote a great piece in Slate titled "The Flaw in Shock in Awe," where he laid out some of the premises for this strategy:
Ever since Desert Storm, a small but increasingly influential group of Air Force officers has been refining the concept. In the past few years, smart bombs and cruise missiles have become vastly more accurate, due to the use of Global Positioning Satellites to guide the weapons to their targets. Due to satellites, advanced drones, and fast computers, commanders can pick out targets and order weapons to hit those targets—including mobile ones—far more swiftly than before.
Again, sounds great. But do all those technological enablers exist yet in the force? No, they don't. The military has only recently begun to digitize and go through its revolution in military affairs. Most of the technologies assumed by EBO exist in small quantities throughout the force, such as in the Special Forces and Air Force combat air controller communities. We're not at the point yet where the average infantryman in the 3-7 Marines can open his wrist-mounted laptop, pen a spot-report, and have it instantly relayed up the chain of command to launch an A-10 airstrike. EBO assumes that such technology, and such "sensor-to-shooter" links, exist. It doesn't yet, at least not across the spectrum of military units. I tested some of these technologies for the Army in the 4th Infantry Division, and in theory, they will work as advertised in concert with an EBO warplan. But not yet; not until the entire force has them.
There's a second problem, and Kaplan hit this on the head too. Col. John Boyd's OODA theory is clearly in play with Effects Based Operations. But a lot of people don't give enough import to the nuances of Boyd's OODA loop. The key to its success is its circularity -- the loop requires the constant addition of feedback in order to re-observe, re-orient, re-decide, and re-act. It's not enough to get inside the enemy's decision cycle, and to act faster than the enemy. EBO and military operations generally must react to a dynamic situation. EBO strategies assume a model for the enemy at the start of a war. Certain vulnerabilities and centers of gravity are assumed. When we strike those targets and they do not cause the effects we want, we need to adjust our plan. That's the bottom line. EBO can work -- but as always, it must be flexible and adaptive to the situation.
Update: For more on "Effects Based Operations" generally and military technology specifically, see Noah Shachtman's site DefenseTech. He's got a bunch of great articles on there (like this one), including several that have been published in Wired and other journals.
A note about military families
Several articles have run on local television news in Los Angeles about Marines from Camp Pendleton who had young children and either a dual military family (both parents are military) or single-parent family where they had problems arranging for child care. I don't have a lot of experience with the Marines' program, but we had these kinds of issues come up in the Army all the time. Today's military is more married, more gender-diversified, and more child-bearing than the conscription-based military of 30 years ago. Consequently, lots of kids get caught in the middle when units deploy. The military's answer has been to require every soldier to have a "family care plan" for their children in the case of deployment. This is no problem for married families where only one parent is military. But in divorced families, single-parent families, and dual-military families, it can pose a challenge. Many of my soldiers relied on their grandparents, parents, and friends to fill in the gaps.
A retired Army officer with extensive combat experience e-mailed me a note that indicates these are starting to cause major problems in a number of units. One problem is when soldiers make "paper" family care plans that don't stand the test of reality. Another related problem is where soldiers make FCPs, but they're not strong enough to last for the entire length of a combat deployment (some units have already been deployed more than 9 months). And a final problem is that some soldiers simply don't want to write an FCP for their kids. This last category is the easiest -- soldiers can be discharged ("chaptered") and often are for failing to create an FCP. The first two cause inordinate headaches for those "rear detachment" officers who are left behind to take care of family issues. "This whole system is totally broken, and creates a
nightmare for Commanders," writes one officer on such duty.
Bottom Line: The U.S. military is getting a lot better at dealing with these issues, but it's still having growing pains. As the war moves on, we will see more stories along these lines; some may fail to convey all the nuances involved. Understand that military families have a very tough life, and there are hardships for the soldiers and family members. But the military does not look at families the same way that they did 30 years ago, where sergeants often told their privates that "If the Army wanted you to have a family, son, they would've issued you one."
Sunday's New York Times Week in Review section had a pair of great articles by James Webb and Max Boot respectively. Webb served as a rifle platoon leader and company commander in the Marines during the Vietnam War, seeing more than his fair share of combat. Boot recently left the Wall Street Journal's editorial page for a position with the Council on Foreign Relations; he just published the book "Savage Wars of Peace" about the last 150 years of American military expeditions abroad. I respect both men a great deal.
Webb's article is appropriately titled "The War in Iraq Turns Ugly. That's What Wars Do." Writing from Arlington, Webb gives us a healthy dose of realism -- the kind of realism that comes from someone who's seen close combat and served at the highest levels of the Pentagon.
They will most likely try to draw American units into closer quarters, forcing them to fight even armored battles in heavily populated areas nearer to Baghdad. This kind of fighting would be designed to drive up American casualties beyond the point of acceptability at home, and also to harden Iraqi resolve against the invaders.The other great piece comes from Max Boot, whose book "Savage Wars of Peace" sheds light on the history of American military work abroad to make war, peace and build nations. Suffice to say, it started a long time before Bosnia, and it involved a lot of Realpolitik. Boot writes in "Sparing Civilians, Buildings and Even the Enemy" that America's military may be fighting with one hand tied behind its back, and that our humanism may not nest well with our need to win this war rapidly.
The enormity of the destruction is almost impossible to comprehend today, because the American armed forces fight so differently now. The new way of war emphasizes precision and aims for minimal casualties on both sides. This approach represents a considerable advance, but it also brings its own set of problems.
Sunday, March 30, 2003
More weblogs to check out
Several sites have been generous with their links to Intel Dump, and I would like to return the favor. I will be adding these sites to my "Noteworthy Blogs" list on the left in the near future. In the meantime, please check them out.
- Command Post. This blog does a great job of reporting news coverage, and it has some great links to other sites as well.
- Agonist. Another blog that stays ahead of the news cycle. Its tagline is "Thoughtful, global, timely," and I think that sums it up well.
- SGT Stryker. A great blog from what appears to be a military family with several members deployed to Southwest Asia.
- Winds of Change. This blog has generated a fair amount of traffic for me, and it has some really engaging thoughts about liberty, humanity, and other topics.
Of course, I have to thank the bigtime players like Slate, Glenn Reynolds, Mickey Kaus, Eugene Volokh, The American Prospect, Mark Kleiman, and others for sending me so much traffic. This war is proving the capability of the "blogosphere" to respond to breaking news and provide quality content above and beyond what the mainstream media offers. Thanks again.
Update: I also just learned of another article on war and weblogs, this time in the Washington Post. Cindy Webb writes in "Blogging the War" that "The public's hunger for information and opinion about the Iraq war has fueled an explosion of "war blogs" on the Internet." Her article has a very comprehensive list of the better blogs out there, and I was flattered to see Intel Dump listed. Definitely worth reading if you're looking for more great content on the Internet about our war in Iraq.
Update II: The law school at Lewis & Clark College has a good links page for Internet sites related to the war on Iraq.
Military and political goals of the war begin to diverge
Sunday's Washington Post has a great article by Tom Ricks and Rick Atkinson on the progress of the war. These are perhaps the two finest military reporters in the profession; each has won the Pulitzer and written several books on the military and its institutions. Ricks and Atkinson astutely note that many of the tactical goals -- like securing lines of supply and clearing cities -- are in tension with the political goals of pacifying the Iraqi people. Ultimately, the challenge for the Bush Administration is to craft a strategy which can achieve both of these goals. Also, the military strategy of fighting when the conditions are set, along with minimizing friendly casualties, is in tension with the political impetus to win this war fast.
Carrying out the original aim of a quick war with minimal civilian casualties would require taking chances that officers here now deem imprudent. In the past week, they found the Iraqi resistance tougher and more widespread than expected, and the planned charge to Baghdad stopped short of the city, with Hussein still in place.Analysis: I'm not a strategic expert; my expertise is all at the tactical (muddy boots) and operational (division staff) level of warfare. But I think there's a real issue here that's beginning to emerge as our generals and colonels pursue one strategy that is not necessarily in perfect harmony with our national grand strategy. What is our end state in Iraq? What are the things we need to do to meet that end state? Are we doing all of the little things (like feeding Iraqi refugees and de-Baathifying Iraqi prisoners of war) that will support our grand strategy? More will emerge in the near future on this, and I think we will see some high-level consultation in the near future between President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Franks on this issue. Ultimately, the civilians are the ones in charge -- not the generals. But the military must pay the cost in blood for the political leaders' blunders. These competing interests are very though to harmonize, and even the best wartime leaders (e.g. Churchill) get it wrong on occasion.
Suicide bombing -- an individual act of jihad?
How can American and British units prevent such acts in the future?
The front pages of every Sunday newspaper I read carried the story of an Iraqi army officer who blew himself up at a U.S. checkpoint, killing 4 Americans. Saddam Hussein's regime immediately claimed credit for this act, saying it would be followed by many more over the coming weeks and months as Iraq wages an unconventional war of survival.
Saturday's suicide attack on a road near Najaf was the first of its kind against U.S. forces since the invasion began. It represents a further escalation in a deadly Iraqi guerrilla campaign organized mainly by members of Hussein's paramilitary groups to slow the allied advance on Baghdad and sap morale.Analysis: Several things came to mind as I read this story. First, the fatwas issued by many Islamic fundamentalists over the last two decades call for individual acts of jihad against Western imperialism, Israel, the U.S., and so on. This act might have been inspired by that doctrine. However, Saddam Hussein's Baath Party regime is not a religious state -- indeed, it's about as secular as any regime in the Gulf region. It's not necessarily true that this was inspired by the same religious fervor and exhortation that makes young men into suicide bombers against Israel. We haven't seen a lot of these acts yet, despite our military success. If such fervor ran as deep as we feared in the Iraqi army, we'd see an awful lot of these types of events. Historically, this might look a lot like the fighting against the Japanese during World War II, where individual holdouts would often fight U.S. Marines and soldiers to the death.
Ultimately, preventing future incidents like this one will require a renewed emphasis on security. Every soldier and Marine -- whether he's an tanker, pilot, fueler, medic or chaplain -- must think of himself or herself as an infantryman first and everything else second. People in the desert must be secured, identified and searched, and we must be willing to shoot first and ask questions later. The first line of every American Rules of Engagement document states explicitly that "You have the inherent right to self-defense of yourself and your unit. Nothing in this ROE shall limit that right in anyway." In our haste to make friends with the Iraqi people, we might have let our guard down. This simply cannot happen again.
Friday, March 28, 2003
Tactical pause: Intel Dump will be back on Sunday evening with more analysis and commentary on the weekend's events. I am taking a condensed spring break from law school this weekend after working all week on grading undergraduate exams. Please come back then.
Support the troops, not me
I've received several e-mails asking whether I intend to accept PayPal donations or other financial contributions to this site. I've decided to decline those gracious offers, though I definitely appreciate the sentiment. Instead, I would prefer that you direct your good will and financial contributions to my former unit, the 4th Infantry Division, who started deploying today. In lieu of any donations to me, please order a small care package (coffee, camping food and candy are good to send) from Starbucks, Peet's, or REI. Send it to:
Chaplain (MAJ) Jim Caraway
HHC 4ID - Attn: Division Chaplain
Unit # 92628
APO, AE 09323-2628
Although I have not made contact with the chaplain (he's a little busy now), I think he's the best person to send things to and distribute them within the division to the soldiers/units who need it. Thanks for your support.
Update: I've received several e-mails asking whether this was an authorized, official program. No -- this is my unofficial, unauthorized program to support my former unit. I don't think it will result in a groundswell that breaks the military postal system. But one reader pointed out that the United Service Organization (USO) also has a care package program. That's a great option too.
Update II: Another reader e-mailed me with another "official" way to support the troops. The Army Emergency Relief (AER) fund has been around for a long time, providing loans and financial assistance to soldiers with bona fide, documented emergencies. Each service has a similar program, though as an Army veteran, I'm going to recommend this one.
Why is urban combat so bloody?
A number of readers have written in with questions about urban combat and the various forms it may take for the U.S.-led force in Iraq. I should state up front that I have no crystal ball; it's not clear how warfare will unfold in Iraq's major cities. However, there are some basic truths about urban combat which we've learned in places like Hue, Saigon, Mogadishu, and from other nations exploits in places like Chechnya. This is an illustrative list of some of the issues we may see if we take the fight into Iraq's cities.
1. Three-dimensional combat. It's commonly said that urban warfare takes place in three dimensions -- whereas surface warfare or desert warfare takes place in just two. That's because of the vertical dimension to streetfighting, where threats may come from above, below or to either side of you. This adds a great deal of complexity to the fight. This complexity generally aids the defender, since he's fighting on his home turf and has the ability to ensconce himself in buildings, sewers, and other places where he can fight from.
2. Cover and concealment. The U.S. has a major technological advantage on the open battlefield because it can see the enemy from a long distance away and shoot to kill that enemy -- either with artillery, tank fire, or even rifle fire. In urban combat, this advantage basically disappears. Enemy soldiers can hide in buildings with relative ease, and there still aren't a lot of technical means to find them. (Hard to see through buildings) One sniper can hole up in a large building and wreak havoc by shooting through windows, holes in the wall, and ventiliation shafts. In urban combat, the enemy has a million places to hide -- and it takes tedious, detailed work by infantry to root them out.
3. Civilians and paramilitaries. Distinguishing between civilians and soldiers in urban areas becomes a lot more complicated, because there are a lot more civilians and a great incentive for soldiers to blend into that population to avoid deliberate U.S. targeting. We've already seen a lot of unconventional warfare by the Iraqis, and it stands to reason that they would use it even more in an urban setting. American forces also found in Mogadishu that civilians often take up arms and fight as paramilitaries when fighting against an aggressor. If we don't do the Civil Affairs and humanitarian missions right, we may face intense resistance from Iraqi civilians with AK-47s fighting as paramilitaries and guerillas. That's pretty much our nightmare scenario. (See Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down for more on how this issue played out during the Battle of Bakara Market in October 1993)
4. Communications. America's military works on mostly FM-based communications systems which generally require line-of-sight transmission paths. The concrete, steel and glass in urban areas interferes with these commo systems and makes it hard for units to talk with one another beyond a few blocks. This is an acute problem at the lowest level -- the infantry squad -- where soldiers fight with battery-powered radios that may or may not be able to punch out of a concrete building.
5. Force structure. Since Vietnam, America's military has substituted capital more and more for manpower (in macroeconomics terms). The basic idea was to send a bullet (or bomb), not a man, whenever possible. We have poured money into cruise missiles, tanks, helicopters, ships, and aircraft that can hit a target from miles away without involving the muddy-boots work of the infantry. Unfortunately, urban combat requires a wholly different sort of force. As T. R. Fehrenbach wrote about the Korean War, this kind of war can only be won by nations that are willing to put their young men in the mud. Our military -- even with the reserves -- does not have a substantial amount of infantry. It has a high tail-to-tooth ratio, meaning that there are a lot more support troops than combat troops in the military. And of course, most are not infantrymen -- they include tankers, combat engineers, artillerymen, etc. One immutable truth of urban warfare is that it requires a lot of infantry.
Bottom Line: I can't predict what will happen in Baghdad or Basra. Our military has done a lot of homework in recent years to get better at urban combat, especially the U.S. Marine Corps and the Army's light infantry community. My hope is that we wait on the outskirts of the city and use unconventional means to draw out civilians and take down Saddam's regime. But as one famous general quipped, "Hope is not a method."
Update: Sunday's Los Angeles Times carries an engaging piece on the front page about urban combat and some of the problems I talk about. It takes a more historical perspective, drawing analogies between our current campaign and those fought by the Germans in Stalingrad and the Russians in Grozny. Definitely worth a look.
Admin note: At the suggestion of some IT professionals, I altered the e-mail addresses in the Intel Dump links to fool "spambots" which crawl the web and look for e-mail addresses in webpages. If you decide to e-mail me, you'll need to correct the "_at_" to "@" in the e-mail address. Thanks!
Truth and War
When it comes to wartime leadership, few leaders compare to Winston Churchill. Despite daily bombing by German aircraft, a bleak situation on the European continent, and American reluctance to enter the war, Churchill rallied the British people with stirring speeches about sacrifice, perseverance, and character. I've heard echoes of Churchill in many of Tony Blair's speeches as well. Both leaders have an uncanny ability to frame the hardships of war in such a way as to make the sacrifice seem worthwhile.
On this side of the Atlantic, we've seen less of that sort of leadership. President Bush has delivered stirring speeches before Congress, the UN, and various gatherings across America. Secretary of State Colin Powell has done yeoman's work around the world, preaching the reasons behind our cause to the world. However, the spin in recent days from the White House has not lived up to this standard of rhetoric. Indeed, I question the factual veracity of some of these comments, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:
Today's press briefing at the White House was one of the more contentious in recent memory, as reporters hammered away at Fleischer about war planning.Analysis: I'm not sure if the White House is on solid ground here, factually or rhetorically. First, it's clear from field reports that things have not gone exactly as planned. In war, nothing ever goes exactly as planned. Even Gen. Franks has admitted as much, along with his top commanders. Factually speaking, the Administration would be on firmer ground if it admitted some minor tactical setbacks, but spoke of how the grand strategy was moving forward. Or, perhaps, that America's plan was adapting and responding to a dynamic situation. But not that the plan "has not and should not change."
Rhetorically speaking, there's a larger issue here. What made Churchill and Roosevelt such great wartime leaders was their ability to communicate with the British and American people that their sacrifices were worthwhile. (See Supreme Command by Eliot Cohen for more on wartime leadership by Churchill, Linconln, Ben Gurion and Clemenceau) We can't imagine today the depth of sacrifices made then -- mass conscription, rationing of basic goods like food and gasoline, etc. Real leadership meant justifying the cause on a daily basis to the people, so that the people would embrace the cost of war as necessary. Our current war with Iraq may well become costly -- in terms of blood and treasure -- in the next several weeks and months. America requires more than hedging from the White House press secretary; America needs leadership.
Here's a taste of what I'd like to see, from the famous speech that Winston Churchill gave on 4 June 1940:
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States
have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo
and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule,
we shall not flag or fail.
We shall go on to the end.
We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air,
We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be,
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds,
We shall fight in the fields, and in the streets,
We shall fight in the hills;
We shall never surrender.
Update: Matt has some interesting thoughts on wartime leadership and rhetoric at Stop the Bleating. Definitely worth a look. Matt's a former U.S. Marine Corps officer who's in law school on the East Coast, and I think he's one of the more articulate guys out there on this stuff because he knows the issues from a muddy-boots level and a policy level.
Allies see full spectrum of combat operations in Iraq
The Washington Post has a great article that steps back from the fray to observe that "Virtually every form of combat except aerial dogfights was reported across the length and breadth of Iraq Friday." The Post is right. To date, American-led forces have seen high-intensity combat on open terrain, urban combat, guerilla warfare, unconventional warfare, terrorism in their own ranks, and massive humanitarian disasters. Gulf War II is rapidly becoming a full-spectrum conflict, where our troops are facing situations on every point of the continuum from peace to war.
Analysis: The U.S. military of the Cold War might not have had the skills to deal with this kind of warfare. Our Army trained then for one threat -- the Soviets -- and did not possess the full-spectrum capability it does today. After Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, our Army (and other services) have adapted to the new reality of full-spectrum warfare. Our forces have the training and capabilities to deal with situations that may look like peace or war -- or something in the middle that can't be defined. I think we'll see an increasingly complex situation develop in Iraq over the next several weeks that will test American capabilities greatly. But ultimately, our military will show that it has the ability to respond to anything on this spectrum. More to follow.
"Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics."
I first heard that axiom as an Army ROTC cadet when one of my peers asked why were reading about the "Red Ball Express" instead of Patton's Third Army. My instructor told the student would have been no dash across Europe by the Third Army if not for the tremendous logistical effort made on their behalf. That statement was true then, and has become more true with every U.S. war since. Put simply, America's way of war guzzles supplies at an alarming rate. Our M1A1 tanks require 5-8 gallons per mile of travel*. If you multiply hundreds of tanks by hundreds of miles by that mileage figure, you can imagine just how much fuel needs to be transported forward to support our attack. Now add ammunition, supplies, food, water, oil, medical equipment, etc., and you begin to grap the massive logistical undertaking involved with an armored assault like the one we're seeing now.
Today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) considers this issue in a historical sense, comparing the logistical issues in the current U.S. campaign to past offensives. Setting aside any moral or political comparisons, the most obvious parallel is between our campaign and the German offensive against Russia in 1941. That offensive, like ours, involved stretched supply lines, innovative maneuver-warfare tactics, and an enemy fighting a war of national survival. Here's an excerpt from the Journal piece:
The U.S. Army's current sprint across miles of open terrain, bypassing population centers, has several successful antecedents in American military history, from Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson's campaign through the Shenandoah Valley in the Civil War to Gen. George Patton's dash across France and Belgium in World War II. But another characteristic of the current campaign -- moving out so quickly that resupply lines are stretched tight -- has brought trouble, and occasionally disaster, in other campaigns. In World War II, Adolf Hitler sent three million soldiers -- roughly 70% of his forces -- into Russia in a "lightning war" that was shattered by crumbling logistics and harassment of supply lines by small Russian units.Analysis: Logistics is playing a huge role in this conflict already. I suspect that a big reason why 3ID paused was to regenerate combat power before any attack on the Republican Guard. When our combat forces go into a fight, they want every combat vehicle up and running, with a full tank of gas and full ammo compartment. Getting back to 90% combat power or higher means doing maintenance, fixing broken tanks, and surging fuel/ammo forward. It's not easy, but it's absolutely critical to make sure we mass combat power at the right time and place on the battlefield.
Security and Logistics Moving logistics is hard enough; major corporations (e.g. Federal Express, Chevron, etc) expend lot of brainpower on solving this problem and no one's shooting at them. The logistics fight becomes infinitely more complex in combat when Iraqis are actively trying to interdict American supply lines -- and the desert is wreaking its own havoc with indeterminate terrain and sandstorms. News reports indicate that Gen. Franks has pulled a fair amount of combat power off the line to secure logistical assets as they move forward. That is absolutely critical. We cannot afford another mistake like that made by the 507th Maintenance Company convoy, especially if it's a mistake made by a convoy of 300+ vehicles.
*Correction: Apparently, I'm the amateur. I cited the figure "5 miles to the gallon" for an M1A1 tank from memory, but according to three people who've e-mailed me, it's closer to "5 gallons to the mile." According to this site, the M1 gets 0.6 miles per gallon, but you also have to factor in start-up (it takes a lot of gas to start the engine) and the rapid acceleration/deceleratoin of combat. Just as my truck burns more gas in traffic, tanks burn more gas in combat. I stand corrected, however, these numbers make the importance of logistics even more paramount.
Iraq fires mortars and artillery against Iraqi civilians fleeing Basra
The Associated Press reports that Iraqi paramilitary forces in Basra fired mortars and machine guns today on about 1,000 Iraqi civilians trying to leave the besieged city, according to British military officials and eyewitnesses. Britain's 7th Armored Brigade attempted to fire back, but stopped out of fear that civilians would be wounded; British forces currently ring the city of Basra, which is populated by 1.3 million people.
Analysis: First, it's important to understand that this is a first report from a war zone, as seen through the fog of war by military officers and reporters. Incoming artillery is often hard to distinguish from one side or another. This first report may be wrong. But if it's accurate, it portends an extremely disturbing action by Iraqi forces. Why would they shell their own people? Perhaps because they think that the presence of civilians in the city works to their advantage. If they let Iraqi civilians leave Basra, we'd have more of a free hand in targeting the city without regard to collateral damage. Every civilian in the city represents a human shield for the fedayeen and regular Iraqi forces. If they let these 1,000 civilians leave, that might open up the floodgates -- which is exactly what the U.S. wants. I'm sure the U.S. is doing all it can to entice these civilians out of the city with humanitarian aid for exactly this reason. Fighting in a heavily populated city is like fighting with both hands tied behind your back; we'd much prefer to clean out Saddam's forces with civilians safely out of the city and in our protective custody.
Special Forces - America's quiet professionals
Unlike Afghanistan, where Special Forces units stole the spotlight, America's elite warriors are playing a much quieter, more clandestine role this time around. We haven't seen any footage of Army Rangers jumping in to secure airfields, as we did in Afghanistan, nor have we gotten any dramatic coverage of Special Forces A-teams operating behind Iraqi lines (though they're reportedly there). I've maintained radio silence on this issue too, because I thought the operational-security risk was too high. But now, enough articles have run in the open-source community to make me feel comfortable putting the pieces together.
- Today's New York Times reports that Navy SEALs are playing an active role in securing and clearing the port of Umm Qasr. This port was secured early in the conflict by US and British forces, and its use is critical for allied resupply and humanitarian efforts. "Securing the waters near Umm Qasr has emerged as a central mission for Navy Seals and Special Boat crews, who have battled harsh weather and exhaustion to search more than 70 abandoned ships over the past week," writes James Dao.
- Monday's San Francisco Chronicle (and others) reported that a number of Special Forces teams had deployed in Kurdish-held portions of Northern Iraq, ostensibly to conduct missions from there or to assist the Kurds in their own defensive/offensive preparations. "Kurdish officials said that the four cargo planes that landed at the Bakra Jo airstrip near the northeastern city of Suleimaniya were the first of many planes that will deliver up to 1,000 U.S. Special Forces troops in northern Iraq." It's not at all clear what the SF mission is. They could be using Kurdish-held territory as a base for long-range reconnaissance, they could be there to make liaison with the Kurds, or they could be there to pave the way for a U.S. ground force.
- Friday's Washington Post reports that various special forces units have made significant progress in securing Western Iraq, and specifically, in preventing Iraq from launching SCUDs out of that region towards U.S. troops or Israel. In Gulf War I, the SCUD hunt became a major mission for special operations forces when airpower alone proved unable to stop the missiles from being launched. This time around, it appears that America has learned its lessons and pro-actively deployed special forces for that mission. The details are very sketchy, but it appears that we have secured several airfields in Western Iraq as forward operating bases, and that we are conducting sustained operations from those locations against targets in Western Iraq. Given the low numbers of TBM (no SCUDs have been launched at all) launches, I'd say we've been successful.
U.S. Special Operations forces operating in secret have broken the Iraqi government's control over a broad swath of territory in western Iraq that extends about 200 miles into the country from the border with Jordan, U.S. military officials said yesterday.- Thursday's Boston Globe writes essentially the same story as the Post, but adds that ''This is the largest deployment of [special operations forces] in history" according to a senior Pentagon official. That's significant, because in Gulf War I, Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf was hesitant to use special forces at all. (Stormin' Norman was a highly conventional warrior who, according to reports I've read, thought special forces were more trouble than they were worth, especially if a team got captured before the war started.) In Gulf War II, special forces are playing a critical role in hunting for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and preventing him from using his SCUDs.
Was the American war plan written over a few beers?
Noah Shachtman relays an article at DefenseTech that makes just such a claim. The article is written by James Kitfield and ran originally in the National Journal. Kitfield is an experienced journalist who has covered the military for a very long time. He wrote a book called "Prodigal Soldiers" detailing the resurrection of the American military after Vietnam, and he knows the institution very well.
The genesis of the battle plan was a what-if session over beers among a handful of Army majors nearly 17 months ago. They were all students at the Army's School for Advanced Military Studies, known colloquially as SAMS, at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where the Army's most promising planners take a graduate course in strategic campaigns. The young majors brainstormed about a march on Baghdad to dispose of Saddam Hussein. In its earliest versions, the plan envisioned a 125-day campaign by a U.S. force nearly twice the size of that now in Iraq.So far, nothing's surprising. SAMS is the Army's premier training program for operational planners. The three officers who led my division plans team at Fort Hood were SAMS graduates, and they're affectionately called "Jedi Knights" among military officers. It does not surprise me that SAMS officers would talk about war plans over a few beers. After all, they're living/eating/breathing/working war plans. This is just shop talk for them. However, Kitfield reports that some other talk has been moving around the SAMS community -- talk of how the SecDef and others screwed up their plan:
By far the most dramatic and disruptive change to the battle plan, however, was Rumsfeld's decision last November to slash Central Command's request for forces. This single decision essentially cut the size of the anticipated assault force in half in the final stages of planning, and it had a ripple effect on Central Command and Army planning that continues to color operations to this day.
A veteran's thoughts
My friends and former comrades are leaving Fort Hood today for Iraq. The order came down for the 4th Infantry Division to deploy, after weeks of waiting for diplomacy to open up a land route through Turkey. I got an e-mail late last night from a friend with the news.
It goes without saying that I wish I was there. I trained very hard with the 4th Infantry Division as an MP lieutenant and captain. I served in the division when it was the Army's test bed for new technology, leading the first digitized MP platoon in the Army. We poured our blood, sweat and tears into developing new tactics, techniques and procedures for using this revolutionary equipment -- so that future generations of soldiers could use it to better survive and win on the battlefield. I had no idea that day would come so soon.
I've contemplated whether to leave law school and reenter the active Army; I've also thought about flying to Iraq on my own dime as a freelance journalist. Ultimately, I've decided against those two courses of action. Two things shaped my decisions. First, I take solace in the fact that I did train my soldiers well as a platoon leader and operational planner. My MPs thought of themselves as infantrymen first; military police second. They could react to contact, conduct a hasty attack, defend a convoy, and even fight from helicopters like a rifle platoon. Many of my soldiers are still in the unit, and I take comfort in the fact that I trained them as hard as I could when I had the chance.
Second, I believe we must all find our own path to service. Not everyone is cut out for military service, nor should everyone try. Yet, across America, there remain a number of other opportunities to serve. Public schools need teachers and school boards need members; police departments need reservists; churches and temples need leaders; the list goes on. I have chosen a new path of service as a civilian so that I may continue to contribute to society. I gave a lot as a soldier, and I think I could give even more. And even though my heart calls me back to active duty as my unit goes to war, I have decided to follow another path.
One comes to mind for this moment from the Ranger Creed, which states: "Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be. One-hundred-percent and then some." I think that we must all remember our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and fellow Americans who now serve on active duty. We can never fail them as citizens; we must always support them.
War Dames redux XVIII
The lead article in the NY Times' "A Nation at War" section today reads "A New War Brings New Role for Women." The article runs with four pictures of women in various military poses, including SGT Vail of the 4th Infantry Division chewing her nails as she prepares to leave for Iraq. This is the latest article to state the point that I made four months ago in my piece "War Dames" for the Washington Monthly:
Over the last decade, the Army has digitized its equipment, upgraded its tanks, and added capabilities like peacekeeping to its mission, all part of a sustained, high-profile effort to adapt to war in the 21st century.
Thursday, March 27, 2003
A record-setting day for Intel Dump. Thanks to everyone who stopped by for my analysis and thoughts on the war in Iraq, and to Slate and others who have publicized this site. It's hard to believe that 6,764 visitors stopped by today (Thursday) and that 23,970 folks have stopped by in the past week. As a writer, it's really humbling and encouraging to see numbers like that. Thanks again.
Casualties and public opinion
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)
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.
WP: Generals candidly speak about the war and expectations
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.
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.
American soldiers who hate America
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.
"Improve, adapt, overcome" -- Iraqis implement lessons learned from previous conflicts
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."
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.