On Native Ground
NO WAR PLAN SURVIVES FIRST CONTACT WITH THE ENEMY
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - Who knows better about sending a military force into battle? The generals and planners at the Pentagon or an administration that's heavy on ideology but extremely light on combat experience?
The Bush administration wants the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq to be a showcase for future invasions - Syria and Iran are in the on-deck circle, and North Korea's getting loose in the dugout - and thus planned for a small, fast-moving ground attack backed up by an overwhelming air attack.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of the hawks in the Bush administration expected a carbon copy of the Afghanistan campaign - lots of bombs followed by a quick ground offensive. That worked against the Taliban, which had no air force and no organized army. It also worked because the U.S. managed to bribe enough Afghan warlords to do the fighting and minimize the risk to American lives.
Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq has a military infrastructure. While not as robust as it was in Gulf War I, when it was the fourth biggest army in the world, Iraq still has enough troops to make life miserable for an invading force.
That is why the Pentagon professionals wanted a much larger invasion force for Iraq. They wanted hundreds of tanks and other armored vehicles for a force of three or four Army mechanized infantry divisions. Rumsfeld said no, one division would suffice.
Seymour Hersh's article, "Offense and Defense," in the April 7 issue of The New Yorker is a great overview of this fight between Rumsfeld and the Pentagon. It shows what happens when a group of political ideologues with little to no military experience, let alone combat experience, overrule the military professionals and force them to execute a battle plan that depends more on wishful thinking rather than reality.
Hersh tells us that there was plenty of time to move more troops and armor to Iraq, but Rumsfeld vetoed the idea. We've started to see what his strategy has meant the troops in the field. Supply lines have been overextended with shortages of fuel, food, water, spare parts and ammunition.
For example, the Marines have been on short rations because of supply problems and have been getting food and cigarettes from the Iraqis that they're supposed to be "liberating." The Marines call their supply route "Sniper Alley" because their convoys have come under frequent fire by Iraqi irregulars.
Hersh writes that while the U.S. forces made great progress in the initial stages of the campaign, the reserves of men and material are skimpy and it will take weeks until reinforcements arrive. "All we have is front-line positions," an unnamed former intelligence official told Hersh. "Everything else is missing."
The 4th Infantry Division, which was supposed to have landed in Turkey and race through northern Iraq but instead got diverted to Kuwait after the botched diplomacy of the Bush administration, won't be operational until the end of April. The 1st Cavalry Division is still in Texas and will take nearly a month to get its men and equipment to Kuwait.
Why was an American force committed to battle without sufficient reserves or supplies? Because the Bush administration believed its own propaganda. They honestly believed that this invasion would be quick and painless, that the Iraqis wouldn't put up a fight and that cheering Iraqis would be greeting their American and British "liberators."
It's still safe to say that the Iraqis are going to lose the war. Without air superiority or technically advanced weaponry, this has been a one-sided battle that the U.S. and Britain is winning. The question is, however, at what cost will victory come?
The maximum misery may come as the U.S. and British forces enter Baghdad. When it comes to urban warfare, the defense always has the advantage. They know the ground they're defending and have had time to prepare their defenses. The advantage of the defender can only be overcome with numbers and firepower on the offense.
Given that there are only about 150,000 U.S. and British forces in Iraq and that it's going to take at least another month for the reinforcements to join the fight, you can see why there is little enthusiasm for a full-scale assault on Baghdad. The memories of bloody urban battles past - Stalingrad, Hue, Mogadishu, Grozny - loom large in the minds of the generals.
Five thousand German and Russian soldiers were killed each day during the battle of Stalingrad in 1942-43. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides died in what was the bloodiest battle of World War II.
It took U.S. Army and Marine units nearly a month to capture Hue in 1968. It was the one of the nastier battles of the Tet Offensive, which spawned one of the most famous quotes of the Vietnam War: "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it." The Marines alone suffered 480 casualties, while Vietnamese losses were more than 5,000. Eighteen Americans were killed and 84 were wounded in 1993 in the day-long firefight in Mogadishu immortalized in "Black Hawk Down." More than 1,000 Somalis died in the fight. More than 80,000 people died in Chechnya in two separate Russian attacks in 1994-96 and 1999-2000 which leveled the republic's capital, Grozny.
With luck, the U.S. and British forces won't get sucked into the maelstrom of horror that is urban warfare. But as an unnamed retired four-star general told Hersh, "Hope is not a course of action."
Hoping that the Iraqis will surrender before being forced to fight block-by-block to control a city with five million people inside it is no substitute for having the resources at hand to make it happen.
Thanks to the hubris of the Bush administration, the U.S. doesn't have enough of those resources in Iraq right now. With the worst of the fighting up ahead, it could be a deadly miscalculation.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).