March 25, 2003

Shocking and Awesome

I believe I have figured out the basic operational maneuver plan of the Coalition in Iraq. It appears that we are attempting to win the war without actually engaging the enemy.

In the 1930's, in the aftermath of WWI and its horrible slaughter, generals in many nations began to come to grips with what would be necessary for an attacking army to overcome the defenses which technology had made impregnable to the methods of warfare developed in the 19th Century. BH Liddell Hart and Heinz Guderian, in particular, began to see an offensive in terms of not just its weight in manpower (and later in firepower), but also its agility. It was Guderian who invented "Lightning War" - or Blitzkrieg - though it was the Allies who coined the term, after its employment in Poland and France. Hart and Guderian saw that equipping each tank with a radio, massing the tanks in armored formations (contrary to the conventional usage in England and France, which was to spread them among the infantry units still considered the backbone of the armies of the time), motorizing their supply lines, and combining their assaults with artillery and airpower, with infantry to hold the land taken or to help out in constricted terrain, would allow the armored formations to advance rapidly, and bring pressure to bear on the enemy at a time and place of the attackers choosing.

The Blitzkrieg was remarkably effective. In Poland, France and the USSR during the initial stages of Barbarossa, the Allied armies were rapidly unhinged by advancing German armored formations. The German armor would break through the front line Allied formations, then maneuver deep into the rear by exploiting the seams between adjacent Allied units. The Allies would then be faced with a German armored formation in their rear, and would have to either reorient to face the threat, or withdraw to protect their supplies. If they reoriented to face the threat, then they would be hit in the back by the German followon forces and destroyed. If they attempted to orient forces in two directions at once, they did not have enough firepower to hold against the attack. So they retreated, and the Germans did it again. Eventually, this would turn into a rout.

The problem, for the Germans, was that their speed of advance was limited. First, their transport was largely horsedrawn, which limited the speed of advance of the armor. Second, the infantry was largely on foot, which in practice meant that they were able to move at the same speed as their supplies. The combination meant that deep exploitation was possible tactically, but not strategically. The Wehrmacht was forced to advance broadly across the USSR, rather than having three or four narrow corridors of advance. The narrower corridors, policed with airpower and follow-on infantry at the flanks, would have allowed the Germans to outrun their adversary, which would have meant that the core of the Soviet Army would not have survived the first year. As it was, they almost didn't, and it was only the massive amounts of reinforcements that a nation of that size could train, and their ruthless willingness to sacrifice young men by the tens of thousands, which allowed the USSR to get to the Winter, when deep advances were impossible due to weather. In the Winter, they were able to increase their KV and SU tank production, and get the T-34 into mass production. This turned the tide, and made it increasingly more difficult for Germany's technically superior army to exploit against the numerically superior Soviets. After the second year of Barbarossa, Germany lived on borrowed time.

Looking at the US Army's AirLand battle doctrine, we see a lot of borrowing from Hart and Guderian. We now have fully motorized transport, and infantry that is universally moved in vehicles, most of which are armored and have powerful weaponry of their own. Our armor (US and British) is the best in the world, and our crews are among the best trained, and are possibly the best trained. We have an army which is built on NCOs and the delegation of command authority downwards, and we have unlimited ability to control the air and see the entire battlefield. In other words, we have a virtually perfect theater and force for operational maneuver warfare as conceived by Hart and Guderian.

In contrast, our enemy has inferior equipment, ill-maintained. He has minimal communications to ill-trained and ill-supplied troops. He has troops which are of questionable loyalty and morale, part of whose job is to maintain order over the civilian population in the areas where they are stationed. The only advantages he has are ruthlessness and interior lines. We are equipped to handle his CBW capabilities, mooting that aspect of his ruthlessness. We are willing to take additional casualties rather than kill civilians, which makes the irregulars he is currently deploying against our rear nothing more than an annoyance. This means that his only remaining advantage is interior lines: he can move troops and supplies from place to place within his sphere of control more easily than we can, because he doesn't have to go as far.

Let me amplify a bit: Saddam wants us to kill civilians, so as to turn the already anti-war Leftists to real action, and the easily-panicked Western press into an incoherent and angry (at us) beast on the rampage. This is his only hope: that we lose the will to prosecute the war against him. The only way we as a culture could really do so is to give in to our fears that we are really as bad as the anti-Enlightenment, postmodernist, transnationalist Left tells us we are. If our troops lose their cool, and start killing civilians to get at the irregulars, we will be sickened and disgusted, and many would indeed put pressure on the US and UK to do something stupid, like hand control of the reconstruction to the UN. (The outcome of the war itself is not in doubt. The aftermath still is.)

But back to the main point. Since Saddam's army is basically incapable of sustained maneuver, he has adopted a basically static defense, with regular army troops in the far South and North, and Republican Guards around Saddam's power centers in Baghdad and Tikrit. The question for General Franks was: how do you take down a still-large army, given its advantages and disadvantages, with minimal casualties amongst Iraqi civilians, our troops and the regular Iraqi troops? I believe that his answer was to neutralize the advantage of interior lines enjoyed by the Iraqis, and maneuver the remainder of the Iraqi army into dissolution with minimal fighting.

Part of the method for doing this has been with PsyOps: dropping leaflets and sending emails and in general negotiating with Iraqi troops and officers for their surrender. Part of it has been to ensure that supplies can come in to the Iraqi people by taking Um Qasr. Part of it has been to drive a wedge between the regular Iraqi army and the Republican Guards by attacking North of Basra and using Kurds and special forces to isolate the Iraqi units NE of Baghdad. These efforts leave the only really organized opposition capable of engaging our main thrust as the Republican Guards.

The Republican Guards have a problem. They can stand in place, and get killed from the air and artillery, or they can move, and lose cohesion. There are indications that as the Medina division pulled back from an Nasariyah, it was unable to arrive at Karbala in good order, and as a result has not taken up good defensive positions. This is making the fighting for Karbala easier for 3rd Infantry than it otherwise would have been. On top of this, Medina cannot retreat further without running into Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar divisions. Adnan is pretty much fixed near the Tigris, because the Marines are driving up that way. The only way out for the Republican Guards, assuming that they wanted to abandon their static defense in order to have a fighting chance of survival, would be to go West along the Jordan to Baghdad highway. However, the 101st Airborne is currently moving to cut that route, and it is likely that the Republican Guard will therefore be unable to maneuver.

This means that the Iraqi army can maneuver, and become unhinged, or stay in place, and be destroyed more slowly by air and artillery strikes. My guess is that we'll see the US engage in round the clock combined arms attacks on the Republican Guard beginning in the next 24 hours, in which we hit and then back up. We will repeat this for a few days, making the RG's situation increasingly more desperate. This will eventually either cause the troops to give up and melt into the population, or it will cause the RG to attempt to maneuver in order to defeat the 3rd Infantry in the SW of Baghdad, and the 1st Marines in the SE of Baghdad, rather than be bled to death in place. At the point that they begin to maneuver, we will likely retreat, staying in contact. This will hopefully cause the RG commanders' fangs to grow too long, and the RG will attempt to fight us in the field. At that point, we switch back to the attack, but on his flanks, and the RG will become unhinged and will basically dissolve.

Of course, I could be very, very wrong about this. General Franks has been nothing if not unconventional, both in the Afghanistan campaign and in the Iraqi campaign to date. However, he could easily decide to simply attack the RG divisions in place, counting on our superior troop and equipment quality, and superior artillery and air support, to be sufficient to reduce the RG divisions without massive casualites to ourselves and the Iraqi civilians.

UPDATE (3/26): Or they could be suicidal and attack right into us!

Posted by Jeff at March 25, 2003 04:18 PM | Link Cosmos

Fantastic! I will definitely link to this! Keep it coming!

Posted by: GeneralRoy on March 25, 2003 11:09 PM
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