March 10, 2003



Still thinking as I type here. Some things, though, may be becoming clearer. (This map may be helpful for this part.)

There is considerable buzz about U.S. and British troop movements in Arar, Saudi Arabia and in Jordan. Something's definitely in play out west. It was always assumed the west would be Special Forces land, as the spooks kept Scuds out of Israel-range, but there may be something bigger than that, now.

Let's go back to that main V Corps hammerblow, though, involving 1st Cavalry, 3rd Mech Inf and an ACR or two. The Americans actually have two choices of route to Baghdad... the fork in the road is the bridges at Nasariyah. They can go north and take a Tigris route through Kut (site of the famous Turkish victory over the British in World War 1), or they can take the Euphrates road up to Hillah.

One other factor is that the Iraqis supposedly have two of their five regular army corps at Basra and Amarah (the rest of their forces, less forward elements, are in or north of Baghdad).

The Kut route seems less ideal... it's tight against the Iranian border, the river itself is wider and more impassible. The crossing at Kut would be a serious obstacle unless airborne forces seized it in advance, and even once the armour passes through they're facing a narrow front between the border and the river, with their resupply on the other side of the same river. (Plus you have some real blue-on-blue potential as the Iranian-backed Badr brigades will almost certainly use the confusion to drive south from their present locations near Sulimanayah and Halabja, in order to assure some Iranian-style Shiite influence on the post war settlement. The Americans above all have to get to Baghdad ahead of that unit if they are going to have control on the political outcome... the best way to do that in this case is to drive the Iraqis back TOWARDS them.)

Okay, so that would seem to indicate the Euphrates approach. I suspect the Americans will prefer to stay off the main roads as long as possible, and the desert south of Nasariyah is familiar terrain to them, after 1991, so V Corps, that main armoured force, will probably break out of Kuwait headed northwest for Samawah, then veer north through or just to the east of Diwanayah and Hillah. That gives them good country, lots of maneuver room, and lots of supply options if, as I suspect, logistical infrastructure is being built up to their southwest in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. In this scenario, the mother of all tank battles can be expected to happen due south of Baghdad.

Okay, so, then what do the airmobile forces do to support that? Let's assume five brigades up and one in reserve. A likely possibility would be a Market Garden-style carpet of a brigade on Samawah to secure the bridge there, and another south of Kut to hold that flank, and punt two or more brigades of the 101st up near Hillah, with the idea of their being relieved there by the heavy armour in 72 hours, or even less. Any brigade left could well end up near Ramadi, partly as a diversionary thrust, partly to seal off the west of the country. Any objective farther north, say near Tikrit, seems too risky... that is where any units the Iraqis have who really can fight are located at the moment. I'm tempted to think the north (Irbil, Mosul, etc). are going to be left to the no-doubt plentiful Special Forces units that I haven't really touched on... plus that big Turkish force that's planning to establish their own "security zone" (although one doubts that will get anywhere close to the Iraqis.)

That leaves the Brit armoured and the marines. What's their role? It has been suggested since the Brits have their divisional HQ in theatre, that means they're planning a joint Armoured Brigade-Air Assault Brigade independent operation of some kind, a mini-Market Garden in some secondary direction to support the American main thrust. I don't see the need, frankly. What 1 UK Div HQ could possibly end up in charge of, though, would be a UK-US force comprising the UK armoured brigade, and that one Marine formation designed for non-littoral battle, the 2nd Expeditionary Brigade. This well-armoured force could, for instance, hook through Nasariyah north to hit the Tigris near Amarah, enveloping those two southern corps. Meanwhile 1 Marine Division would be doing the frontal work along the littoral strip, heading due north from Kuwait City.

So, to sum up, if I'm a betting man today, I see the game playing out this way:
*the 101st Airborne plops in around Hillah;
*V Corps (1st Cav and 3rd Mech Divs) races north through Samawah to relieve them;
*1 UK Div (actually a Marine-UK Div) heads for Amarah;
*1 Marine Div drives due north from Kuwait.

I will add at this time that on a similar prediction in 1991 I was almost completely wrong, so this is a good betting proposition for people. But I'm not the only expert who reads this site, as I well know... send any thoughts you have on your most likely battle plan to Flitters.

Posted by BruceR at 11:11 PM



Okay, here's the first corollary from yesterday's scorecard post. What's the most important information the Iraqi mainforce commander is looking to find out right now?

The cavalry ride to Baghdad by the American armoured is the hammerblow. The only question marks left around that maneuver now are size and timing. It's already known to be invincible in a force-on-force fight. So, on the upside, that leaves it pretty much a known quantityfor the Iraqi: they know any attempt to hold it up short of Baghdad will fail and fail quickly. The American goal is going to be to use the main push on Baghdad to force the best Iraqi units into play in front of the city and crush them, destroying the Iraqi army's remaining will to resist. Therefore, the Iraqi goal has to be to avoid that fight against U.S. armour for as long as possible. That means a last-ditch defence very close to Baghdad, for one thing. That will fail, too, but it'll take the Americans 24-72 hours to get there, at the end of a less than ideal supply line that may buy a little more time.

The only way to slow down the Americans more than that will be to throw them off tempo somehow, ideally by inflicting hurt on some American light forces somewhere. The airborne troops are the only American/UK forces the Iraqis have even a remote chance of scoring anything more than a ludicrous kill ratio on, making them the obvious counterattack target on the operational side. So the big question for the Iraqi commander now has to be how those four US and one UK air assault formations are going to be used. They are the enemies he wants to fight.

Developing on last night, I can see maybe three options for the airborne deployment to support the main thrust. All three assume the Allies keep one air assault formation in reserve, leaving four in the first attack.

a) Classic Market Garden: less one in reserve, the four remaining air assault brigades plunk down at the four worst chokepoints on the Baghdad road, and hold the road open until the armour arrives from Kuwait and passes through them. Upside: war's changed a lot since 1944. Downside: just like Market Garden, the last formation at the end of the line is a prime counterattack target and if the armour relieving them is held up farther back, it could get nasty.
b) The Punt: the 101st Division lands as a whole in a divisional perimeter within striking distance of Baghdad. The armour clears its own road to recover its own punt. Upside: the 101st has the depth to hold on its own a fairly long time; witness Bastogne. Downside: as with Bastogne, a light division is still only that -- a light division.
c) Detached Duty: like one of the other two options, but with 1 or 2 brigades making a diversion, or capturing Hussein in his secret mountain lair, or keeping the northern cities under control, by means of a completely separate operation off the main axis. That only leaves 2-3 brigades to lay the carpet for the armour. Upside: if well executed, the diversions could add a level of operational surprise the entire American plan is sorely missing. Downside: the result could be a slower armoured advance, with more fighting en route, and could also see a formation of light American troops in harm's way and in a limited supply situation for a disturbingly long time, particularly if they land in the north.

Operationally, it'd be a choice between a) and b) as the ideal solution, depending on factors like terrain and available lift, which I haven't plugged in yet, obviously. The American ground commander has only two priorities: command of Baghdad, and a complete main force victory against the best Iraq has to offer (the two are interconnected). Sending a formation of light troops into the north to help the Kurds does not help with either goal much at all, and risks diverting him from them. The question is whether strategic concerns would pull the Americans away from the operationally sound decision here. But the upshot remains: Iraqi success hinges on their best guess at the air assault plan: if they guess well and are ready at the right place, they have at least a small chance of doing some damage before the inevitable end.

More as I think of it...

UPDATE: Obviously, once the US 173rd Airborne Bde is ready to roll, which will be very soon, all the available formation numbers above go up by one.

Posted by BruceR at 02:00 PM



The giant vacu-sucks of blogger sites by some bot program running of an IAEA computer is continuing, I see. Everyone in this game who looks at their referrer logs notices the pattern sooner or later. I have to admit I'm curious what they're up to, too.

Posted by BruceR at 12:41 AM



Okay, for my own benefit, more than anything else, here's the scorecard of current main force combat formations in Kuwait, and those en route:

In-theatre, more or less ready to go, there are 11 American and 2 British formations by my count. By "formation" I mean brigade (US/UK) or regiment (US) size maneuver elements, which is basically the smallest independently deployable operational element in a full-on war. My list:

*the 101st Airborne Division, complete (3 brigades)
*the 2nd brigade of the 82nd Airborne
*the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division complete (3 brigades)
*the 1st Marine Division (3 regiments)
*the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
*7 Armoured Brigade (UK)
*16 Air Assault Brigade (UK)

En route, I count another 8 US formations total:

*4th Mechanized Infantry Division (3 brigades)
*1st Cavalry Division (3 brigades)
*2nd Armoured Cavalry Regiment
*3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment

Other US divisions have been alerted, but aren't moving yet to my firm knowledge. So in total, if the full force above assembles, we're looking at the equivalent of seven 3-formation divisions. However, that could take some weeks yet, suggesting that if the US does not open with a prolonged aerial softening-up this time, they may have to go with less.

What conclusions can one draw? Well, there's two independent airborne brigades, both not part of larger formations (2/82nd and 16 UK)... those feel like detached operations forces... north Iraq possibly, or some other major population centre. A lot of commentators have talked about 3rd Mech doing the push on Baghdad, while the Marines and the British armour clean out Basra and open it up to shipping, or are held back in reserve. I just can't see the Americans trying an advance that deep with only the one division, though. Admittedly their plans are probably in flux because of the Turkish situation, but that not only leaves the light, chopper-borne 101st seemingly unoccupied, but also zero margin for error or setback. They need an armoured reserve of some kind, and they need to find a role for those heliborne troops.

Okay, so could the 101st be for, then? The evidence is still growing for some kind of modern Market Garden, with the 101st deploying their light troops along the highway to Baghdad to pave the path for a rapid, destabilizing advance by the 3rd Mech, and then holding the flanks after it goes by. That doesn't help the other problem though, of finding an armoured reserve: those cavalry units now en route would at least give the American commander sufficient armour that could keep up with what would be one of the fastest, longest advances into hostile territory in the history of warfare. That's why I'm still skeptical that the British 7th Armoured has been 100% detached to the Marines for the Basra operation, yet... if they went today I can't see how the Americans wouldn't have to put the "Desert Rats" on their main line of advance instead and leave the Marines to fend for themselves (they'd still have about 60 M1A1s, mostly in 2 MEB, so they should be able to handle anything the Iraqis could have between Kuwait and Basra). That would certainly not be ideal, and apparently the Marines and Brits are already working together, so one has to assume the Americans are thinking they still have enough time left for a couple more tank units to get there yet. Anything of those incoming units listed above that makes it in time can safely be assumed to be folded into the main advance force... I still think they'd ideally like to go with 7-8 formations on the road to Baghdad if they could, not counting the Marines or the 101st... right now counting the Brits they have 4 formations available and 8 coming, so they can be expected to reach that figure within a few weeks. It is certainly possible to see them going with six, if they absolutely had to, but no lower. In 1914 the timing of the war was decided by train schedules... this war is being decided by shipping manifests.

More thoughts as they occur to me...

UPDATE: David N. writes to add a couple more formations he thinks I may have forgotten. He's right about at least one, the US 173rd Airborne Brigade should have been added to the "en route" list (it got orders in February, and shouldn't take long to get in position). He also mentions the UK 3 Commando Brigade (ie, the Royal Marines), but as far as I know they still have only the two commandos, 40 and 42, in theatre, and they're being brigaded with the Marine Corps special ops-capable units... not that they won't see action, but I was leaving out all the special forces from this post for reasons of simplicity. Certainly they'd be dual-capable though if they could scare up some armour and artillery. David also mentions the 1st Infantry and 1st Armoured divisions from Germany. As to the former, I think there's some confusion between 2 Brigade of that division, which apparently got a "prepare to move" order last week, and a previous deployment by the same division of 1,800 logistical troops to help with movements and route security for 4th Mech in Turkey when it looked like there still would be a northern option... look for those troops to start heading back to Germany now. As to the latter, I simply don't see 1st Armoured playing, except as a full division. Yes, I've seen the same reports of the one brigade of that division also being ordered to "prepare to move" last week, but if this goes down in the next two weeks they're definitely not going to make it. But we'll see.

Posted by BruceR at 12:18 AM