March 27, 2003

INCHING FORWARD 3rd Infantry's forward


3rd Infantry's forward element is now in the village of Kifl, halfway on the map between Hillah and Najaf.

Posted by BruceR at 07:07 PM



Take a look at those quotes again, below. A logistics brigadier general, talking to the COSCOM commander, about the highest-priority traffic a division can have, broadcast IN THE CLEAR by the Scripps news service to any Iraqi with a web browser. And the CORPS commander, expressing his deepest personal doubts about the progress of the war.

This is the kind of communications traffic that in past wars the highest-level codes were reserved for. Now it's being sent to the enemy in real time. This is not sound. The American forces can't allow this to continue much longer. What makes marginal sense in a short cakewalk war makes zero sense now.

Sitting here, looking at a couple websites, I've been able to build up a 90% accurate picture of the strategic situation. (Not to put on airs... it's not hard.) There have been no surprises, no aces up Gen. Franks' sleeve that I and others didn't see coming hours or days off. Everyone in the world knows, if they care, roughly when the next U.S. armoured division is likely to arrive in Kuwait, how many tanks the U.S. lost yesterday, and to what... imagine how much more you'd have if you were the Iraqi commander and you also had the input of your own recce assets to feed into that.

In 1991, using skilful misdirection and overwhelming aerial superiority, the Americans basically denied the Iraqis ANY intelligence about their location or intent. When the hammer fell, it fell, for the Iraqis, out of fricking nowhere. Not this time. All that's been ceded over. Now everyone knows where the Americans are: it's the knowledge of the Iraqi situation that's imperfect.

Watch for the embeds to start being left behind or clawed back. We've already seen one reporter kicked out of theatre, for saying something actually rather innocuous. It was probably more to encourage the others. In fact, the lull you're seeing today in news probably has less to do with actual quiet on the ground, and more on reporters and their minders trying to establish what the new rules are going to be. And expect the generals to start shutting up.

UPDATE: Den Beste comments. Just to be clear, it's not the exposure of some plain positional data by itself that bothers me. That would have to have been assumed as soon as you brought reporters along with cameras: I find myself getting far more cues from images than the words anyway. What concerns me is the obvious complete loss of ANY secrecy if reporters are listening into general-to-general conversations and reporting the results the next day to the world, censorship-free. That speaks to a general loss of perspective in the American camp over whether operational security or the desires of embedded reporters for total access takes primacy. That can't be sustainable. Yes, you can have the reporter there, but that information could have been released a few days later, after the food arrived... it was just stupid to have it out in real time like that.

Plus, there's a problem with his anti-thesis... that the Americans are trying to lure the Iraqis out by being upfront about their position and plans. Take the counterattack he points at... that happened because the Americans had cut Najaf and its defenders off (the fact 7th Cav was exposed on the near bank of a major obstacle, and the weather was adverse, were no doubt also factors). The news media had nothing to do with that: the attack had been made and failed before most people watching the news, including myself, were clear on 7th Cav's route and intent, for one thing. Yes, I agree the Americans would prefer a fight outside Baghdad, but there's no connection between that and your commander telling the world, including even his own men and their families at home, that they are out of food and their resupply is nowhere to be found. (Frankly, if anything, it would only confirm the Iraqis' beliefs that their economy of force strategy was succeeding and that they should continue to hunker down, or keep picking away at the rear areas, instead. The only thing more stupid than broadcasting everything in the clear for purely PR reasons would be an nearly intact American mechanized division trying to play the "wounded bird" act. No one's that naive.)

Posted by BruceR at 02:45 PM



The main body of the 101st Airborne is finally on the move, by truck, although 3rd Brigade appears to be already with 3rd Mech Inf near Najaf, possibly subbing in to the order of battle for 3rd Brigade of that division, which seems to still be held up at Samawah. The Marines seem to be due east of Diwaniyah, more or less (a Christian Science Monitor reporter was booted yesterday for saying that they were on the main highway, 100 miles from Baghdad). Map updated accordingly.

The big question mark today is how bad the fighting in Najaf and Diwaniyah, significant cities now more or less cut off by the American advance, is going to be. If the Americans can clear them quickly, they can be moving north again by the end of the weekend. If they run into Nasariyah-type resistance, it could be middle of next week.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade, with a battalion of armour attached (about 30 M1 tanks) is at Harir airfield, 75 km northeast of Irbil. They probably have the combat power to push on Irbil in a few days, and to act as a lightning rod for a larger Kurdish force. They probably don't have the power to push onto the oil fields at Kirkuk, at least not by themselves. Their probable main role is to create enough of a demonstration to attract the attention of the two Iraqi divisions, the Adnan Division in Mosul and the Abed Division in Kirkuk, that would have had enough motorized lift to head south if a northern option didn't materialize soon. The rest of the Iraqi force in the north can be assumed to remain in position until overrun, regardless... again, the Iraqis seem to have concentrated all the transport vehicles that can actually move with their Guards units... still, two fewer divisions in Baghdad is two fewer divisions in Baghdad, definitely worth the fairly minor diversion of resources. Just don't expect too much from the north. The Americans have 500 tanks in the south... at most they might be able to support 50 in the north, solely by air.

The question mark here is whether the Americans' one remaining parachute brigade, the 2nd/82nd, will also be dropped in Kurdish territory, probably to the south, closer to Sulaymaniyah. Right now the location of the first American drop can be seen to favour the Kurdish Democratic Party, the northern faction, who owns that airfield. Dropping the other brigade in Patriotic Union of Kurdistan territory might be seen to be evening the score.

Posted by BruceR at 01:05 PM



"The enemy that we're fighting is different from the one we'd war gamed." -- V Corps commander Lt. Gen William Wallace, Washington Post

Posted by BruceR at 12:48 PM



Two images from last night's TV stuck in my brain... it was tragic to see that 155mm SP gun blow-up... and remarkable the crew escaped... one of these days soon one of those embedded videophones is going to capture something far more tragic on live TV... the other was the residents of Umm Qasr cheering Saddam as the first food shipment from Kuwait arrived. Obviously it was a publicity stunt, but it shows how deeply embedded Saddamism still is in the "pacified" population that some loyalist felt confident enough even to start the cheering.

Quote of the night: "This division is out of rations... we are at zero balance on food." -- Brig. Gen. Charles Fletcher, 3rd Infantry Division

Posted by BruceR at 09:52 AM