March 31, 2003



God save us all. Or, as the Iraqis might say, al hamdilillah.

Posted by BruceR at 11:41 PM



Not to harp on a point, but we're beginning to see more of the weaknesses of the M1/Bradley armour system in Iraq. It's still early, but you can already see more of the problems than you could in the previous outing.

Now, of course, the M1 tank is, when in its element, all but invincible. Even when something goes wrong, it's immensely survivable. But every plus comes with minuses.

First and foremost is the sheer weight of the tank itself, and the restrictions this places on its mobility, particularly on where it can cross rivers. The M1 isn't well-regarded in the Bosnian theatre (nor are other heavy tanks)... experienced soldiers prefer a slightly lighter tank like the Leopard I, solely because it can get to more places more easily. A big part of this problem is bridges... very few can take repeated crossings by M1s. In heavily-irrigated Mesopotamia, we've already seen at least one M1 temporarily disabled when it BROKE the bridge it was crossing (during the 7th Cavalry's encirclement of Najaf... no casualties, and the tank was later recovered).

More worrying than that risk is the predictability that the reliance on only a few bridges imparts to American movements. This produces chokepoints that a defender can take advantage of... this was highlighted by the most tragic M1 loss so far, when a Marine tank driver was apparently shot and killed by a sniper while crossing a bridge, and the tank plunged off into the Euphrates, killing 3 others.

Another problem is showing up in the area of interoperability. Both the Army and Marines use M1s as their tanks now, but there is still a problem with infantry carriers. The Army's Bradley is too heavy for Marine use or air-portability. Instead, the Marines are currently using a combination of Amtracs (armoured amphibious assault vehicles) and Canadian-made wheeled LAVs. The Amtracs, which have run longer and farther from the sea than perhaps any amphibian in history, are beginning now to break down... there is no prospect of replacing them, forcing three-quarters of the Marine forces in-theatre into an increasing reliance on truck transport. The army units can't help them with spare parts, because they're using Bradleys.

But of course, the biggest problem with the M1 is the massive logistical tail it produces in-theatre. At 1.8 miles per gallon, the tank eats fuel convoys for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Keeping the M1s in theatre is using up a significant portion of the army's logistical capability. Even getting them into theatre en masse is impossible without shipborne transport, as we're seeing now... this adds weeks to a heavy division's deployment time, if not months. Relying on M1s can, in a global sense, make the American forces less flexible.

All that could be forgiven, easily, if the tank was still getting the remarkable kill ratios against other tanks it racked up in 1991. But it can't, of only because the Iraqis have no interest in making that battle happen. They've concentrated their T-72s, which are only marginal against an M1 anyway, in Baghdad for the final battles. Their really old tanks, the T-55s, are either in the north intimidating Kurds, or piled into Basra, where they've been making nice target practice for the British. So far the Americans have seen few if any tanks facing them... this is almost certainly intentional. And in city fighting, which is ever more a part of this campaign, the M1, like all heavy tanks, loses much of its advantage, if only because it can't slew its huge turret in the narrow streets. Nothing the Americans or British have faced to date couldn't have been handled as easily, with about as much loss, by an old M-60, Leopard I, or Chieftain... the 105mm gun-armed tanks of a previous generation.

Does this mean the day of the Main Battle Tank is over? Hardly. The presence of M1s is, in large part, what makes the Americans' position around Najaf, which would otherwise seem rather precarious, almost completely invulnerable. They have at least a few good days yet. But this war is almost certain to give impetus to people's search for another basket to split the army's eggs between. For instance, some people have been saying that the regular army's five heavy divisions in the States and Germany should be reduced to four, in a tradeoff with the army reserve for some of the essential non-combat specialist trades the reserves supply, to disentangle foreign deployments from their heavy reservist reliance. This will be certainly seen to have more merit now, with tanks in the States that can't be shipped and large numbers of disgruntled reservists. The planned "Stryker" brigades, which propose to replace the M1 with a 105mm wheeled direct-fire support vehicle, air-portable, amphibious, and interchangeable with the Marines' new vehicles, should also get a boost from the experience of M1s in Iraq. If America truly seeks the kind of global "constabulary power" role Wolfowitz and Perle, et al seek for it, then it's clear now, more than 2 weeks ago, that the M1 can only ever be part of the answer.

Posted by BruceR at 09:58 PM



Besides the T-72s, there's another dog that hasn't barked in the night yet. U.S., British and Australian special forces have owned the western corner of Iraq for nearly two weeks now. If Iraq had any long-range SSMs left, particularly ones with chemical capability, that's where they would have been... can't hit Israel from anywhere else in the country, after all. Isn't it unusual that we've yet to see one turn up? Or was Hans Blix's contention that there were no Scuds left, and no chemical warheads for them either, right on the money after all? And if so, does that mean the elite of the elite of three armies have spent two weeks chasing, well, nothing at all? Away from a more useful role, like in, say, the north of Iraq? Just asking.

UPDATE: Den Beste comments. If we disagree, it's only on whether the military and its civilian masters could long keep news of a Scud find or similar discovery quiet, no matter the risk to operational security. I frankly doubt they could have kept it out of their briefings this long if they knew. The political payoff is obvious, and the risk to other special ops more or less minimal.

I'd also say it's questionable whether SF played any role in securing the oil fields around Basra. We know that two full brigades of Marines, covered by British armour, drove into them at high speed the first day... and because they had to do that first, before 1 Mar Div could double back to Nasariyah, the American advance north more or less lost 24 hours. If SF were heavily involved and not doing something else instead in those first crucial hours, and the Americans STILL lost that day, endangering their coup de main attempt on Baghdad, then the price of those oil fields was very high, indeed.

Posted by BruceR at 06:18 PM



When spin fails:

"I have seen one report of a soldier who said he HAD an MRE. I have seen one report. There is no indication of any widespread [supply] problems whatsoever."
--Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke, March 29

"This division is out of rations... we are at zero balance on food." -- Brig. Gen. Charles Fletcher, the commander of the Divisional Supply Group for 3rd Infantry Division, New York Times, March 27

Posted by BruceR at 06:11 PM



Sgt. Stryker has what I've decided to cryptically call a "Who wants ginger snaps?" moment. (Hint: "Deep Space Homer.") There's been a lot of these recently on the warblogs... the other, secret Marines your government hasn't told you about will invade through Jordan, the 1st Armoured will descend by spaceship, etc. The only reason I can see for it is that perennial (and perennially wrong) assumption that soldiers are ALWAYS smarter than the journalists who cover them. Don't buy it. Tactical surprise is certainly still possible in this war (I suspect the encirclement of Najaf by 7th Cavalry will likely be long studied, for instance), but I'm increasingly convinced that strategic, or even operational surprise, may not be possible in a free-communication culture. Indeed, one notable thing about this war so far is how little the Iraqis were surprised by events... after all, their best division, the Medina Armoured, WAS prepositioned right in the path of the American advance, and is now holding it up successfully, at least for the moment... hardly a sign of poor prewar intelligence on their part.

Posted by BruceR at 05:47 PM



Sy Hersh, in the New Yorker:

Instead, [Rumsfeld] relied on the heavy equipment that was already in Kuwait—enough for just one full combat division. The 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Stewart, Georgia, the only mechanized Army division that was active inside Iraq last week, thus arrived in the Gulf without its own equipment. “Those guys are driving around in tanks that were pre-positioned. Their tanks are sitting in Fort Stewart,” the planner said. “To get more forces there we have to float them. We can’t fly our forces in, because there’s nothing for them to drive. Over the past six months, you could have floated everything in ninety days—enough for four or more divisions.”

Okay, well, that changes some assumptions. I had assumed with the lengthy buildup time (over a year, really), that at least the 3rd Mech Inf had brought its own equipment, and there was still some of the prepositioned stock in place for the follow-on forces. If not, then even elements of 4th Mech Inf may well not see action until Day 30 now. My earlier prediction of a 7-week war goes to 8-9 on the strength of that one quote alone... I can't see how they're out of this much before the middle of May at the earliest now. Wow. They had so much time. But still no corps artillery, no corps logistics support, and now this.

I'm still not convinced it's just the Pentagon civilians at fault, though. It may simply be the unwieldiness of American heavy divisions today. They're just too heavy to move, it seems. What good is a military formation that even its defenders concede now requires six months to fully deploy? Rumsfeld, et al, in ruling out the use of bigger formations in Iraq, might have taken the wrong course in this campaign, but ultimately with the right reasons in mind... that we are at the end of the era of heavyweight combat forces. In America's next major war, you can bet nearly everything will have to fit on a plane somehow, if only to avoid what's going on now.

Posted by BruceR at 05:18 PM



OxBlog's got a link up to a possible explanation for the American strategy, which continues to baffle people. In short:

Franks could not have reached Baghdad in under a week with two mech infantry divisions abreast. The logistical tail from Kuwait would not have supported it.

It is certainly possible this is correct: it would be impossible to evaluate without logistical information not in common possession. But it still doesn't mean the Americans are on plan. The reason is that the Americans had choices in which units they sent to this war. To simplify, they sent 1 heavy (3rd Inf), 2 medium (Marines and Brits), and 1 light division (101st). If this is where the Americans expected they might be on Day 12, essentially unable to move forward because of the lack of a second heavy division, they could have subbed one into the starting lineup. Or, as has been suggested here previously, they could have created an ad hoc heavy division by merging Marine and UK units. But they didn't do that, so obviously they didn't anticipate this situation. So obviously they were expecting to fight a different kind of war... a war that ended relatively quickly and would require large numbers of lightly armed infantry for pacification.

They didn't get it, and that's fine... war's don't work out the way you want, and losses really haven't been that high. But there's no point in pretending that the situation at the moment is anywhere close to the original plan. It was a coup de main attempt that failed.

Incidentally, I believe both Rumsfeld and the generals are right... this was the armed forces' plan, and he didn't rewrite it. It would have been more subtle than that. The choice would have been between the coup de main plan, with an understanding that failure would mean the war would go on for a couple months instead using a backup Plan B, or a different initial plan that would have taken longer to mount, would have been less ambitious but more certain, with more troops, and would still take... a couple months. Even without Rumsfeld's well-known predilections for light forces and military revolutions, the first option would still have looked tempting.

In a way, the Oxblog commentator is half-right. In order to prove Rumsfeld wrong, the second guessers have to come up with a plan that would have at least a small chance of winning this war in a week, as "Iraq Plan A" promised to. There's lots of plans that would have promised to win the war in two months, including the Plan B the Americans are no doubt executing now: by mid May, we'll know the success of that one, as well. One can certainly fault the Bush administration for anything they may have done to raise expectations of a quick war, but it doesn't seem right to fault them solely for playing a non-risk averse game here. A "quick war" strategy was low-odds, but high payoff.

Posted by BruceR at 01:16 PM



People are trying to figure out the RG's strategy, and apparent moving around of units around Baghdad. It's kinda simple... outside the city the Guard has three really good armoured divisions (Hammurabi, Medina (probably the best) and Nidah). They are the units with those T-72s we were talking about. They also have two divisions of infantry, without significant armour or artillery assets, the Nebuchadnezzar and Baghdad. (If this was 1814, we'd call them the "Young Guard.") They're probably somewhat better than the regular army's worst units, and not as good as its best ones. The final two Republican Guard divisions outside Baghdad proper are still well to the north of the city, around Tikrit and Kirkuk... they're not particularly well-equipped units either. So practically all the Hussein regime's remaining fighting power is in those three armoured divisions.

The Iraqi strategy throughout has been first to delay the approach to Baghdad, and second to preserve their combat power. The Medina's taking the brunt of the Americans' air and artillery attack right now: the Hammurabi and Nidah are catching a bit, too, but they're still very much to the north and east of the city, and so largely out of helicopter and artillery range. As near as I can figure, Hammurabi's still watching for an airmobile deployment north of Karbala, while Nidah's positioning to catch the Americans with a counterstrike if they try to take the war across the Tigris at any point. In fact, the threats of counterstrike from those two units is what's basically hemming the Americans into the Euphrates Valley, forcing them to come through the Medina Division to get to Baghdad. (If the Americans had had a "second fist" ie, a second heavy division, they'd have more options right now, obviously: the Marines or 101st Airborne would have some trouble with a Republican Guard armoured division, but the 4th Mech Inf, for instance, certainly won't when it shows up.)

The Iraqis know that when the Medina and 3rd Inf divisions finally clash, the Medina Division will lose, and they will be forced to finally withdraw into Baghdad proper. So their one major move was to move forward their two weaker RG divisions, their Young Guard, on either flank of the Medina, to delay that decisive clash still further. (The Iraqis know if those two are destroyed the Medina can keep fighting, but not vice versa.) It's working... the Nebuchadnezzar and Baghdad Divisions' positions are now soaking off a lot of the air and ground combat power that would otherwise be focussed on the Medina. Lacking substantial armour or artillery support, they're speedbumps, really, but they are buying hours, even days of time with their lives.

Posted by BruceR at 12:28 PM

WEEKEND WRAPUP Okay, here's the


Okay, here's the significant developments of the weekend that one can see:

*the 82nd Airborne Division's brigade in Kuwait has moved to take over the clearing of Samawah, on the main American supply route. That pretty much rules out any significant new airborne operation in Iraq for the time being... so the 173rd brigade in the north is likely to remain on its own for a while. Sandro Contenta of the Star reports that he has yet to see any U.S. AFVs with them, by the way, suggesting any plans to strengthen the 173rd with heavier units are taking some time.

*the 101st Airborne is now fully dedicated to the beseiging and clearing out Najaf.

*an Iraqi resistance in Diwaniyah has been bypassed and cut off, with American forces from the 3rd Infantry Division now coming up to Hillah. The 2nd Brigade of that Division has been fighting with the Iraqi Nebuchadnezzar Division in Hindiyah. Map updated.

Posted by BruceR at 07:28 AM