April 16, 2003



An interesting study for me has been what was wrong about my assumptions about exactly how the Americans would invade Iraq. Without going too much into specifics, my prewar posts predicted (guessed, really):

a) a large role for airborne troops ahead of the main armoured advance, to speed its journey;
b) an armoured advance into the valley of the Euphrates, with the 3rd Inf cutting across the desert to Samawah before crossing the river and heading north (I later hedged this with a suggestion they might cross farther north, instead);
c) use of the Marines to do the Basra job, while the British, augmented with the Marines' LAV brigade, flanked or assisted the 3rd Inf.

I didn't give a prediction as to time, as I honestly thought it could be anywhere from two days to two months, or to casualties (although it's fair to say I expected higher numbers).

So what was wrong with my assumptions? Well, the main mistake I've already commented on... I assumed the Americans and Brits had more confidence in the interoperability of their two nations' forces than they did. A composite division, although it made sense on paper, was evidently too scary a proposition for them, with the higher potential for friendly fire, etc. Given that, in order to give their Baghdad a second punch, the Americans had to go with the not-so-elegant solution of three full regiments of Marines travelling the 300-plus miles in amphibious and relatively vulnerable Amtracs. This has obvious pluses and minuses that have been discussed before. It was not ideal, but in the end it worked just fine.

In the end, of course, the Americans crossed the Euphrates behind Karbala, not farther south at Samawah. This is a case of assuming the overly obvious must be wrong... the Karbala route, being basically desert right up to within sight of the airport was so bleeding obvious that I assumed it would be heavily defended, and that the Americans would accordingly choose to take the indirect approach. Obviously, they had intel before the war that there was no "Karbala Line" as such, and so opted for the easiest road. Obviously, the initial assumption that failed there was that the Iraqis would not give the game away quite so easily.

As to the airborne, post-campaign analyses have revealed there was a more limited airborne plan in play at start... with the lone brigade of the 82nd tagged for a vertical envelopment to help unhinge the aforementioned Karbala defences. My assumption there was that the 101st Airborne was more or less ready to go on Day Zero. As it turns out, it wasn't, of course, needing the first week-and-a-half to shake out in Kuwait (only its helicopter units saw action in the first two weeks). That meant the Americans had two air assault brigades, not five... meaning, obviously, that any kind of "airborne carpet" was a non-starter, and that only this more limited operation was achievable (given that at least one brigade would still have to be reserved for a northern deployment, as well.) Of course, that limited operation was scrubbed as well, either, depending on who you read, either because it was judged Karbala was soft enough it was unnecessary, or because the sniping in the American rear area necessitated the deployment of the 82nd back on the supply lines instead.

Of course, the Americans could have long previously ruled out any airborne carpet plan, which would have promised to accelerate their pace forward, at the risk of higher casualties, because the cost outweighed the gains... which is why the 101st wasn't ready in time in the first place. In the end, though, I was assuming a capability they didn't have in theatre, which is why I was led astray a little there.

It's worth noting that I did get a couple things right, at least... that the Euphrates Valley would be the center of the action, that advance up the Tigris past Basra was not going to be possible, that there was no sizable main force commitment to the west or north, etc. Yes, in retrospect all those things are obvious, but all predictions look obviously right or obviously wrong in retrospect, so I'm not shamed by it. As Lacqueur wrote, the point of post-event analysis is not that the prediction was wrong, because all predictions made from imperfect awareness are inherently wrong. The point is to figure out where the shortcomings in the assumptions were, to refine the technique, and amend one's appreciation of their capabilities. For better or for worse, the Americans and Brits are less interoperable than I'd thought, take even longer to prep for battle than I'd thought, and are not as averse to the direct approach, given the right odds, as I'd thought. So noted.

Posted by BruceR at 05:24 PM

ASHES TO ASHES The sacking


The sacking of Baghdad has certainly been... well... biblical. While I would like to believe, like some, that this is in part a Hussein crime (or, on the other side, an American sin of omission), for the moment Occam still tends to lean primary culpability towards the unlettered mob... the Iraqi chapter of the Jerry Bruckheimer Film Appreciation Society. The loss to human culture is going to be incalculable, of course. It makes you wonder how many other famous historic sacks (Rome... Jerusalem... Thebes) were in part the product of the newly "free" inhabitants of those cities, as well.

Posted by BruceR at 01:35 PM