Five days into the invasion my first public military analysis and criticism. Some of it I ended up being wrong on, but I think I got more right than wrong over the long term. Check out the discussion for additional Q&A engaged with at the time. (Ed 9/30/2023)
It seems to be the mother-of-all psyche-outs is unfolding in Iraq. It could be we were duped by our political leaders, it could be the military or media overemphasized key points, or the Iraqis are smarter (if not better equipped) than we thought.
It probably could be a combination of all three, but something has changed in the last four days from our initially held assumptions about how this conflict would play out:
1) The population would rise up to support us.
They have not.
2) Towns like Basara and Al Nasierya would be bypassed as non-military targets in a leapfrogging race to Baghdad as Iraqis celebrated the liberation of their cities and humanitarian aid would flow in.
Basara was declared a military target by Britain yesterday meaning it would have to be pacified as an enemy-controlled city tying up more combat troops that are being depleted from forward progress to Baghdad. No humanitarian aid has entered the country yet because there are no secure areas in which it to be deployed.
3) The generals of the 51st Division, a “less than effective fighting force”, were arranging the surrender of the Division and troops were melting away.
The generals of said division are now in Basara with their “less than effective” fighting force holding up a ton of US and British Marines in fierce fire-fights.
4) Baghdad had little command and control over Iraqi troops and there was almost no organized resistance.
The Iraqis seem to be using an effective defensive doctrine of allowing penetration through weaker areas while preserving main-line troops from initial combat and then harassing supply lines and rear areas. The forces most adequately suited to each task: conscript armies, the republican guard, and the fayhadeen are each playing their appropriate role at the right time in the right areas. Potentially a coincidence but I’m not buying it.
5)Senior Republican Guard leaders were in negotiations to surrender.
These same Republican Guard units are now entrenched in a layered defensive perimeter stretching out from Baghdad with sufficiently coordinated air defenses that left an Apache Air Brigade without a single returning unit undamaged by ground fire.
6) Chemical weapons would be used.
They have not yet.
7) Terrorist attacks would coincide from Iraq’s allies in Al-Queda.
They have not yet.
8) The US would have sufficient troops on the ground to get the tasks accomplished.
My guess is with a 200+ mile supply line and unpacified areas in the rear the coalition does not have enough troops on the ground. I can understand why the entire 4th Division (originally slated for Turkey) is not active yet, but I can’t understand why they and their equipment are still in the US and not crossing the Suez Canal by now.
All these situations could change tomorrow, or tonight, the Iraqis could begin surrendering ‘en masse. We can find out all the resistance was a coincidence and quickly evaporated, they could use chemical weapons. But my concerns in summary are that the the strategic factors of this war (WMD, terrorist counterattacks, population uprising, and mass defections) have not materialized as expected while conventional factors (effective defense, continued command and control, guerilla fighting) have become a pressing priority.
It’s okay if I’m wrong as an amateur civilian, however, I’m not too happy that the leaders of this war are wrong as well. To remain clear I was against the war as having too high an international cost, but now that we’re in it our leaders need to get serious and address these new conventional factors and not continue along with the same incorrect assumptions.
Listening to Rumsfield, Franks, and others I’m not confident they’re addressing the changing reality, lots of talk of “Iraqis waiting to be liberated” and “imminent surrender” still flies across the airwaves, which I’m not seeing as valid for now. What if the Iraqis, despite all our hopes to the contrary, do not view the US as a liberating force regardless of their dislike of Saddam? How will that change the plan, and what steps will be taken to address that? How bad would America have to get for us to accept as “liberators” invading and occupying armies of Russia, France, or China?
Remember the propaganda from Iraq for years has painted us that bad, maybe the Iraqis see through it but maybe they don’t. This isn’t Desert Storm where our only exposed forces are pilots in planes or combat divisions in the southern part of Iraq. We have 250k of combat and support troops (i.e. soft targets) scattered all over Iraq and we need to ensure we are protecting them and vigorously addressing the reality, not the previously held perceptions, of the situation.
A “race to Baghdad” may no longer be as sound a strategy no matter how politically sexy it is on Capital Hill. A few days taken off from advancing to reconsolidate, pacify rear areas, resupply, and then move in force might be a more prudent measure. Then again I could be completely wrong, it’s been known to happen. Tim C.
And for the love of whatever our leaders need to stop wasting air time by saying Iraqis are fighting unfairly. War is about applying your most unfair capabilities and hoping it exceed the enemy’s unfair capabilities. This isn’t a playground, this is war: you asked for it, you got it. Recognize they are doing it, take measures to counter it, and save the hand-wringing for afterward.
2) Yes, the British declared it a target. We haven’t. One reason for this might be that some >reports have said that parts of the Republican Guards have come south to Basra.
Well since the British are part of our coalition I take their word that it’s a military target as meaning “not safe yet”. I’m also not willing to write off all non-Republican guard units as ineffective in case they prove to be otherwise.
>3) Parts of that division are in Basra. Some surrendered…..is the US populous ready for mounting civil casualties in light of Iraq’s tactics?
The ones who surrendered were actually not taken to POW camps, they turned in weapons and “melted away”. I don’t think that mistake will happen again (deceit usually allows a one-time trick). As for civilian casualties personally, I am ready for them to mount, that’s the cost of war. I didn’t want the war now but if that’s the cost then so be it. It’s obvious that if Iraqis are using human shields casualties will mount. But at the same time, I think in incumbent to secure rear areas before charging headlong into what’s sure to be a nasty fight in Baghdad.
>4) Another quite plausible explanation for their tactics – They have no command over them, so >they’ve returned to cities to wait things out and wait for orders… and attack as we come to >them. According to Saddam’s public messages, this isn’t their plan..
Very plausible, only time will tell.
>Another comment for supporting a lack of leadership… Where are their planes? Not a single one has taken off to meet our approaching planes. None. Its hard to believe that a fully-entrenched leadership would allow their 200+ planes and their mounted arsenals to sit dormant on runways (note: I’ve only heard of us taking 2 airfields, both in western Iraq). So.. where are their planes???
The same question I’m asking, and also: why aren’t we destroying them while they’re on the ground?
>5) I never expected the Republican Guards to surrender. …I believe that the reason this may have been mentioned by us was to attempt to undermine that >loyalty. If it worked? GREAT. If not? Nothing changes.
That is an assumption on your part, just as it was an assumption on mine that we thought some might be surrendering and we were duped. Neither of us truly knows. We’ll have to watch the post-war documentaries five years from now to find out.
>6) Key word “yet”
And I hope they never are used, that either they aren’t there or the troops are smart enough not to deploy them. If they aren’t there Bush has a ton to answer for, but at least it spares what might cause massive casualties.
>7) I’d never heard any reports of this nature. Got a link to an article I can read that in?
I can dig it up.
>8) Like you said, that’s your guess.
I’ll dig up the references on this too citing military officials. There has been a massive rift
between the DoD and the Pentagon for a long time now (Crusader et. al) part of that had to do with expectations of troop requirements. It is not a guess however that the 4th Division which is part of the plan to have opened a northern front is still in the US, that’s 20k in ground troops missing from the original plan.
>Yes, we’ve seen some resistance. No, we haven’t had massive casualties. Will we? Possibly, >but only time will tell that.
I don’t think the US can handle massive casualties, we don’t expect to lose thousands of men and women anymore. In that view, 100-200 casualties can become “massive” by public perception and just as damaging to policy implementation. Regan skedaddled out of Lebanon when 240 Marines died and Clinton turned tail and ran out of Somali at 18 Ranger deaths. The US public’s version of “massive” is no longer the same as a military version.
>Who in the media had access to their plans? No one. The military >says their moving ahead “as planned”. With how little (relatively speaking) resistance >they’ve encountered
Time will tell, but the references I’m making are to statements made by military and DoD officials, not paid media hypesters (which there are far too many running on the air).
From a DoD Breifing 3/20/03 http://www.pentagon.gov/news/Mar2003/t03202003_t0320sd.html
There will be Iraqis that will surrender. There will be Iraqis that offer to help us. There will be Iraqis who offer not only to help us but to help liberate the country and to free the Iraqi people. The more of them there are, the greater the chance that the war will be limited and less broad.
The fewer there are, the risks that it will be broader and more difficult, take more time, and more lives will be lost.
Q: Mr. Secretary, what evidence do you have that it’s actually working, that there are actually Iraqis who are heeding this call to —
Rumsfeld: We have evidence.
Q: And what sort of evidence is that?
Rumsfeld: Good evidence.
(same breifing later)
What they have to be seeing is a good deal of evidence that the Iraqi people want to be liberated. We see a great deal of evidence of that. It’s a natural human tendency for people that have been brutally repressed. It manifests itself in a host of ways. We see evidence of military personnel, some have already surrendered in Kuwait. We are in communication with still more people who are officials of the military at various levels — the regular army, the Special Republican — the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard, who are increasingly aware that it’s going to happen, he’s going to be gone.
And what they are probably doing — I can’t do this perfectly, but as I try to put myself in their shoes — they have to be fearful of that regime because that regime kills people every day to enforce obedience and discipline. So they have to be fearful of the regime. On the other hand, once they are persuaded that that regime is history, it is going, it will not be there, in some reasonably finite period of time they will be gone, then their behavior begins to tip and change. And the — when I said we have good evidence, we have not only good evidence but we have broad and deep evidence that suggests that there are people going through that decision-making process throughout that country today, and that is a good thing.
From a DoD Breifing 3/21/03 http://www.pentagon.gov/news/Mar2003/t03212003_t0321sd1.html
The regime is starting to lose control of their country. Yesterday, the Iraqi information minister declared that the port of Umm Qasr is “completely in our hands,” quote/unquote. Quote: “They (the coalition forces) failed to capture it,” unquote. In fact, coalition forces did capture it and do control the port of Umm Qasr, and also a growing portion of the country of Iraq.
The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing. Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield, to communicate with their forces and to control their country is slipping away. They’re beginning to realize, I suspect that the regime is history. And as that realization sets in, their behavior is likely to begin to tip and to change.
(NOTE: Comment made that Umm Qasr being captured and controled by coalition, Umm Qasr was redeclared under control over the weekend after new fighting broke out.)
General McCyrstal 3/22 Regarding 51st Division Surrenders http://www.pentagon.gov/news/Mar2003/t03222003_t0322osdpa.html
On the ground, coalition forces continue the main attack towards Baghdad. Ground forces have reached more than 150 miles into Iraqi territory and have crossed the Euphrates River. Coalition forces are advancing north beyond An Nazariyah. As General Franks mentioned, there are between 1,000 and 2,000 Iraqi soldiers who have surrendered and been taken into custody. And although numbers are hard to determine we have seen significant evidence of many Iraqi soldiers simply abandoning their equipment and leaving. Clearly, Operation Iraqi Freedom is moving forward
As you can see I am not basing my statements on media information, but actual DoD and military figures.
I remember these briefings… actually got to watch most of them live. shrugs, not that it makes much difference But what I’m failing to see is how this goes against any of my comments. I’m guessing its just a perception thing shrug, again Rumsfeld (and anyone else that’s doing a briefing) is vague. They have to be. If they weren’t, they’d be passing on information (or hints at information) that if word got back to Baghdad might endanger our troops. Do I think a lot of what’s coming out of the Administration is intentionally misleading and vague? Hell yeah… and I applaude it. Before the first Gulf War, the US learned that Saddam was tracking our troops through CNN reports. So we used that – remember all the talk before the war about the naval build up and the possibilities of amphibeous assaults? Purposeful, intentional deception….Okay… I’m rambing now, maybe. I think this comes down to a perception issue, so not likely one we’d straighten out over this medium. grins But I’m sure we’ll both keep trying to get the other to see their view… we like debating each other. 😉
Like where 1441 is about WMD and disarmement but what we really want is regime change? =)
I agree it is a tactic with some utility to deceive public opinion as a means to deceiving the enemy. However reducing the value of that political effort is the fallout from having done so. If you win big, no one cares, if you don’t win big, people care a lot.
I still haven’t been able to find firm documentation on the lack of sufficient troops to accomplish the plan, but FoxNews just reported that originally 43,000 troops were supposed to be deployed in Turkey and those are now being repositioned. It’s not a firm quote, but hey Fox is fair and balanced right? =)
Either way missing 43,000 combat troops and an entire additional front, in my mind, is sufficient evidence that there are not enough forces on the ground for the original plan. I’m not saying to pull out: just take a few days, consolidate our gains, resupply our lines, give the troops some rest, keep pressure up via airpower and let the Republican Guard get worked over a little more before we go charging in there.