Monday, December 01, 2003


Andrew Sullivan links to New York Times article and an Adam Yoshida blog with sample data of a month's enemy casualties in Iraq, which in turn is based on press accounts of a briefing given to President Bush. Yoshida's summary is that:

... the US armed forces are killing and capturing fifteen of the enemy for each loss of their own: and this figure is distorted by the high number of US personnel killed in aircraft shoot-downs in November, a figure which is not likely to be repeated.

That is not quite correct, because Operation Iron Hammer, on which the statistics are based, does not count up Special Forces operations nor does it fully tally the efforts which may not be part of the operation. Enemy WIA who have escaped capture are also not part of the tally, but on the other hand, neither does Yoshida seem to count US wounded when computing his 15:1 casualty ratio. One of the reasons that the body count business felt into disrepute was the difficulty of creating a utility function that would translate these metrics of agony into a decrement in military strength. After all, the loss of a American infantryman, while not different from the loss of an Iraqi in human terms, represents a materially different quantum from a hastily trained feyadeen.

Having said that, this sample suggests an overwhelming defeat is engulfing Ba'athist forces. The principal reason is that the enemy losses are eating up his seed corn. Most of the enemy taken by Iron Hammer are captures. In the harsh arithmetic of combat, a capture hurts the enemy, especially a clandestine enemy, much more than an KIA hurts US forces. Every enemy POW is a source of intelligence information, especially when the prisoner is a ranking officer or key operator. By contrast, the Ba'athist's have no known American prisoners in their custody. In similar fashion, most facilities raided by US troops yield up intelligence documents, weapons and stashes of cash. To appreciate the damage, imagine the enemy overrunning not one but several tactical intelligence centers together with its files, per week, every week. This briefing by Brig. General Martin Dempsey conveys a sense the fine granularity and destructiveness of US operations:

Let me orient you a little on the city of Baghdad. The city of Baghdad has 88 neighborhoods and nine districts. The nine districts are labeled on the two plasma screens behind me. We think that of those 88 neighborhoods, six to eight of them are less than secure ... this fight we have here in Baghdad is a neighborhood-centered fight ... Abu Ghraib, Adhamiya, Rashid ...

Dempsey then describes the efforts directed against each named cell, in each named neighborhood, a process analogous to the Ba'ath searching out the streets of Georgetown looking for stay-behind agents.

we attacked a cell that we knew to be operating in what we call the 636 Mahallah, which is located on the western edge of the Mansour district. ... we look to find how a cell is organized by finding its leaders and its deputies, its financiers and its planners, its suppliers, recruiters and operators.  ... In this case -- (to staff) -- next slide -- in this case, we think we did get at that cell, by virtue of the fact that we captured its leadership; we captured many of its deputies; we captured people we know to be planners, suppliers; and we as well captured some of the operators.

One of the fundamental Ba'athist problems is that the safety of its commanders, resources and facilities depends entirely on informational security, because no physical barrier will keep out the US Army. In order to generate sorties and maintain itself against the US, in order to remain secure and militant, the Ba'ath must expend resources at a lavish rate. Suspect safe houses must be changed; suspicious personnel isolated; possible penetration agents avoided; tapped phones replaced; compromised training facilities abandoned at the first glimmer of doubt. The disposable world of clandestine war is ruinously expensive. Anyone who thinks Saddam has unlimited money should know he doesn't have nearly enough. Adam Yoshida is essentially right: a cumulative catastrophe is swamping the Ba'ath. The massacre of Saddam's feyadeen in Samarra is a nightmare to the Ba'ath not because of what it reveals of American firepower, but because of what it suggests about the penetration of Saddam's clandestine system.