Friday, April 09, 2004

Quick Notes

I won't be able to post much in the coming days due to the pressure of work, and all I can do is regurgitate a reply I sent to a reader.

W: I'm getting nervous. Feels like it's spinning out of control. Reminds me of the Spanish Civil War and Vietnam -- we can win if we want but is there the will on the part of the West to win this? Hezboallah and Iran are clearly making their play. Do we have what it takes? I don't know. The news here is working against the bigger picture. And, Condi testimony, in the middle of all this....I watched it live, what a tragic backdrop for a key battle in ther war. Victor Hanson got it right today on NRO....

Dear ...

I've been looking at the casualty returns and the type of ops. The Marines killed in Ramadi, plus the Army soldiers who died in Saddam City are the bulk of the "spike" casualties so far and they seem to have been hit in vehicular ambushes. The kind of rear echelon attack or "counterseige" I've been talking about. In the Fallujah battle itself, very few Marines have died. That's going into the end phase because the Marines now have position on them. They're two klicks in from the south and one in from the north. The town is 4 klicks wide and deep, almost a square, so the enemy is compressed into a very narrow pocket. Probably cut in two by the times you get this. News is lagged. The Marines have got Iraqi Special Forces knocking on doors to while they do the maneuver. Things like this are like arm wrestling. Looks slow at first, but once you get on top, its a slaughter.

But on the main Shi'ia front, things are more fluid. I think the US is in intel gathering and economy of force mode. The real question is why they are holding back on Sadr, indeed why Sadr decamped from the Golden Mosque to start with. The problem does not seem to be lack of US forces, as such. The Marines have two identified battalions committed to Fallujah, although the operation probably has involved more, maybe half of total Marine combat strength is engaged in some form or other including security duties. But the real problem is operational. You can't just whack away at everything. CENTCOM is looking to use the force available as a scalpel to adjust the political situation in Iraq. So the priority now is not, as the press opines "finding enough troops" -- let the enemy believe that though -- it is creating a plan of operations. Finding the targets and hitting them to change the political situation in our favor. We'll whack Sadr if and when it suits us.

Back to type of ops. We are seeing hostage taking tactics plus a few symbolic types of seizures by the Madhi Army. Painful to see, but objectively it is greasy kid stuff. The only really sustained fighting is in Fallujah involving a Marine brigade. So this gives you the measure of the enemy combat power. They have to find some more. Therefore their basic hope is to start a panic, get a bandwagon going. Ergo this hostage routine and symbolic seizure routine. Raise up all Iraq. Uh, huh. That's easier said than done. That fits in just fine with intel and planning cycle, to get the Mahdi Army in a self-identifying process. Knowing what to hit is, with the US forces available, 95% of the problem. The rest is relatively straightforward.

A few other comments. During Iraqi Freedom, there were severe logistical problems. The tail stretched back to the Gulf. Aircraft flew thousands of miles. Now the US has dozens of airfields and bases. Logistically, personnel are the easiest of all the move. It's equipment that takes time. We could ship more troops into Iraq, but there's no sign of that and that is information in itself. What is the Press metric for stretched? Look at the air support used in Fallujah. Single aircraft strikes. Well, well within the envelope. That indirectly says a lot about how confident CENTCOM is. When you can tattoo the enemies nose with artistic punches you are in no real trouble. Not saying things are easy, that people aren't dying or getting maimed. But the forces in Iraq are pretty cool. Cooler it seems than we bystanders might be.

The most important thing about force is for it to be controlled force, guided by a intelligence and political goal. And the great thing about CENTCOM so far is they have not let their legs get ahead of their brains.