Monday, April 05, 2004

Operation Valiant Resolve

The operation on Fallujah has commenced. From preliminary reports, it seems that the enemy will fight. Marines are taking mortar fire from town and have responded with air support. This will be an extremely difficult operation, and the degree of enemy entrenchment fully justifies the Marine decision not to rush into the fray. As noted in earlier posts, the enemy will use counter-siege tactics by creating incidents elsewhere to divert the Marines.

The Marines are currently trying to evacuate the town, using leaflets, loudspeakers and taking over the airwaves. Expect a fairly extended period in which no apparent progress will be made. The progress will be positional but the stresses will built up progressively within the enemy position which will be continuously undermined. From here on in, the ability to maneuver based on information dominance will be everything. The strategic goal of the enemy will be to inflict as many casualties on Americans as possible, behind a barricade of women and children. They will succeed to some extent. The basic goal of American forces will probably be to annihilate and capture the cadre of gangs which infest Fallujah, a town which is a byword in terror even to the Iraqis.

The closest historical analogue to this engagement may be the battle fought by Blackjack Pershing a hundred years ago in Sulu -- the battle of Bud Bagsak. Although this battle is now described by Islamic rebels as a scene of martyrdom, it in fact marked the end of major resistance, from which they did not recover until the 1970s.


The following is speculation based purely on a map exercise and historical data.

Psychologically there can be few things more devastating than the sight of the population abandoning the hard core Anti-coalition forces to their fate. This would have enormous political symbolism and be extremely humiliating for the enemy. The Jihadi likes to imagine that his chattel wife will continue to wash his underpants and cook for him, whenever she is not serving as his human shield. The departure of noncombatants would also deprive the enemy of his main military advantage. Innocent flesh and blood, not concrete and steel, are what the Anti-coalition forces are relying on for safety. Therefore the enemy can be expected to exert all his power to keep the general population under his control.

Yet he must do this while keeping the Marines out. The ten mile perimeter of Fallujah is too large an area to continuously defend and if the energy required to police the population is added to the burden of the defenders, it will clearly be stretched. The overextension of the defense is the principal weakness of the enemy position in Fallujah. Historically, cities have been defended from strongpoints backed by a mobile reserve, simply because they are too large to cover in continuous line. Even the placement of IEDs and mines must be selective. It is doubtful whether the Anti-coalition forces, however well provided, have enough explosives to surround Fallujah with a continuous belt of mines. That would "tie up" their entire inventory of explosive and be just as great a danger to themselves in any mobile scenario.

For these reasons, the Chechens who defended Grozny relied upon a semi-mobile defense, in which teams of men with mixed arms, typically RPG shooters backed by automatic rifles and machineguns, guarded key approaches. To enhance their mobility, the Chechens dug connecting tunnels between buildings and under streets. They feigned retreat before mounted Russian forces, then subjected them to simultaneous fires from basement, ground and upper stories, volleying them with RPGs. The defenders of Fallujah would have read the Chechen playbook.

The first sign that the Marines are planning to turn the tables on them comes from the fact that they have wired in the escape routes from town at a standoff distance. This puts the Anti-coalition forces on the permanent defensive. The Marines will probably exploit the uncoverable yardage of Fallujah to feint from several directions, essentially forcing the defense to continuously run around within the perimeter. They can feint continuously, especially during the hours of darkness. Anyone who has experienced running around nighttime streets knows that unit cohesion will gradually evaporate and bits of equipment will be mislaid. And then there may be long-range fire from American assets. Because the Marines have the initiative, they can enforce a rest plan while Anti-coalition forces cannot. A semi-mobile Grozny style defense will probably not work in Fallujah; it will wear out against a cunning, fencing Marine Corps. At some point, the enemy will feel the need to pull into a continuously defended, but shrunken perimeter.

This will provide the Marines with continuous opportunities to gain better firing positions or even infiltrate parts of Fallujah. Before long the enemy will be forced to slacken his grip on the civilians and further consolidate to improve his position. At some point civilians will start leaving Fallujah for processing areas. The Marines can jam enemy comms to stymie coordination, and once a civilian exodus begins Coalition radio can broadcast messages in the name of the defenders asking civilians to leave. The enemy must work hard to keep his human shields in place and therefore it must be expected that he might fire on civilians in an desperate effort to keep them under control. These challenges will be met, though not without lives lost.

Yet the defenders will be operating on a steadily diminishing energy budget: less and less sleep, ammo and equipment. Because the Marines hold the initiative, they can drain the defensive energies to a monstrous degree by precipitating one crisis after the other to which the enemy must respond or concede. Gradually, the Marines will infiltrate Fallujah until the enemy is paralyzed. More than likely the press will interpret these indirect tactics as proof that Americans are afraid to advance or declare that the Marines have been pinned down. Never mind. The job at hand is to win an overwhelming victory at the lowest cost whatever its impact may be on the ratings. It is war, not entertainment.