Monday, October 25, 2004

War Plan Orange

In retrospect Saddam's plan to defend Iraq may bear a resemblance to War Plan Orange's retreat into Bataan. Since reinforcements could not come to the aid of US divisions in the Philippine Islands in time to repel an anticipated Japanese invasion, the plan called for the abandonment of the capital and a concentration of forces and supplies into the Bataan peninsula, where MacArthur's forces could hope to hold out until relief eventually arrived. MacArthur attempted to change the plan at the last moment, attempting to fight near the beaches and was belatedly forced readopt the strategy of withdrawing into Bataan, a mistake which cost him thousands of tons in supplies. Still, by skillful rearguard actions at the Agno and Pampanga Rivers, MacArthur slipped 80,000 men into his defensive redoubt and held out for four months. Three years later, Tomoyuki Yamashita, facing the same strategic problem against superior forces, moved his 272,000 troops into the mountainous spine of Luzon where he held out for a little over eight months.

Faced with an invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saddam carried out his own sideslip maneuver into a redoubt. The Duelfer report notes that Saddam may have begun moving his WMD materials into Syria as the US vainly attempted to get UN authorization to topple his regime.

Duelfer agreed that a large amount of material had been transferred by Iraq to Syria before the March 2003 war. "A lot of materials left Iraq and went to Syria," Duelfer said. "There was certainly a lot of traffic across the border points. We've got a lot of data to support that, including people discussing it. But whether in fact in any of these trucks there was WMD-related materials, I cannot say."

At least some of that was the key munition of modern terrorist warfare -- money

Syria has acknowledged that its banks have held funds for Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, reports Geostrategy-Direct, the global intelligence news service. But the regime of President Bashar Assad disputes U.S. officials who say Syria was harboring about $3 billion in Saddam funds. Instead, Syria maintains that its Iraqi assets have not exceeded $300 million.

If MacArthur's delaying actions at the Agno and Pampanga Rivers enabled him to get his forces into Bataan intact, the successful campaign to prevent the US from pushing the 4ID down from Turkey gave Saddam the time and space to move assets into Syria and disperse munitions and men into the Sunni Triangle. About 600,000 tons of munitions were dispersed throughout the country of which 100,000 tons -- five Hiroshima bombs worth of explosive -- were taken to Anbar province in the Sunni Triangle alone.

The ammunition is strewn all over Iraq, and provides insurgents with easily accessible free material to make bombs ... "Approximately 100,000 of the estimated 600,000 tons of explosives in the country are located in the Al Anbar Province, I MEF’s area of responsibility," said Army Capt. Elmer Bruner Jr., the officer in charge of the operation for the battalion.

Nor was there any shortage of men to use these weapons. Former CPA Administrator Paul Bremer noted that 100,000 convicted criminals were released just before US forces overran the cities, ready to be officered, along with many Sunnis, by either the cadre of the former Ba'athist dominated armies or international terrorists flooding in from Iran and Syria. Conceptually, the defense plan was similar to Lieutenant- General Ushijima's scheme to hold Okinawa. He offered no resistance either on the beaches or in the northern part of the island, preferring to withdraw his men behind the Shuri Line, honeycombed with secret tunnels and caves. All the while American forces battered against prepared positions, the Kamikaze suicide corps would take its grim toll of the supply lines and support units offshore until the US population grew weary of war. It was a campaign where nearly 1,000 men could die in an afternoon as actually occurred when Kamikazes hit the Essex class carrier Franklin with heavy loss.

The Americans lost 7,373 men killed and 32,056 wounded on land. At sea, the Americans lost 5,000 killed and 4,600 wounded. The Japanese lost 107,000 killed and 7,400 men taken prisoner. It is possible that the Japanese lost another 20,000 dead as a result of American tactics whereby Japanese troops were incinerated where they fought. The Americans also lost 36 ships. 368 ships were also damaged. 763 aircraft were destroyed. The Japanese lost 16 ships sunk and over 4,000 aircraft were lost.

These casualties -- compressed into four months -- would be unbelievable by today's standards. They were barely supportable, even to the hard men of the Greatest Generation and were a major factor in the subsequent decisions to incinerate the Japanese cities and use the atomic bomb. But no one knew at the time that Okinawa was the latest major land engagement of the Pacific War.

The major modern innovation of the Arab Way of War has been its radical new conception of defense in depth. The concept made its debut in Algeria; it was subsequently refined in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Checnya and the West Bank. Unlike Ushijima's Shuri Line with its tunnels in rock, the Arab redoubt was founded on establishing an underground of terror in the civilian populace. From the anonymity of crowds, they could emerge to attack the enemy from the rear as the Imperial Japanese Army once had done from tunnels. Faced with superior United States forces, this 21st century War Plan Orange was the natural choice of the Arab strategists. By denying the United States proof of its WMDs and grinding them down through occupation warfare -- the one mode of combat at which they excelled, they had a reasonable hope of holding America until a politician willing to treat with them was elected into office. There was no need for despair because, as James Lileks put it, "hope is on the way" -- a reference to the eventual actions of the antiwar Left. In Iraq the ultimate blitzkrieg force met the ultimate protracted war army and the protracted war army awaited events confidently.

Shortly after declaring major combat operations over, the US must have realized, like Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner in Okinawa, that it had come up to the approaches of the Arab Shuri Line. Fortunately, not everything had gone according to the enemy's plan. Like MacArthur in Luzon, they had underestimated the speed of their opponent's advance. They enemy had probably not counted on OIF reaching Baghdad in 3 weeks. Their withdrawal into the redoubt, although substantial was still incomplete. But most importantly, they had not reckoned on the American ability to generate local forces against them, something the Israelis had never achieved. This took the shape of an interim Iraqi government in which Kurds and Shi'ites were major participants. They must have watched with mounting alarm as Iraqi security forces were raised against them. They had forgotten, too, that just as they had developed their tactics in Lebanon, the Americans were able to leverage Israeli tactics that were invented to counter them.

The battle began to go against them from the start. In essence, Ba'athist-terrorist coalition was unable to inflict the losses necessary to disrupt the organizational learning curve of the American forces. Unlike the conscript Soviet Army, the American Armed Forces were a professional force that retained its core of officers, NCOs and to a large degree, even their enlisted men. Forces were rotated out of Iraq largely intact, where they incorporated lessons learned into the training cycle in CONUS; and relieving forces were improved accordingly. In 1980s, the Al Qaeda and not the Soviet Army had turned Afghanistan into a training ground but in 2003-2004, it was the US Armed Forces and not the terrorists that were coming away with organizational memory. Simply not enough of the enemy survived to pass on their experience and simply too many American lieutenants left Iraq to return as captains. The terrible enemy losses on the battlefield could not be wholly overcome by media plaudits which they received. At least 15,000 enemy cadres have been killed in the 17 months since OIF. Recently, the remains of a French jihadi were identified in Fallujah and his fate is probably a common one. While Afghanistan was once where the young fundamentalist fighter went to get experience, Iraq was now where the fundamentalist fighter went to die.

One indication of the unfavorable trend faced by enemy forces face was the rapid transformation in US operations. It is interesting to compare Marine preparations to assault Fallujah in April 2004 with those apparently under way today, just months later. The Marine methods of April would have been instantly familiar to any military historian: hammer and anvil, seizure of key terrain; feint and attack. Today, many of the military objectives in the developing siege of the terrorist stronghold are abstract. They consist of developing a network of informers in the city; of setting up a functioning wireless network; of getting close enough for smaller US units to deploy their line-of-sight controlled UAV and UGV units to create a seamless operational and tactical environment to wage "swarm" warfare; of getting artillery and mortar units close enough to play hopscotch over everything the network decides to engage. To the traditional methods of warfare the Americans were adding a whole new plane which only they could inhabit.

Faced with a force increasingly familiar with Arabia, with deep combat experience, nearly unlimited technical resources and growing lethality, the enemy, like Yamashita in the Cordilleras and Ushijima in Okinawa, can only hope to be saved by the bell. Objectively, there is little chance of that. But as Lileks said: "hope is on the way".