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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Monday | July 29, 2002

"Inside out" in Iraq

If you want proof the US military opposes any invasion of Iraq, simply watch as it leaks every possible war plan to the NY Times. The latest is the "Inside Out" plan, that would have the US simply take and occupy Baghdad and a few key cities, and then wait for a leaderless Iraq to collapse. The goal would be a quick and decisive victory, appeasing recalcitrant allies wary of a long, drawn-out conflict.

Would it work? Probably. Unlike many real pundits, I don't think the US would have any trouble defeating Iraq. I don't think the US would have any trouble defeating anyone. The question has always been should the US become a belligerent, threatening, offensive, first-strike nation -- the type of nation it accuses Iraq of being. And does the US want to take the diplomatic hit, creating resentment and anger in our allies and creating new future enemies and terrorist groups. (Remember, Al Queda rose from the ashes of the Gulf War.)

Of all strategies discussed, this "Inside Out" seems to be the riskiest, highest-casualty of all. The plan advocates a quick strike on Iraq's major cities. Since none (other than Basra) are adjacent the Gulf or international borders, that would mean an airborne assault -- an inherently dangerous military maneuver. There have been few successful airborne assaults in the history of warfare. The Nazis invaded Crete from the air, and then swore off the tactic after taking horrific casualties. US forces made some relatively small scale airborne landings during D-Day with mixed results.

Since then, the US hasn't attempted the tactic. It's easy to see why -- broken ankles and other injuries plague even the most controlled training exercises. Jumpers can get spread out over large distances, forcing dangerous regroups in the dark of night. And lumbering transport planes (or helicopters, in the case of the 101st Air Assault Division) are easy targets for anti-aircraft fire. Take down one C-130, and you suddenly need body bags for 92 paratroopers and five crew members.

Any and all such problems are compounded when dropping paratroopers in an urban center. Watch Black Hawk Down for a primer on urban warfare. True, superior US firepower will kill a lot more Iraqis than Americans, but the cost for both sides would be horrific. And Iraq has learned its lesson well -- it won't try to stop the US in the open desert. You can bet his troops are prepared for grueling house to house urban combat.

Finally, it is difficult to resupply troops dropped in the middle of hostile territory. Airdrops are inadequate for the long-term operations of a large fighting force. Apparently the hope is that the Iraqi government quickly collapses, but that is neither a certainty, nor would it even guarantee the cessation of hostilities (e.g. lawless Somalia). Air dropped troops are extremely poorly equipped. Not only do they have a small and finite amount of ammunition, but they also lack much of the heavy weaponry they would need for extended operations. Food and water would be in scarce supply. They would enjoy air superiority, but that advantage is actually lessened in an urban core, where buildings provide hostile forces with ample cover and where the fog of war increases the likelihood of friendly fire incidents.

Again, I believe the US would eventually succeed, but at what cost? The number of dead would be horrific, the enmity the US would breed amongst ally and foe alike is hard to imagine. The US would transform itself from an agent for world peace to the world's most belligerent state.

If the US had ample justification for an attack, and war was inevitable, the best strategy would be to land marine and airborne troops in Basra, capture the region's oil fields, and starve Hussein of his oil revenues. Then bomb his infrastructure until the nation submits. But there is no current justification, other than some vague and self-destructive vendetta against Hussein. The military wants none of a Iraq invasion, and the world community is still presenting a united front against the US. As such, the administration should heed the Pentagon's wishes and maintain the status quo.

Posted July 29, 2002 08:24 AM | Comments (1)


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