Sunday | September 22, 2002
Difficulties of urban warfare
Military planners continue to shudder at the thought of a street-to-street battle in Baghdad.
The US is working on new small-unit tactics to counter the urban defender's natural advantages, but those new tactics are still not ready for primetime:
The Marines put some of their ideas to the test in a recent exercise on a shuttered Air Force base in southern California. In it, a battalion of 1,100 troops, backed by tanks and helicopters, tried to capture base housing from a simulated enemy force, played by 200 eager reservists. A hundred "extras" were hired from a temp agency to play civilian refugees.And remember that in an urban center, US air power means little. It is difficult to call in air strikes on roving bands of urban defenders. Helicopter gunships are vulnerable to rocket propelled grenades. And as Grozny taught us, defenders can just as easily fire from behind rubble as from standing buildings.
Once again, given the weakness of Bush's case against Hussein, are we really willing to risk hundreds, if not thousands, of US casualties?
Current plans seem to range from 50,000 to 250,000 invading troops. Of those, the vast majority are support troops, so say, 10,000 to 50,000 actually participate in a Baghdad assault. At 10 percent casualty rates, that could mean up to 5,000 US dead. And that's assuming no use of WMD.