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

Sunday | July 27, 2003

Who's going to Iraq next

By Steve Gilliard

Pat K. posted this in the comments sections

"The Army announced today that it has alerted two U.S. Army National Guard Enhanced Separate Brigades that may participate in the Army unit rotation plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom. The units are the 30th Infantry Brigade from North Carolina and the 39th Infantry Brigade from Arkansas. The 30th Infantry Brigade will be augmented with an infantry battalion from the 27th Infantry Brigade of New York. The 39th Infantry Brigade will be augmented with an infantry battalion from the 41st Infantry Brigade of Oregon. The deployment window for these units is between February and April of 2004.

"This deployment will last up to one year from mobilization to demobilization. These National Guard units will provide capabilities necessary to perform the on going mission in Iraq."

"Their deployment is part of the Armys unit rotation plan to further provide predictability in the lives of soldiers and their families as they serve the nation fighting the global war on terrorism."

The units chosen have some association with regular Army units now in Iraq, the 30th with the 3ID and the 39th with the 101ABN. The other units are light infantry battalions brought in to round out the unit's strength.

But there's another story here and it goes to the heart of Army operational planning and thinking.

The US Army, and to a lesser extent, Marines, have invested millions of manhours in developing operational warfare planning around armored and mechanized battalions. In the attack, even the lighter armored Marine LAV and Amphib units are mobile and flexible. But almost all of the thinking has centered around finding and beating other armored and mechanized formations.

In my opinion, one of the great intellectual mistakes of the Army, and even the Marines, to some extent, has been the idealization of the European Theater of Operations. While the Marines pay great hommage to Chesty Puller and Vandergrift and Turner, the heart and soul of Marine Amphibious operations in WWII, their thinking and planning in both services owe far more to Patton, Von Rundstedt and Rommel, the masters of large scale armored and mechanized warfare. Fron 1945 on, they have envisioned a battlefield of large scale armored movements with mechanized infantry and artillery in support. Even the Marines invested heavily in armor because the mission was geared towards big tank showdowns.

The Arabs and Israelis bought into this and the Israelis, with superior doctrine caged by their own experience with the British (substantial numbers served with British forces on their own or as British or Allied citizens) or Russians. They also studied the tactical flexibility of the Germans and their tactical innovations on the Eastern Front. The Arabs tried to reproduce the mass/weight attacks of the Soviets without Soviet resources and got hammered. It was far easier for the Israelis to use German ideas than the Arabs to use Russian ones. The Israeli had the skill, the Arabs didn't have the manpower.

So based on their intellectual idealizing of the ETO and the great tank battles of the East, as well as the Israel experience, the idea became to develop forces which could work in "combined arms" mechanized teams. This was justified, of course, by the GSFG(Group of Soviet Forces Germany) across the Fulda Gap. And if anyone is interested in how that would have turned out, there's a wonderful free game based on the Steel Panther's series called SPMBT

But the problem is that the wars we would fight were nothing like the batttles of the ETO. For the next 40 years, we would fight in Asia and mostly against armies of massed infantry. The lessons of small unit patrolling and close in infantry combat developed in the Pacific would serve as the model for what we would face around the world.

While largely respected but disdained, Douglas MacArthur would set the tone for how the US Army would really fight its war, which was mostly infantry against infantry with some armored support and a flexible air support arm. In battles largely overshadowed by D-Day and the Marines Island hopping campaign in the Central Pacific, Army units would fight the Japanese close in on Buna, Bouganville, Wewak, Saidor, Sulu, Letye and Luzon. One of the great campaigns in modern warfare, now mostly relegated to a few studies at the Army War College.

In Burma, the combination of long range patrols, paramilitary action and air support would be perfected under Gen William Slim, widely regarded as the best British General of WWII and the mentor for the leaders of the modern British Army.

What Slim and MacArthur faced was a Japanese Army filled with infantry and with limited armor support. Their tactics featured ways to deal with their forces and use of positions with limited artillery and armored support.

Even as the cold war ended, the lessons of the Pacific War were once again forgotten, even as the pace and nature of warfare changed backwards. Unless there is a war with China or North Korea, the US Army and Marines will never face an enemy with more than nominal armored strength. Many of their future missions will be against guerilla groups and infantry armies. The reason the US Army provides so many targets is that so many of its units in Iraq are armored or mechanized. Iraqis knew that tank battles were a losing proposition. They tried and got smoked.

But small bands of trained men, willing to attack at range with cheap rpgs and with good intelligence, can bring an armored unit to a standstill. In WWII, the 2nd SS Panzer Division was delayed in its passage to Normandy by over a week because of such actions. Small ambushes, blown bridges, good intelligence, all hampered 2nd SS Panzer.

The Iraqi guerrillas never have to hold an inch of ground. The Americans just have to use their armored vehicles as police cars and they provide perfect targets.

The US Army is geared to fighting an enemy which doesn't exist and when you ask people in the infantry community, there are sharp divisions between the way the light units, the mech units and the airborne/airmobile units are trained. An airborne infantryman may know little of how the mech infantryman works and vice versa. There have been big debates on a uniform training doctrine in the last decade.

The reason the 3ID and 4ID are losing men is because they are tied to their vehicles. Even the 101 is tied to their humvees. The Iraqis just hit the vehicles. The discomfort of the men can be seen in the video of their patrols, usually locked and loaded and aimed at local Iraqis. The fear of everything is on their faces the minute they are walking.

One of the unstated reason the US needs foreign troops in Iraq is to provide more infantry. Guys who can walk the ground and do patrols. That's why they wanted the Indians and Pakistanis. They want men who are used to walking on daily patrols without being tied to veichles. The US Army is still so tied to a mechanized doctrine that it is forced to place Brads and M-1's in positions to be attacked. The Humvee is the worst of both worlds. Too lightly armored to survive any attack, yet critical for US units to conduct ANY operations.

The British have had a different experience because their doctrine is different and their wars have been different. Their units are far more comfortable on foot patrols, for one thing.

The NG brigades signal a change that Gen Abizaid realizes that has to be made. He needs more infantry, more light infantry willing to walk and patrol on foot. The tanks and Brads are just big fat targets for guerillas. Because of the arrogance of planning and the need to make points about mobile warfare, the kind of warfare we are unlikely to ever fight again, US troops are exposed to forces who can pick them off at leisure.

Posted July 27, 2003 01:43 PM


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