Saturday, September 24, 2005
British Tory Michael Portillo has begun to express doubts about the British 'softly-softly' approach in Iraq in the London Times.
Until last week it was possible to believe that British forces, operating far from Baghdad and the Sunni triangle, were relatively safe. We liked to believe that that was due to our soldiers’ superior mode of operations. While American forces roared through the streets of the capital in heavily armoured convoys, our soldiers’ friendly faces looked out from open-topped vehicles. Whereas GIs shot from the hip, British troops engaged the Iraqis’ hearts and minds.
Such illusions are shattered. Nearly 100 British soldiers have died since the war began. Toby Dodge of Queen Mary College, University of London, believes that the “softly, softly” approach was dictated not by tactics but military weakness. Britain simply does not have enough troops to police the vast area under our authority (even with Italian and Australian help). Our army has been forced to do something forbidden in military textbooks: to keep the peace among a population that we were unable to disarm.
Portillo believes that Iraq is a disaster, but cannot see an "easy" way out of it. He believes flight and surrender are not an answer but feels the coalition is stuck.
The anti-war group make fatuous comments today. Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, demands an exit strategy. Well, the options are to leave on a given date or when specified goals have been achieved. The United States and Britain intend to withdraw when the constitution is in place and the Iraqis can handle their own security. The problem is not that there is no strategy, but rather that it looks unachievable.
Some of Portillo's facts are clearly inaccurate. He says, "the number of American casualties has been rising remorselessly" an indicator that progress was unachievable. The following are the casualty tables for equivalent months in 2004 and 2005. Granted, the tables only go to the 25th day of September, but the basic truth of Portillo's assertion of 'remorselessly rising' casualties is hard to sustain. The last three month's US casualties have actually appreciably dropped from an equivalent period last year and they have dropped in a period of offensive operations and in the run-up to the ratification of the Iraqi constitution, exactly when they would have been expected to rise.
2004 last 3 mos 2005 last 3 mos
February 19 February 58
March 52 March 36
April 135 April 52
May 80 May 79
June 42 June 77
July 54 July 54
August 66 August 84
September 81 September
to 25th 27
It would be foolish to draw any definite conclusions from this data, one way or the other; but that also establishes the falsity of Portillo's assertions that "the number of American casualties has been rising remorselessly". Whether or not the British are stuck the jury is still out on whether the huge American effort in building up Iraqi combat forces, campaigning against the Euphrates and Tigris river lines, and major efforts at technological and tactical innovation will come to naught. As for the British, here is how they've now reacted to events in Basra.
Defence Secretary John Reid is planning to scrap the 25,000-strong police force in southern Iraq and replace it with a new military-style unit capable of maintaining law and order. Reid ordered a root-and-branch review of security in the troubled province following last week's disastrous clashes between British troops and Iraqi police.
Those who been closely following events in Iraq will immediately remember April 2004 in the US sector, when the hands-off approach and the reliance on poorly trained Iraq civil defense forces were shown to be inadequate by the simultaneous uprisings among the Sunnis and the Shi'a. As Yogi Berra said, "it's deja vu all over again". So it is no surprise that the British are reacting in much the same way as the US did in April 2004. In some respects, the British will be starting a year and half behind the United States. 'Softly, softly' as the history of the last days of the Clinton administration and recent events in Gaza show, often means 'ouchly, ouchly' in the end. But several things will make the British recovery easier. The first is establishment of the Iraqi government and the creation of its major combat units. Secondly, the British have probably built up intelligence on the opfor, which is something they do as a pastime whenever they are not otherwise occupied. Thirdly, they don't have to fight a two-front war since the US has taken charge of the Sunni front. Lastly, the US has made the major investments in robotics, electronic warfare and supporting fires that will provide the British Army with whatever precision firepower it needs to get out of a jam. GIs rarely shoot from the hip, whatever Portillo believes, and have invested billions investing in technologies that are wholly the opposite of this cinematic approach.
Despite these advantages, domestic British politics may impose severe constraints on Tony Blair. He has sold his public on the notion of an unworkable 'softly-softly' war, which like the "phoney war" of 1940 may only have postponed rather than solved the hard problems. Now it will be hard for him to reverse course and prepare the British for the casualties inherent in confronting the militias seriously. Whether any European nation in the 21st century can endure three-figure military casualties under any circumstances is open to question. (Speculation alert) My guess is they cannot because of the nature of their politics. In the end, all that the British may do is hold the ring until the campaign against the Sunni insurgency allows the diversion of resources to tackle whole and postponed question of Iran and the Shi'ite fundamentalist militias. The US and Iraqi army may have to finish the job.
I've been looking again at Portillo's assertion that "the number of American casualties has been rising remorselessly" and realized that I had left out the wounded from the reckoning. They are casualties too. Including the wounded in the tables of casualties gives the following:
2004 Killed Wounded Killed and Wounded Last 3 months
January 47 188 235
February 19 150 169
March 52 323 375
April 135 1,214 1,349
May 80 757 837
June 42 589 631
July 54 552 606
August 66 895 961
September 81 706 787
576 5,374 5,950 2,354
January 107 496 603
February 58 409 467
March 36 364 400
April 52 590 642
May 79 385 464
June 77 501 578
July 54 473 527
August 84 451 535
September (to the 25th) 27 97 124
574 3,766 4,340 1,186
Counting the wounded as casualties means Portillo's assertion is not only unfounded, but the opposite of the truth. The reader will notice that the proportion of wounded to killed has changed from 9.3:1 in 2004 to 6.6:1 in 2005. This is consistent with the DOD briefings that there are fewer attacks, but since these may involve larger explosives in the case of IEDs, the attacks kill a larger proportion of the targeted vehicle's occupants. Still, the number of killed and wounded is 73% of last year's figures. In the last three months, the number has been 50% of the same period last year. This was quite an interesting result, considering news accounts that Iraq is 'descending into chaos' and that things are going 'from bad to worse'. Counting the wounded, the figures for September 2005 so far are lower than for any month in 2004 and 2005. Yet the mood conveyed in the press is that things are sliding into the abyss. That may be true for other reasons, but with US casualties at a quarter to a seventh of their historical values in a month full of offensives and important dates, the honest analyst must at least ask himself if something is changing on the battlefield.
posted by wretchard at 6:08 PM | 264 comments
However the British and their 'soft' policy may be nothing more than the accidental victims of American success to the north
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Presentation at the Fourth Rail
An earlier post remarked that the US was employing a "headhunting" strategy in contrast to the enemy plan of 'killing whoever you can'. This is graphically illustrated by Bill Roggio's Flash summary of operations along the Euphrates and in the Mosul area. It is an absolutely brilliant animated presentation that lets you see for yourself the many closely spaced ops that switch between the Syrian border on the Euphrates to the infiltration channel debouching on Mosul. There are pinpoint, but devastating operations against leadership targets and operations, like Tal-Afar, which are wider body blows to the infantry strength and logistical base of the insurgency. It resembles nothing more than the up and down, left and right flurries delivered by Sugar Ray Leonard in his heyday.
If you watch the presentation, you'll see that the Marine operations against the Syrian border towns on the Euphrates are in the nature of exploitation and pursuit. They consist of a string of precision attacks against insurgent leadership targets taking out two or three dozen at a time, occasionally interspersed by precision strike and infantry attacks against towns in the middle of the Euphrates line. These are probably consequent to Marine infantry operations undertaken earlier in the year -- the earlier body punching. The Battle for the Border post noted that the US had set up logistical bases and river crossings that would enable them to pursue targets on both sides of the Euphrates. At that time, I wrote "the whole point of strangling the enemy lines of communication while building support bases is to set up the stage for pursuit. And they will be pursued."
From the other side -- the Tigris/Mosul river line -- the US Army is doing the same thing. The battles for Mosul and Tal-Afar, like the earlier Marine infantry operations along the Euphrates, are geared at displacing enemy combatants and disrupting their bases. With Iraqi troops coming on line to keep insurgents from regrouping in other towns, the enemy is now similarly ripe for pursuit. The raids against specific targets on the Tigris-Mosul line by the Army may be the beginning of exploitation operations there. Whether the Army and the Marines will succeed or the insurgents can survive this pounding will be revealed in the coming weeks.
The news coverage of Iraq frequently fails to convey the cumulative linkage of military events in that country. Operations are often reported in a disconnected fashion, as if some operations officer got up in the morning and asked 'what are we going to attack today?', and then troops rush out to do whatever just occurred to them. Worse, definite types of military operations on both sides, whether car bombing, cordon and search, precision strike, etc. are often described according to some political theme -- 'standing up for freedom', 'deepening quagmire', 'the body bags mount', 'reduced to high altitude bombing' -- and the reader gets no sense of the logic behind the events. Both the US Armed Forces and the enemy are led by experienced professionals schooled in the operational art; and if we can be sure of nothing else, we can be certain that their acts have a specific military intent which often does not correspond to the themes articulated by some talking heads. Whether one is on the Left or the Right, it should be abundantly clear that we are watching the battle for the Syrian border and for the control of the Euphrates and Tigris river lines. No matter whose side you're on, you should know what game you are in.
posted by wretchard at 6:50 PM | 42 comments
The Enemy Response
The enemy has struck back -- twice -- after nearly two weeks of being hit hard by Coalition forces.
Four US Soldiers Killed in Action in Ramadi, Western Iraq
The soldiers were killed yesterday by two separate homemade bombs that exploded while they were conducting combat operations in the city in Iraq's al-Anbar province, the military said in an e-mailed statement. The soldiers had been assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
Suicide bomber kills four Americans
A suicide car bomber attacked a US diplomatic convoy in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing four Americans and wounding two others, a US official said.
But his resources are limited too. His command and operational span are demonstrably finite. Iraq violence wanes; bodies found
BAGHDAD (AP) — Insurgents assassinated a Kurdish member of parliament, and police said they found 20 bodies in the Tigris River north of the capital on Sunday. But there was no major violence in Baghdad for the first time in five days.
Meanwhile, the Coalition is head-hunting, pecking away at leadership targets.
Early Morning Raids Disrupt Terrorist Activities in Mosul
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Coalition forces raided two terrorist safe houses in Mosul, killing two terrorists and detaining three others Sept. 19 at 1:51 a.m. The terrorists were suspected of having senior al-Qaeda in Iraq connections in Mosul and northern Iraq.
This follows a raid on September 5 against the same Al-Qaeda type of target. Shorn of all the Arabic names, the gist of the account is that a number of senior insurgents were captured in different locations in the Mosul area.
Multi-National forces capture key terror leaders in Mosul
Captured during the raid, which took place on Septmber 5, was Taha Ibrahim Yasin Becher, also known as Abu Fatima, the al-Qaida in Iraqs Emir of Mosul, and Hamed Sa'eed Ismael Mustafa, or Abu Shahed, the organizations West Mosul Emir, a multi-national force press release said today.
(Speculation alert) The enemy has probably set out to prove, in the light of the recent one-sided combat, that they can still cause US casualties. The enemy strikes do not appear to be "complex" operations which rely on the combined and coordinated application of different types of attack. In the case of the attack on the diplomatic convoy, the enemy expended a VBIED, which is pretty much their ultimate weapon, against a vehicle which did not contain any targets of a high propaganda value to them, although they must have believed the middle vehicle, which was attacked, may have contained a diplomat probably because of its location in the convoy. The deaths of these Americans are a tragedy. However, there is nothing yet in the operational pattern which suggests that the enemy is able to strike at other than targets of opportunity: they are killing whoever they can. This is pretty much consistent with the strategy of causing a political, rather than an overtly military impact on US forces.
The Coalition is pursuing a different strategy. Apart from combat operations against enemy fighters, it is attempting to roll-up the command infrastructure of the opposing force by capturing their key leaders. A "capture" is among the most complex operations of war. It is the very opposite of killing whoever you can. It means seizing specific persons ensconced deep within their most secure areas without giving them the time to resist or kill themselves, equivalent to the enemy seizing a full colonel and his staff inside brigade headquarters. (Another demonstration of a complex operation was provided by the British Army, which recovered two undercover men from a house after they had been moved there from a Basra jail.)
"Head hunting" does not of itself destroy the enemy force: that is something that must be accomplished separately. What headhunting does is reduce enemy cohesion and capability. From the scanty data available one might guess that, despite his recent losses, the enemy retains enough awareness to understand where and at what he must strike back at. He knows he must attack Americans to avoid seeming impotent and to make his mark on the Media. To the extent he retains the awareness to respond strategically, his command infrastructure is clearly intact. However, the relatively unsophisticated method of attack when compared to his previous efforts, when he would combine IEDs with mortar fire, snipers and the opportunistic selection of targets suggests that he is operationally hurt. Hurt, but not yet fatally hurt.
posted by wretchard at 6:51 AM | 92 comments
See also last weeks The Road to Karbala
and Heads You Win, Tails I Lose