Great perspective for those who think the sky is falling in Iraq.
August 11, 2005
By Jack Kelly
The 14 Marine reservists killed last week when the amtrac in which they were riding was struck by a powerful roadside bomb would have been safer if they had been riding in up-armored humvees, opined CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer.
"I'm very disappointed that we don't have the good vehicles in the al Anbar province," Mr. Blitzer said. "It's a very sensitive issue for me, because I was there in March."
An amtrac with 15 combat-loaded Marines aboard weighs more than 23 tons. The improvised explosive device (IED) - reportedly made from a 500 lb. bomb - flipped it over like a toy. An up-armored humvee weighs less than four tons. Only an idiot would deem it more survivable, especially since an amtrac has more armor than an up-armored humvee.
Mr. Blitzer, alas, is typical of the near perfect ignorance of most in the news media about matters military. Journalists assert that if the enemy can inflict casualties upon us, we must be losing.
The bad guys are building bigger bombs, and hiding them better, so that even though the number of IED attacks has declined, the casualties inflicted by each attack has been rising. This is worrisome.
But no armed force whose principal weapon is the mine can possibly be winning militarily. You can't take the war to the enemy with a mine. You have to wait for the enemy to come to you.
We have, at this writing, suffered 1,831 dead since the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003. I fear we will suffer 200-300 more before the war is effectively turned over to the Iraqis by the autumn or winter of 2006.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. But it's important to remember the number of deaths in this war is amazingly low by historical standards. We lost more than 58,000 in Vietnam; more than 34,000 in Korea. In the last two battles of the Pacific War; we lost nearly 7,000 on Iwo Jima and 12,000 on Okinawa.
It is curious to cover a war by emphasizing friendly casualties, without reporting the context in which they occur. On June 5, 1944, our casualties in the European theater were low. The next day June 6, they were much higher. But what was important about June 6, 1944, was not that our casualties rose, but that the Normandy invasion was successful.
Casualties rise when one side goes on the offensive. Typically, it is the side that is on the offensive that is winning. We currently are engaged in the biggest offensive since the fall of Fallujah, striking simultaneously at insurgent strongholds along the Tigris and Euphrates "ratlines" along which al Qaeda terrorists infiltrate from Syria.
This could be the climactic campaign of the war. But while most Americans know 14 Marines were killed in a single incident last week, few have heard of Operation Quick Strike, of which they were a part.
About 1,800 U.S. soldiers and Marines, and about 1,000 Iraqis are taking part in Operation Quick Strike.
The Stryker brigade of the Army's 2nd Infantry Division moved south from Mosul to seize control of the Rawah bridge over the Euphrates. This (largely) denies insurgents freedom of movement between the Tigris and the Euphrates, cuts their major supply line, and sits astride the principal avenue of escape.
The Marines, with significant participation by Iraqis, simultaneously are attacking three towns on the banks of the Euphrates - Haditha (for which the ill-fated amtrac was headed), Halqiniyah and Barwana-that the insurgents pretty much have had the run of for the last two years.
"This operation is meant to sever the operational rear of the insurgency," said Web logger Josh Manchester, a Marine veteran of the Iraq war.
"Terrorists will have to choose - to die in battle, to flee to Syria, or to displace further and further east as the coalition steamrollers behind them."
The only major news organization to report much about Operation Quick Strike has been The Los Angeles Times, and then only toward the end of stories which begin, predictably enough, with reports of U.S. casualties.
If the crepe hangers weren't so busy hanging crepe, they might have noticed the locus of action has shifted steadily away from the populated areas, steadily closer to the Syrian border.
But for this to be reported by CNN, someone would have to teach Wolf Blitzer how to read a map. Some tasks are too difficult even for the U.S. military.
Jack Kelly a syndicated columnist, is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.