March 25, 2003

More Worries About the Missing Heavies...

More worries about the lack of heavy divisions, this time from the Financial Times


Financial Times: When the lines of communication extend over 300km, as they do now, considerable numbers of troops, principally infantrymen, are needed for the task. The optimists, though, will answer that all this doesn't really matter.... It cannot affect the outcome of the imminent confrontation around Baghdad, where the philosophy of "shock and awe" will reach its culmination with the implosion of the regime and the mass surrender of the Republican Guard.... The continuing fight in Umm Qasr and around Basrah and TV shots of US prisoners being paraded in Baghdad, could give heart to the city's defenders - reputed to be up to 100,000 of Saddam's elite, never knowingly lacking commitment to the fight before.

If it does, then Tommy Franks has a problem. He has the wrong force structure for the job.... Franks' current force is no more configured for the long, bloody slog of battling it out, street by street, in Baghdad than it is for the largely static job of protecting extended lines of communication. Armour, air power and other sophisticated technologies lose their pre-eminence in both instances. "Grunts," in the US vernacular, 'PBI' - "poor bloody infantry" - to the British, become the vital commodity, and tens of thousands of them. It is a sobering thought, and one that must be exercising Franks' mind increasingly as his forces draw nearer to Baghdad, that of the 270,000 allied personnel currently deployed in theatre, only around 20,000 are infantrymen...

Posted by DeLong at March 25, 2003 07:50 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Has even a single senator thought to send a message to the White House by proposing an appropriations bill that has no tax cut at all? Just wondering.

Posted by: andres on March 25, 2003 09:41 PM

Re. "lack of heavy divisions"

I didn't see worry about lack of heavy divisions in the article.

In any event, the Third Infantry division is a heavy division. The only difference between it and an Armored division is that it has four battalions of tanks while while an Armored division has five (and it has six battalions of mechanized infantry while an Armored division has five), IIRC. And the "light" Bradley Fighting Vehicle that other units use tore right through Iraqi heavy armor in Gulf War I without a single one being lost. So there's no lack of heavy enough stuff.

The story seemed more worried about lack of infantry. I suspect that regarding that there's similar confusion resulting from unit names. Just as an "infantry" division these days has almost as many tanks as an Armored division, there are plenty of units over there under some designation other than "infantry" that have plenty of fighting people in them who can do what civilians take to be infantry work.

Most of the writing about this war in most of the press is pretty abysmal. How many wars have most of these reporters and editors covered before? They've spent their whole lives covering other things, so how much could they know? Some of the questions at the press conferences are really embarrassing. Or should be.

We'll get the first good clear picture of what's happening now in this war sometime after it is over.

And sometimes even then, even the prestige press can't get even the biggest facts straight. E.g., back after 9/11, while the US was getting ready to go into Afghanistan, the NY Times' top military correspondent wrote two Page One stories warning about the casualties we could expect to incur, in which he overstated the number of wounded suffered by the Soviets when they invaded by a mere 400,000(!). The number he gave was absurd on its face, yet there it was twice on page one, written by him and passed by all the editors and everyone else. (I e-mailed a documented correction three times -- they only printed it when on the third time I cc:ed half the people in the industry).

It was worse than that -- the Times' military guy missed the real story, the essence of the Soviets' whole experience in Afganistan, even while he was warning we might repeat it. Contrary to popular mythology, the Soviets suffered only rather modest combat casualties in Afghanistan. But they suffered an absolutely *horrendous* 400,000 medical casualties to diseases like typhoid, cholera, even plague. They couldn't provide even basic sanitation to their own people, prevent disease from riddling their military.

It was really a portent of the collapse of the whole corrupt, inept Soviet system, the first sign visible to the outside of the thing actually falling apart. And as the soldiers returned home it fed back into the rest of Soviet society.

But who told that story in the US general press before we went into Afghanistan -- a very significant story under the circumstances? Nobody. Everybody instead told the same old cliche story that the NY Times repeatedly did, about how "Afghanistan was the Soviets' Vietnam". Which was just false, at least in the combat sense.

And that was years after the fact. So I suggest taking every single thing that is being reported today in real time about this war with a great big lump of salt.

Posted by: Jim Glass on March 25, 2003 10:38 PM

On the economics of warfare ... (just wondering ... is this just a wierd form of game theory?)

There's this paper on entropy-based warfare - (http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/jfq_pubs/1620.pdf) which posits a shift away from attribution-based towards systematic degradation potentially leading to a tipping point. If the premises are valid (unfortunately I'm not competent to evaluate its validity) then the doctrine of a smaller force (substitution of capital for labor) makes sense. However, the current issue is that the US is internalising the cost of collateral damage by using expensive smart bombs (making the valid assumption that they intend to govern the place afterwards) to minimise infrastructure reconstruction.

From the Iraqi point of view, trading labor (ie lives) for time is a valid strategy if and only if they believe external pressure (whether US elections or world public opinion) would create a win outcome for them (defined as survial of the leadership with nominal political control/legitimacy). This suggests that if a different exit strategy (to deny an Iraqi win) is persued, then escalation will be inevitable. The tentative hypothesis is that if convention munitions such as carpet bombing or lower cost (economic not political) incendiaries are deployed within urban areas, then US might be shifting to a posture where it can either gain an outright military win or can cut its losses whilst inflicting maximum hurt.

I hope neither outcome occurs because the civilians in the middle are in for a world of hurt. The more logical outcome is force expansion probably indicates a continuation of the goal of regime change (which as Paul Krugman indicates, the US can afford to outspend any counter-response).

Posted by: LL on March 25, 2003 11:59 PM

Not overly concerned about Baghdad. First and foremost the 4th ID is heading in without much of its heavy equipment. If need be their mechanized battalions can just ditch the Bradleys and fight as light infantrymen, worst comes to worst. If this were the case then they could be deployed to the front fairly rapidly.

Let's not also forget that the 173rd Airborne brigade is being brought in, we have the rapid deployment brigade from the 10th mountain, as well as the airborne brigade in alaska and a few battalions of light infantry from the 25th ID in hawaii.

In other words, we have enough troops that can get to the theater if need be, and since light infantry is needed for urban warfare, they will be able to deploy to the front within a manner of days if need be (just gotta hop onboard a commercial liner and fly over into kuwait).

Posted by: Jon on March 26, 2003 12:52 AM

"...up to 100,000 of Saddam's elite"

How many can you have before they stop being "elite"? Or is this airbrushing to make the impending confrontation look better from the US/British side?

Posted by: Tom Slee on March 26, 2003 06:01 AM

"In other words, we have enough troops that can get to the theater if need be, and since light infantry is needed for urban warfare, they will be able to deploy to the front within a manner of days if need be (just gotta hop onboard a commercial liner and fly over into kuwait)."

Yes, that's true. However, the food, water, ammunition, etc. are harder to move in. Not to mention their artillery, trucks to move around in, fuel, spare parts, medical facilities, things like that.

And, last I heard (1980's army references), urban combat requires high levels of combat engineering support, which I believe means equipment. I was never a combat engineer, but I imagine they can do more with bulldozers than without.

Posted by: Barry on March 26, 2003 06:15 AM

The real lesson of urban fighting is that it is impossible to fight in an urban environment without reducing that environment to rubble. If we have to fight into Baghdad, "rebuilding Iraq" will have a much more literal meaning.

Posted by: Ethan on March 26, 2003 06:40 AM

Apologies. That last message of mine should have gone on the following thread.

Posted by: andres on March 26, 2003 08:00 AM

There willingness to risk civilian lives, our reluctance, their lack of a prayer on the open battlefield and our reluctance to lose soldiers or kill large numbers of civilians - all this raises the possibility of a siege. I suspect the armed defenders have food stores laid up already, and will compete with civilains for any other food stores in Baghdad. Same with water and fuel. That would mean a civilian population that either has to leave the city (presumably over the objections of the city's defenders) or starve. We might spare civilians, only to have large numbers of them die from disease, hunger and violence before the seige's end.

By the way --- Ditch the Bradleys? Why ditch the Bradleys?

Posted by: K Harris on March 26, 2003 09:29 AM

As a followup to an earlier post re: our overextended military, a David Broder piece in today's WaPo highlights a point made in the Confessore article about the total misuse of the Reserve Forces, where unresolved manpower issues in the regular military is being kicked down to various Natl. Guard and Armed Forces Reserve units... http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29270-2003Mar25.html.
Also, another view on Rummy's warplan, "Shock and Awe", and all of that is in an Op-Ed piece also in the WaPo by Ralph Peters, not a dove by any means, who also argues against over-reliance on a big air campaign, and the necessity for overwhelming ground forces...http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A21783-2003Mar24.html.

Posted by: barrisj on March 26, 2003 11:31 AM

As a followup to an earlier post re: our overextended military, a David Broder piece in today's WaPo highlights a point made in the Confessore article about the total misuse of the Reserve Forces, where unresolved manpower issues in the regular military are being kicked down to various Natl. Guard and Armed Forces Reserve units... http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29270-2003Mar25.html.
Also, another view on Rummy's warplan, "Shock and Awe", and all of that is in an Op-Ed piece also in the WaPo by Ralph Peters, not a dove by any means, who also argues against over-reliance on a big air campaign, and the necessity for overwhelming ground forces...http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A21783-2003Mar24.html.

Posted by: barrisj on March 26, 2003 11:33 AM

As a followup to an earlier post re: our overextended military, a David Broder piece in today's WaPo highlights a point made in the Confessore article about the total misuse of the Reserve Forces, where unresolved manpower issues in the regular military are being kicked down to various Natl. Guard and Armed Forces Reserve units... http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29270-2003Mar25.html.
Also, another view on Rummy's warplan, "Shock and Awe", and all of that is in an Op-Ed piece also in the WaPo by Ralph Peters, not a dove by any means, who also argues against over-reliance on a big air campaign, and the necessity for overwhelming ground forces...http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A21783-2003Mar24.html.

Posted by: barrisj on March 26, 2003 11:38 AM

As a followup to an earlier post re: our overextended military, a David Broder piece in today's WaPo highlights a point made in the Confessore article about the total misuse of the Reserve Forces, where unresolved manpower issues in the regular military are being kicked down to various Natl. Guard and Armed Forces Reserve units... http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29270-2003Mar25.html.
Also, another view on Rummy's warplan, "Shock and Awe", and all of that is in an Op-Ed piece also in the WaPo by Ralph Peters, not a dove by any means, who also argues against over-reliance on a big air campaign, and the necessity for overwhelming ground forces...http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A21783-2003Mar24.html.

Posted by: barrisj on March 26, 2003 11:41 AM

K. Harris says "There willingness to risk civilian lives, our reluctance, their lack of a prayer on the open battlefield and our reluctance to lose soldiers or kill large numbers of civilians - all this raises the possibility of a siege."

I believe Kofi Annan recently reminded us that international law places the responsibility for civilian welfare with the belligerant.

Sure, the US military may be reluctant to kill large numbers of civilians, but such questions must always be looked at this in the light of alternatives, no matter who we are analyzing. So Saddam would rather see civilians die than surrender, and you see that as a readiness to risk civilian lives. Meanwhile, given a choice between withdrawing or killing large numbers of civilians, I suspect the US military will choose the latter. That's their choice, their responsibility, and their willingness to kill civilians.

Posted by: Tom Slee on March 26, 2003 03:39 PM
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