View Full Version : Iran: Send in the Marines?

04-12-06, 02:12 PM
William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security
Iran: Send in the Marines?

Less than three weeks after Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in central Baghdad in April 2003, the U.S. military finished campaign planning to invade Iran.

Of course, the word finished is a bit misleading.

The contingency planning process never really begins or ends.

As crises emerge and recede, as diplomats talk and international emissaries meet, as the media swirls with speculation, military strategists and logisticians constantly toil away at the hard work of planning war.

Operations research specialists, as they are called in the military, calculate and model war assumptions constantly to incorporate new technologies, innovations, and evolving enemies. War itself demands an examination of assumptions: Did weapons work as advertised? How much ammunition and fuel was consumed? Were movement rates as predicted? What about the ratio of coalition to enemy forces?

Contrary to all the speculation this week that all U.S. contingency planning for Iran is about quick, surgical action short of war, both the Army and Marine Corps are newly looking at full scale war scenarios.

In the case of the Marines, Iran is a thinly veiled country called Karona.

In April 2003, the Marine Corps finished the first stage of campaign analysis to move forces ashore against a determined enemy without establishing a beachhead. According to the Marine Corps report describing its campaign analysis and "Concept of Operations" for this new maneuver, here is how war unfolds:

In 2005, a Karonan reformist president is voted out in a fraudulent and hotly contested election. And riots and unrest broke out throughout the country. The conservatives eventually emerged victorious, but Karonan society split. By 2010, the military had been purged of those who supported the earlier reformists. But the military had also suffered under the new government and was not, in the words of the Marine Corps "a truly modern force."

By 2010, "radical" Karona was not only asserting itself in the region, but resisting any U.S. presence. Oil prices dropped in 2013 -- who writes these things? -- and Karona decides to boost its revenues by taking control of the waters off its coast, including international waters, charging a tariff on all products, particularly oil, passing through.

In 2014, the United Nations passes a resolution denouncing Karona’s actions as a violation of the freedom of the seas, but the Security Council stops short of approving any action. The American President directs CENTCOM to open international waters along the coast, and the Marine Corps springs in action.

Karona -- read Iran -- with its Soviet made Kilo class diesel submarines, with its Revolutionary Guards, with its Chinese and North Korean made surface-to-surface and cruise missiles, is just not a nice country. According to the Marine Corps background material for its 2015 war:

"The commemoration of Karbala permeates all of Karona’s culture and finds expression in poetry, music, and the pessimistic view of the world. All religious ceremonies refer to Karbala, and no month passes without at least one day of mourning. None of the efforts of the monarchy, such as the annual festivals of art and the encouragement of musicians and native craftsmen, changes the basic attitude that finds laughter and joy undesirable and, in some circles, even sinful."

The play war with Iran (Karona) takes place in the winter of 2015. According to the scenario:

"US forces deploy to international waters in the Sea of Karona in conjunction with coalition forces. The U.S. seeks to assure allies and coalition partners during these operations. Concurrently, forces track anti-access assets and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) … assets…. Centers of gravity identified by the regional combatant commander include:

Karonan government leadership and their lines of communication and control across the country to terrorist groups and sympathetic organizations.

Karonan strategic economic resources and assets (e.g., oil production/refining facilities).

Karonan WMD … assets and resources.

Karonan major combat forces.

At the onset of hostilities, US forces defend the territorial integrity of the coalition states and the freedom of international waters and prevent Karonan forces from gaining control of the straits. Phase I objectives are as follows:

Deter Karona from initiating hostile actions.
Deploy forces into theater as rapidly as possible as the situation warrants.

Protect forces from surprise attack.

Increase threat condition and force protection measures for possible special operations attacks.

Locate and target Karona’s WMD sites. Prepare operational plans to neutralize or destroy WMD sites and resources. Execute covert operations against WMD sites and resources if directed."

So what are we to make of this scenario and the predictable Marine Corps centric response?

According to the 30 April 2003 draft "Concept of Operations (CONOPS)" document for the Karonan campaign:

"The scenario was derived from an Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD)-sponsored scenario, which is being further developed into a Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) scenario. The scenario addresses general and specific situations, assumptions, area of operations, strategic settings, and enemy situation. In the scenario, the forces are built, they flow into theater, and a concept of operations is developed that projects the forces ashore."

In other words, the Karonan campaign is based upon a "scenario" approved and directed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for fighting future war. The Karona campaign does give some insight into how the American military sees a real Iran war. The "centers of gravity" seem realistic and the "Phase I" objectives seem logical and sound.

In the world of "campaign planning," this kind of broad brush gaming built to gauge assumptions and needs goes on all the time in the background. According to the Marine Corps, building such a detailed scenario, even against a nominal enemy, "serves to answer the questions of how much, how far, by what means, and in what configuration will we project a force ashore if conducting a STOM [Ship-to-Objective Maneuver] operation."

In the real world though, Karona easily morphs into Iran. Like the early 1990's nuclear war planning I discussed yesterday, the danger with the Karonan scenario is that in the U.S. military, the political scenario and over-the-top characterization of the enemy begins to look like reality.

For Iranians looking in, the certain assumption on the part of the Americans of an aggressive and reckless Iran feeds a picture of American military preparedness that could be seen not just as prudent but also as a harbinger of a pre-ordained clash.