View Full Version : Combat Proves that the Generals Were Right

03-28-03, 06:31 AM
"The Voice of the Grunt"

Combat Proves that the Generals Were Right

By Paul Connors

After one week of battle against the Iraqi Army, Republican Guard and fedayeen Saddam guerrillas, one fact has become very, very clear: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s early belief that any conflict with Iraq could be easily handled with light infantry and air support alone was totally off the mark.

Rumsfeld and his advisers, principally Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, initially assumed that a war in 2003 with Iraq would simply be a repetition of the 1991 Gulf War. Events in the first seven days of combat operations have proven them dead wrong. Fortunately for the hundreds of thousands of American troops engaged in combat or preparing for it, the U.S. military’s uniformed leadership succeeded in modifying the war plan to include more traditional heavy armor and infantry units than Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz planned.

The civilian Pentagon leadership failed to take into account certain realities. The first was the fact that Iraqi troops, despite their animus toward Saddam’s regime, would not fight well. That assumption has proved false as American and British troops closed on the Republican Guard divisions south of the Iraqi capital. The Pentagon leadership also seems to have been taken by surprise that Saddam and his military planners still intend to fight and that they will use every dirty trick in the book to prevent the United States and United Kingdom from inflicting a humiliating defeat on them.

The second flawed assumption was that a force composed primarily of light infantry and air power alone could do to Iraq what U.S. forces did to the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.

Had Rumsfeld’s plans been implemented as initially proposed – that is, before the military professionals under Centcom commander Gen. Tommy Franks succeeded in “heavying up” the force – the pictures from the battlefield this past week would have been entirely different and much worse.

The first week of combat action against Iraq reconfirmed the old axiom that even the best battle plan will not survive first contact with the enemy. The professionalism and competence of American and British troops were greatly enhanced by the heavily armored capabilities of the units committed to combat. The U.S. 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), the I Marine Expeditionary Force, the Royal Marines and other British Army units all made rapid progress, not because they were “light and mobile,” but because they possessed both the combat punch and the speed and mobility of mechanized and armored forces.

Additionally, U.S. and British armored vehicles are recognized to be the finest in the world. The British pioneered “Chobham” armor and the U.S. Army has taken advantage of every new technology to ensure that its vehicles pack overwhelming firepower and battlefield survivability. Those traits do not exist in light units.

During the early days of Operation Desert Shield in 1990, when the “ready brigade” of the 82nd Airborne Division took up positions along the Iraqi-Saudi border, even the most stalwart airborne officers knew that they would only be a “speed-bump” should Iraqi armored formations cross the border. Such a fate would befall any light infantry formation facing heavy armor.

It is imperative that the Pentagon study well the early lessons already emerging from the ongoing war with Iraq, especially with regard to other potential conflicts around the world. Suppose for a minute that the situation on the Korean peninsula spins out of control and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il orders his army to cross the 38th Parallel in a repeat of the 1950 invasion.

The U.S. Army's combat punch along the DMZ is the 2nd Infantry Division, which does enjoy both heavy and light components. The next nearest American division is the 25th Infantry Division (Light) based at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii and Fort Lewis, Wash. If war comes, it will be transported to South Korea quickly, and just like the 82nd Airborne troopers in 1990, the troops would likely end up as the “speed bump” over which the North Korean armored forces roll.

American forces must be able to fight whatever foes they are called upon to face and in whatever climactic conditions those enemies operate. That reaffirms the fact that the heavy forces of the United States, especially those of the U.S. Army, will still be needed in future conflicts.

During this first week of combat activity, the value of traditional heavy field artillery also proved its value when the advantages of hi-tech laser-designated weapons systems were negated by recurring sandstorms. Both U.S. and British forces utilized their organic field artillery assets credibly in support of their troops in contact with enemy formations, while laser-guided weapons, which rely on line-of-sight visibility lost their value during the sand storms.

Current combat conditions in Iraq have proven that senior military officers who offer battle plans for the engagement of U.S. and allied forces are not lacking in brain power or experience when it comes to the deadly serious business of warfare. This past week has offered vivid proof that the ideologue civilians of the Rumsfeld cabal need to heed the advice of the senior commanders. Any failure to do so will constitute criminal negligence.

After a week of war, the most important “lesson learned” does not have as much to do with combat experience as with political leadership in the Defense Department: The battlefield is the wrong place to discover that civilian defense planners, who don't have to deal personally with the consequences of their failed assumptions, have erred.

Paul Connors is a Senior Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at paulconnors@hotmail.com. © 2003 Paul Connors.