Sunday, March 21, 2004
I remember the second night of the ground war. Walt Rodgers of CNN had jumped into one of the staff Humvees of the Third Battalion, Seventh Cavalry. He would stay with them throughout the entire campaign to Baghdad. His live digital video feed from the van of the army's spearhead unit was fascinating enough. I had been raised on a diet of books about George S. Patton, Heinz Guderian, and the "Israeli Composite", and this stuff was simply awesome to watch. Rodgers' video was shot from the passenger side of the little staff car. All about him were large M1-A2 tanks and Bradley AFV's kicking up a hell of a lot of dust as they moved forward against little or nothing.
What I was watching was the lead element of the left pincer of the U.S. Third Army's invasion force. Third Army was Central Command's ground combat unit. It was divided into two pincers, both of which were tasked to take Baghdad and destroy the Saddam regime.
The left pincer was led by the aforementioned 3/7th Cavalry. Following 3/7 was the big unit, the Third Mechanized ("Marne") Infantry Division. This unit was divided into two main combatant brigades, 2nd and 3rd, that would advance up the Euphrates towards Baghdad. Back in Kuwait was the 101st Air Assault ("Screaming Eagles") Division staging at bases back in Kuwait for "vertical envelopment" operations. It was thought that the 101 or a brigade of the 82nd Airborne ("All Americans") Division would seize Saddam International Airport.
Then there was a center-right pincer, led by the U.S. Marine Corps I Marine Expeditionary Force. Folded into this latter outfit were various Marine Air, artillery, support, and ground forces, among which was the 1st Marine ("Guadalcanal") Division. I MEF would advance up the Tigris-Euphrates valley towards eastern Baghdad. On Third Army's extreme right was the British 7th Armoured Brigade and 3 Commando Brigade, the Royal Marines Commandos.
The task at hand for both American pincers was to close on Baghdad at about the same time. Tommy Franks, the general in charge of Central Command, had a timetable he had to stick with in order for the Marines and the Army to reach Baghdad concurrently. The British were to watch the extreme right and secure the rear approaches to the Gulf ports through which relief supplies and armaments could be unloaded.
It was all going according to plan. By D + 3, 3/7th was 100 miles into Iraq and way ahead of schedule. But it was on the third night that the first wrinkle showed up, when fighting erupted at Umm Qasr, a port city. Apparently, Saddam's people had left behind some local enforcers to stiffen the spine of the local gendarmerie. This was the first sign of the Fedayeen Saddam, who would make a dubious name for themselves in the coming weeks as the last defenders of a dying regime. Some U.S. Marines were taking small arms and RPG fire from a three story building off in the distance. It wasn't long before the Marines overcame the resistance and silenced the fire from the distance, but the first disquieting noises from the press made themselves apparent. Still and all, it was educational to watch a Marine platoon (under British command, I might add) take down a center of resistance like they were walking through a tactical exercise at Twentynine Palms.
That first firefight was to be a metaphor for the entire campaign.