Thursday, March 25, 2004
Here's what upsets me about the Richard Clarke affair. He owed Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush his best, unvarnished advice while he was there. Instead, he waited until he had left government to tell everyone what he really believed.
I guess Clarke wasn't being paid enough for his unvarnished advice. That requires a book contract.
Yet another in a long line of vengeful bureaucrats who take umbrage at the proposition that the world does not revolve around what they say and do.
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
The Greek historian Xenophon wrote his most famous work, The Anabasis in exile after having favored the Kingdom of Sparta with his military services. Xenophon's history, also known as "The March Up Country", was the story of the legendary Ten Thousand. These Greek mercenaries had given their services to Cyrus the Younger. Unfortunately, the wrong horse lost the battle of Cunaxa (401 B.C.) and the Ten Thousand were left with the choice of surrender to the Persians or to fight their way out of Asia Minor to Greece.
They chose to fight. Their story is legend. It became the basis for Xenophon's recollections of strangers in a strange land, fighting their way home.
A little over 2400 years later, the political descendants of the Greek mercenaries had returned to the Asian mainland. This time, some 150,000 men of the United States Army and Marine Corps had been sent to the Fertile Crescent to destroy a tyrannical regime and disarm it of any chemical or biological weapons it might have on hand.
To get to Baghdad, they had to march up country.
The town of an Nasiriyah has a bridge that is a major artery across the Euphrates river. To advance up both sides of the Euphrates, the bridge had to be secured. For the bridge to be secured, an Nasiriyah had to be taken whole.
After the war, Saddam's papers revealed that he never believed that the Allies would invade. However, it does appear that he had plans to use his irregular troops, the Fedayeen Saddam, to harass the U.S. supply train in the event diplomacy failed. The first application of this delaying strategy was at an Nasiriyah.
By the night of the 22nd, the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division had invested enough of an Nasiriyah to be confident that they could bypass the town. Elements of the 3/7 Cavalry had already penetrated 150 miles into the heart of Southern Iraq. Everyone appeared confident that the Iraqis were falling apart like a house of cards. What they didn't know was that Saddam's people had sent a substantial force of Fedayeen to harass the Americans and contest them for the control of bridgehead at an Nasiryah. The following day, elements of a maitenance company out of Fort Bliss, Texas, the 507th, were ambushed after having lost their way in the middle of the town. Five of the members of the 507th were taken prisoner, while seven were missing and presumed killed in action. The setback at an Nasiriyah was not strategically significant, but the theater commanders understood that an Nasiriyah had to be cleared to secure a bridgehead over the Euphrates. The Marines were chosen to clear the city.
In two days of bitter fighting, the Marines cleared the town. Fedayeen would be sent in to reinforce in Japanese pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on the roof. The Marines would soon take to calling them "Technicals", in memory of the Somali gangsters who drove around Mogadishu in like fashion, demanding tribute from local citizens. While Marines would clear and advance block by block, technicals would attempt to drive into the city. More often as not, they would run into the business end of a Bradley or a Marine rifle platoon. Fedayeen casualties were reported at the time to have been extremely heavy.
But at the end of the 26th, the bridgehead had been secured. The march up country could continue.
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.