Wednesday, July 27, 2005
That said, however, we may occasionally excuse the ravings of the back pages because of the treasures located in the news pages. Wednesday, 22 June was such a day: the Times ran an extremely interesting article by David S. Cloud on the operational methods of the Iraqi rebels’ bomb-makers. Mr. Cloud’s article contained no new information, but did an admirable job of summarizing emerging trends in rebel operating methods.
In discussing the use against US forces of “improvised explosive devices,” or IED’s, the article describes “significant advancements in bomb design” including the increased use of shaped charges (dangerous to tanks and armored personnel carriers), use of infrared lasers as detonators (which avoids jamming countermeasures effective for radio-wave devises).
The article noted that the rebels “are probably drawing on bomb-making experts from outside Iraq and from the old Iraqi Army.” During May, the article says, there were about 700 attacks against American forces using IED’s.
The interesting question here concerns the composition of the rebel forces. The preparation of shaped charges, the use of infrared lasers for triggering, the recognition by the rebels of the need for new tactics to respond to US countermeasures such as electronic jamming, the increased targeting of Iraqi government police and military assets all indicate that the rebellion is no spontaneous uprising of Sunni Iraq; not the product of foreign Arab ardor to go to Iraq and kill Americans. True, the rebellion uses Sunni peasants and useful idiots from the Arab world to do the scut work – drive the suicide bombs. But the ability of the rebels to change their tactics, and their exploitation of available military technologies indicates that the rebels can draw on a substantial body of experienced military personnel. Who are these people ?
The most obvious possibility, of course, are officers and NCO’s of Saddam’s former Iraqi Army and intelligence organizations. But I think it’s possible to be more specific than that, to have a good idea exactly who these guys are, and this requires a brief digression. I’m going someplace with this, so be patient.
Despite all of the hullabaloo over the “Downing Street Memo” and what it supposedly reveals about the Bush administration’s intentions prior to war, the administration’s plans were obvious well before the start of Gulf War II to virtually any observer with a pulse. “Regime Change,” as it was called, was official US government policy for Iraq even before September 11. For my own part, I believed that there would be a war with Iraq on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. Even when it became apparent that Saddam Hussein was probably not involved in that day’s terrorist acts, I believed and hoped that September 11 was going to be the end of Saddam and his regime. The world, in particular, the Middle East, had simply grown too dangerous for Saddam’s Iraq to continue to exist.
Moreover, the US needed a salutary example for other Middle Eastern rulers of the consequences of not working with the American government on Al Qaeda and on other matters. The fall of Saddam was the obvious means of frightening other area despots into cooperating with the US. Consequently, from January of 2002 forward, that is, as soon as the Taliban was finished in Afghanistan, I expected US attentions would turn to Iraq, and I begin to make my own preparations.
I started reading up on the Iraqi military. I re-read everything I could find on Gulf War I, and hunted down everything I could find in English on the Iraqi military’s order of battle. In particular, Global Security.org, and Anthony Cordesman’s absolutely superb papers on the Iraqi military at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) were invaluable. My friend T gave me Kenneth Pollack’s excellent book The Threatening Storm, which supplied more information. In March or April of 2002, I located a detailed map of Iraq, a giant plastic overlay and some colored markers, and began putting the Iraqi military on the map – and, with everybody else, watched and waited on events.
The first thing I noticed, was that Saddam’s military deployment was, well, goofy. The ground threat was coming out of Kuwait. I would have expected to see more troops in the south, near the Kuwait border, both to fight the invading coalition forces, and to keep the Shiites in line. I also would have expected to see significant deployments along the Euphrates River, and south of Baghdad. This did not materialize. Instead, Saddam kept the bulk of his power in Sunni Iraq, mostly at points north of Baghdad.
War came in early 2003 – later than I had thought. I expected war in late January or February of that year, and we now know that February was the Pentagon’s target date, but events were delayed by the foolishness at the UN with the French. In any case, in early March, when it was apparent that things were at last coming to a head, I stated keeping a War Diary – a sort of notebook of what was transpiring politically in Iraq, noting the movements of military units, pertinent political news, etc.
I kept up the War Diary all through the mobile campaign, right up to the fall of Baghdad. My working assumption was that once an Iraqi unit was in contact with a US unit on the ground, the Iraqi unit in question, because of superior US maneuverability and airpower, was effectively toast. There were a few exceptions (the 51st Infantry Division by Basra held out for awhile, as did the 11th Infantry, north of the Euphrates round Naseriyeh), but by and large, the assumption seemed to hold up till the Army and Marines took Baghdad. It’s also interesting how much I was wrong about, but that’s another story.
In any case, right about the time of the fall of Baghdad, a strange thing began to happen. When US forces – Marines from the east. 3rd Infantry Division [Mech.] from the South -- approached Baghdad, the city was not reinforced by the 12 or so divisions available north of the city. Because of US command of the air, it is doubtful much could have reached Baghdad anyway, but the Iraqi command did not even make the effort. Whole corps just started to disappear, before US forces caught up to them. The following is an excerpt from one of the last couple of entries in my War Diary, (16 April 2003), wrapping up my notes on the mobile campaign:
The Special Republican Guard (SRG) was apparently the primary unengaged force left to the Baghdad garrison (see notes for 6 April), and it did not show to advantage. However, there is little or no information as to the disposition, or even the continued existence, of its units. The SRG is a really strange formation to begin with – part secret police, part palace guard, part combat formation, part property custodians, which is perhaps why it seems to have simply melted away. Where did it go ?
I will feel better when these units are more definitively accounted for, because to the extent Saddam had any loyal units beyond his Companion bodyguards (40 men), or the terrorists and bandits in the Fedayeen Saddam and the Popular Army – this bunch was it.…
What followed was a detailed listing of units of Saddam’s “Special Republican Guard” – last known whereabouts, whether they engaged US units (which most did not) and any other details I had. But in any case, in the last days of the war, the most loyal, devoted and well-trained portions of Saddam Hussein’s military apparatus (perhaps 20,000 men) just folded right up and vanished.
I had hoped that these units had given up and gone home. But evidently, they did not. Clearly Saddam expected the invasion, and planned a post-invasion guerrilla campaign. His best troops just disappeared, evidently to fight this campaign – and so did the Weapons of Mass Destruction. Every intelligence organization seriously interested Iraq was certain the Saddam regime had them, and I, for one, am still not buying they were wrong.
We do not know, yet, what happened to WMD’s. But we should have a pretty good idea, now, what happened to parts of the military units described above – in particular the Special Republican Guard. In particular, its officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers. Certainly the SRG included the troops most devoted to Saddam, and were probably the most well trained and equipped in the Iraqi services. Although I have no direct evidence on point – it’s my belief and contention that the core of the present insurgency are cadres from the missing SRG military units I mentioned, along with their comrades from the former Iraqi intelligence services and secret police. These are the experienced people who can build shaped charges, use laser detonators, and who probably have the new Iraqi military pretty well infiltrated.
Certainly, there are plenty of warm rebel bodies with no prior or only low level pre-war military experience. But the sophistication of the attacks on Allied forces indicates that the government’s contention that the insurgency is primarily run by “Former Regime Loyalists” – is correct.
Monday, July 25, 2005
The anti-war bus will supposedly run on “vegetable oil” although it seems probable that Hanoi Jane produces enough methane and hot air to power the thing all by her lonesome.
Hanoi Jane says that she has not “…taken a stand on any war since Vietnam” and that the bus tour is going to be "exciting." Yeah, right. The 70's are over, dear. Nixon resigned and we lost. As for your taking a stand: that’s important to know. You can bet that the foreign and military policy establishments burn gallons of the best Saudi midnight oil, wondering what Hanoi Jane the actress thinks about US policy towards North Korea, Iran, the war in Iraq or nuclear physics.
Attention terrorist high command: Call this lady's agent ! I’m sure you guys can find a suicide car bomb crew for her to pose with this time out.
Seriously, this should actually be a boon to the American war effort. I can’t think of a better way to rally support for the war than to have Hanoi Jane come out against it.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
A general-in-chief has no right to shelter his mistakes in war under cover of his sovereign, or of a minister, when they are both distant from the scene of operations, and must consequently be either ill informed or wholly ignorant of the actual state of things.
Hence, it follows that every general is culpable who undertakes the execution of a plan which he considers faulty. It is his duty to represent his reasons, to insist upon a change of plan; in short to give in his resignation rather than allow himself to become the instrument of his army’s ruin. . .
Napoléon I, Maxims., LXXII, p. 79 (Ed. David G. Chandler, Macmillan, 1988)
From the first I contemplated eventually moving into Laos to cut and block the infiltration routes of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and in 1966 and 1967 my staff prepared detailed plans for such an operation. . .Yet I recognized that blocking the trail would require at least a corps-size force of three divisions, and I would be unable for a long time to spare that many troops from the critical fight within South Vietnam. When at last, in 1968, our strength had increased sufficiently and the enemy had been depleted enough to make the move possible, President Johnson was so beset by war critics that he would take no step that might possibly be interpreted as broadening the war, which he had publicly announced he would not do.
In a discussion [in April 1967] . . .ex-presidential candidate Harold Stasssen asked if there was not some alternative strategy lying somewhere between a strategy of attrition and a strategy of annihilation. I replied that there was most certainly: block the Ho Chi Minh trail with ground troops. Yet Washington had ruled that out. . .
* * *
Yet, even with the handicap of graduated response, the war still could have been brought to a favorable end following the defeat of the enemy’s Tet offensive in 1968. The United States had in South Vietnam at that time the finest military force – though not the largest, ever assembled. The build-up of troops and the logistical support base were slow in coming, but at last they were there ready for decisive action. Had the president allowed a change in strategy and taken advantage of the enemy’s weakness to enable the command to carry out operations planned over the preceding two years in Laos and Cambodia and north of the DMZ . . .the North Vietnamese doubtless would have broken. But that was not to be.
William Childs Westmoreland, commander of US forces in the Republic of Vietnam from 1964-1968, then Chief of Staff of the US Army, died last week at 91. Ernest B. Furguson’s biography of the General is entitled: Westmoreland: The Inevitable General which almost perfectly sums up peers’ expectations of William Westmoreland from the moment he left West Point in 1936.
Commissioned into the artillery, Westmoreland entered World War II with the 9th Infantry Division, commanding artillery battalions in North Africa and Sicily, and becoming Chief of Staff of the division. Westmoreland rapidly caught the eye of three stars in the Army hierarchy: the Airborne generals Matthew Ridgway, Maxwell Taylor, and James Gavin, By the end of the war, Westmoreland was a full colonel.
Shortly after the war Westmoreland transferred to the infantry, and was offered command of a regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, then as now, one of the Army’s elite formations. The Army’s confidence in Westmoreland may be more adequately weighed when it is considered that during this time, the Army shrank in size from approximately 100 divisions to 16. While Westmoreland was serving with the 82nd Airborne, General Eisenhower, then Army Chief of Staff, is said to have ordered his personnel chief to prepare a list of 10-15 officers who had shown extraordinary promise during World War II: a group to be groomed as future Army movers and shakers. Membership in this circle has been debated, but almost all agree that Westmoreland was in it, along with his successor as commander in Vietnam, Creighton Abrams.
After his stint with the 82nd Airborne Division, an oddity emerges: In 1949, Westmoreland went to the Army’s Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, not as a student – but an instructor. Westmoreland in fact never attended the staff colleges: the CGSC, the Army War College, the National Defense University – which are the usual stops for somebody destined for senior military command. Westmoreland had a perfectly good excuse of course: he had been too busy doing – serving in the field with troops.
Then the Korean Conflict came along: Westmoreland did not go immediately, but when he did, it was in command of possibly the most coveted unit available for a colonel: the 187th Infantry Regimental Combat Team (Airborne) – a separate reinforced parachute regiment previously commanded by a Brigadier General. Westmoreland did well enough in Korea to garner a Brigadier General’s star at the young age of 38, but Korea meant there was little further time for education, other than a three month course in advanced management at Harvard Business School.
Westmoreland thus rose to very lofty command rank absent the theoretical and intellectual education normally considered a routine requirement. Westmoreland’s position as commander in Vietnam required from him not only the ability to command troops, and plan and direct their operations; but meant he needed to actively participate in the evaluation of political and military intelligence; in the formulation of national and theatre strategy, the making of logistical and force-structure plans, and engage in continual interaction with US and foreign politicians and with the media. Westmoreland became what Napoléon called a “general in chief” in probably the most politically and strategically complex war America ever fought with arguably insufficient intellectual ballast.
But command in war was Westmoreland’s destiny, and there is no doubt that he discharged it to the best of his ability. But one wonders if the man was out of his depth ? Westmoreland arrived in Vietnam in 1964, and presided over the US escalation of that conflict. When Westmoreland arrived in-country, there were 16,000 US troops. By 1968, the force under his command had swollen to over 500,000.
The full history of the escalation of US involvement in Vietnam, and the battles during his tenure is beyond the scope of this piece, but some discussion is in order. Westmoreland shattered several North Vietnamese regular infantry divisions at Khe Sanh in 1967-1968, inflicting disproportionately huge losses on the enemy. Similarly, in 1968, Westmoreland won the biggest American battle of the war, making a shambles of the Viet Cong’s “Tet Offensive” that was supposed to end the war in the communists’ favor.
Perhaps the finest hour of Westmoreland’s military life was his decision to abandon the Tet cease-fire and alert US and South Vietnamese forces when it became clear that a massive communist offensive was imminent. His decision won this battle and saved thousands of lives. After Tet, the Viet Cong were finished as a political and military factor: the war would be decided, ultimately, by North Vietnamese regular troops. Westmoreland’s “big unit” war of 1967-1968 kept the harried Viet Cong away from the South Vietnamese cities and allowed the South Vietnamese time to build an army.
Yet arguably, Westmoreland devoted insufficient time and attention to this latter task: leaving the heavy lifting on this task for his successor, Creighton Abrams. Westmoreland allowed the South Vietnamese to become too dependant on the Americans. At its most elemental level, war is decided by the successful mastery of time, space and available forces. Lyndon Johnson controlled the space in which the war would be fought; he controlled the available forces; and, as for time, Westmoreland appears to have failed to appreciate its strategic importance: the need to win the Vietnam War, or making it appear, politically, that it could be won, before the patience of the American people was exhausted.
Westmoreland presented the Johnson administration with plans that would have undoubtedly ensured the survival of the Republic of Vietnam and an American victory. This involved the expansion of the war to Laos and Cambodia in 1967-69, and the movement of large numbers of US forces into those countries and possibly into the southern parts of North Vietnam to block the Ho Chi Minh Trail (by which Hanoi supplied both the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese troops in the South). This would have required about 200,000 additional US troops, and the mobilization of US reserves: both from the Army Reserve component and from the National Guard. (90,000 of these troops would not have left the US; they would have reconstituted the US strategic reserve, which is what Westmoreland would get). The Johnson Administration balked.
With this decision, it became clear in retrospect, the United States, and the people of South Vietnam, lost the war. The liberals protest that the US violated the neutrality of Laos and Cambodia: however, neutrality has obligations – these countries were unable and unwilling to prevent the violation of their neutrality by North Vietnam. When the United States failed to block the Ho Chi Minh trail (thus isolating the battlefield), it tied its own hands: limiting itself to a second-best strategy of attrition, that is, attempting to wear down North Vietnam by totaling up “body counts” – by destruction of its units within South Vietnam. Since the Ho Chi Minh trail could not be interdicted, this was a losing proposition.
It is Westmoreland’s reaction to the Johnson administration’s rejection of his strategy – the right strategy: the strategy that would have vindicated the sacrifices of 50,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese, that would have meant the triumph of our just cause -- that is deserving of scrutiny. Westmoreland was the commander in the field, the man supposedly entrusted by the government with planning the battles and winning the war. He presented a plan for doing so. The government rejected it: and he took it in silence. Why didn’t he resign, as Napoléon would have suggested ?
The Johnson administration thus disposed of Force and Space, and Time ran out after the Tet Offensive, The Tet Offensive battle, thanks largely to Westmoreland, was an American victory. But with no apparent strategy to win the war in sight: the American people concluded the strategy was bankrupt, and, in El Jefe’s opinion wrongly, withdrew support from the struggle. Millions of South Vietnamese are still paying the price.
Shortly after Tet, the Johnson administration kicked the General upstairs, making him Chief of Staff of the Army, and replacing him with Creighton Abrams, probably a better commander, who focused on building up the South Vietnamese armed forces, in the little time he had left before the American abandonment of South Vietnam. The Nixon administration treated General Westmoreland rather shabbily, although his tenure as Army Chief of Staff during the sad years of impending defeat in Vietnam would have been difficult under the best of circumstances.
After the war, General Westmoreland wrote an excellent memoir, A Soldier Reports, which is required reading for anybody interested in the Vietnam War. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for Governor of South Carolina; sued CBS for libel over a television “documentary” called The Uncounted Enemy; and served as a target for various groups of anti- war liberals unfit to shine his shoes.
General Westmoreland lived until 91, thus outlasting most of his contemporaries. He seems to have been blessed with a singularly happy home life. With some perspective, and appreciation of the political and social forces that he had to contend with, we can see now that General Westmoreland was thrown into a hopelessly complex political and military situation for which his education, experience and training supplied no precedents; and in which he was inadequately supported. History will be kind to him.
The General will be buried on the grounds of the Military Academy at West Point, of which he was, at one time, the commandant. Rest in peace.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Thursday, July 7, 2005
But the bomb makers and their infrastructure could not operate without financing, the quiet sympathy and support of people willing to hide them – and governments in the Middle East willing to look the other way while this goes on. As long as non-violent financial, political, and moral support for the jihadists is tolerated, none of us will be safe.
The jihadists are barbarians, all mired in the 11th Century: partly evil, malicious children, destroying for destruction’s sake; partly religious fanatics; partly butchers so certain we will never retaliate in kind. They do not fear us sufficiently. In general, that’s the problem with terrorists and their sympathizers in the Islamic street: the lack of fear. If not for themselves, then fear for their relations and their societies.
The barbarians need an education. One place where learning can be imparted is in the rebellious areas of Iraq. The coalition commanders should be encouraged to prosecute the war against the terrorists there with vigor, and to ensure that sympathizers of the terrorists, armed or no, pay a price for concealing, aiding and abetting attacks on coalition or Iraqi government forces. Meanwhile, if the generals in Iraq want more troops, they should get them, and spare no efforts to ensure every bullet finds its billet in as many terrorists as possible.
Another place for concentration of effort is in putting the squeeze on Al Qaeda and the jihadist movement’s covert supporters. Terrorists have to be recruited, indoctrinated, trained and armed. This is a big operation. Car bombers are not the brains end of their organizations. All this takes a pool of willing recruits, and an expert cadre of instructors and commanders. This must all be paid for. Until we go after the financial, moral and intellectual supporters of the terrorists, we’re going to get nowhere. This means bringing pressure to bear on the Syrians, the Saudis and the Pakistanis.
It’s time for a harder war. Lets not wait for the bad guys to bring the war to us. We should stop worrying about the lawyers, Guantanamo and the UN and take the war to the enemy.
Tuesday, July 5, 2005
Radio communications between ground stations and Deep Impact take more than seven minutes each way, at 83,000,000 miles distance, so the final rendezvous of Deep Impact and Comet Tempel 1 (both moving objects), was controlled by the spacecraft’s own internal guidance system, which, three hours prior to impact, made three different course maneuvers to hit a particular, well-lit spot on the sunny side of Tempel 1. The probe impacted “right on target.”
Quite a triumph for NASA, and the Principal Investigators on the project at the University of Maryland and at Brown University, and for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California; but around the world, the general staffs of the major powers have just been shown something quite ominous, for them. The Pentagon, for its part, should be quite pleased.
Deep Impact demonstrates beyond argument that robot spacecraft can intercept fast moving objects, at great distance, under their own power and navigational control. The interceptor was able to alter its course to pick the best spot for interception – all while moving at 23,000 miles per hour. The military implications should be obvious: Not only does the United States have the ability to intercept comets for scientific purposes, or to attempt deflection of comets or asteroids threatening collision with the Earth – but the same technologies can be used to intercept other items – such as Ballistic Missile warheads. Deep Impact shows that Ballistic Missile Defense can succeed, and that the United States can be made safe from missile attack, assuming it summons the political will to spend the money.
There is no excuse now not to proceed with Ballistic Missile Defense. Most assuredly Deep Impact’s success yesterday will spur other powers to do so.