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War in Iraq - a week of war
March 28, 2003
The IRAQWAR.RU analytical center was created recently by a group of journalists and military experts from Russia to provide accurate and up-to-date news and analysis of the war against Iraq. The following is the English translation of the IRAQWAR.RU report based on the Russian military intelligence reports.
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March 28, 2003, 1448hrs MSK (GMT +3), Moscow - According to the latest intercepted radio communications, the command of the coalition group of forces near Karabela requested at least 12 more hours to get ready to storm the town. This delay is due to the much heavier losses sustained by the coalition troops during the sand storms then was originally believed. Just the US 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division sustained more than 200 disabled combat vehicles of various types. The 101st Airborne Division reported some 70 helicopters as being disabled. Additionally, the recently delivered reinforcements require rest and time to prepare for combat.
At the same time the US forces have resumed attacks near An-Nasiriya and An-Najaf since 0630hrs and are continuously increasing the intensity of these attacks. During the night and early morning of March 28 the Iraqi positions in these areas were subjected to eight aerial assaults by bombers and ground attack aircraft. However, so far [the coalition] was unable to penetrate the Iraqi defenses.
Also during the early morning the British units begun advancing along the Fao peninsula. Latest radio intercepts from this area show that under a continuous artillery and aerial bombardment the Iraqis have begun to gradually withdraw their forces toward Basra.
First firefights between troops of the US 82nd Airborne Division and the Iraqi forces occurred in northern Iraq in the area of Mosula. At the same time the arrival of up to 1,500 Kurdish troops has been observed in this area. So far it is not clear to which of the many Kurdish political movements these troops belong. Leaders of the largest Kurdish workers party categorically denied participation of their troops. They believe that these may be units of one of the local tribes not controlled by the central authorities of the Kurdish autonomy and "ready to fight with anyone" for money.
According to verified information, during the past 48 hours of the Iraqi counterattacks the coalition forces sustained the following losses: up to 30 killed, over 110 wounded and 20 missing in action; up to 30 combat vehicles lost or disabled, including at least 8 tanks and 2 self-propelled artillery systems, 2 helicopters and 2 unmanned aerial vehicles were lost in combat. Iraqi losses are around 300 killed, up to 800 wounded, 200 captured and up to 100 combat vehicles 25 of which were tanks. Most of the [ Iraqi ] losses were sustained due to the artillery fire and aerial bombardment that resumed by the evening of March 27.
First conclusions can be drawn from the war
The first week of the war surprised a number of military analysts and experts. The war in Iraq uncovered a range of problems previously left without a serious discussion and disproved several resilient myths.
The first myth is about the precision-guided weapons as the determining factor in modern warfare, weapons that allow to achieve strategic superiority without direct contact with the enemy. On the one hand we have the fact that during the past 13 years the wars were won by the United States with minimum losses and, in essence, primarily through the use of aviation. At the same time, however, the US military command was stubborn in ignoring that the decisive factor in all these wars was not the military defeat of the resisting armies but political isolation coupled with strong diplomatic pressure on the enemy's political leadership. It was the creation of international coalitions against Iraq in 1991, against Yugoslavia in 1999 and against Afghanistan in 2001 that ensured the military success.
The American command preferred not to notice the obvious military failures during expeditions to Granada, Libya and Somalia, discounting them as "local operations" not deserving much attention.
Today we can see that in itself massed use of strategic and tactical precision-guided weapons did not provide the US with a strategic advantage. Despite the mass use of the most sophisticated weapons the Americans have so far failed to disrupt Iraqi command and control infrastructure, communication networks, top Iraqi military and political leadership, Iraqi air defenses. At the same time the US precision-guided weapons arsenal has been reduced by about 25%.
The only significant advantage of the precision-guided weapons is the capability to avoid massive casualties among the civilians in densely populated areas.
What we have is an obvious discrepancy between the ability to locate and attack a target with precision-guided weapons and the power of this weapon, which is not sufficient to reliably destroy a protected target.
On the other hand, precision-guided munitions demonstrated their superiority over conventional munitions on the battlefield. The ability to attack targets at long ranges with the first shot is the deciding factor in the American superiority in land battles.
The second myth disproved by this war is the myth propagated by the proponents of the "hi-tech" war, who believe in the superiority of the most modern weapons and inability of older-generation weapons to counteract the latest systems. Today the technological gap between the Iraqi weapons and those of the coalition has reached 25-30 years, which corresponds to two "generations" in weapons design. The primary Iraqi weapons correspond to the level of the early 1970s. Since that time the Americans, on the other hand, have launched at least two major rearmament efforts: the "75-83 program" and the "90-97 program". Moreover, currently the US is in the middle of another major modernization and rearmament program that will continue for the next five years. Despite of this obvious gap, Iraqi resistance has already been publicly qualified by the US as "fierce and resilient". Analysts believe that the correlation of losses is entirely acceptable to the Iraqis and they [ the analysts ] do not see any strategic coalition advantage in this war. Once again this proves that success in modern warfare is achieved not so much through technological superiority but primarily through training, competent command and resilience of the troops. Under such conditions even relatively old weapons can inflict heavy losses on a technologically-superior enemy.
Two enormous mistakes made by the US command during the planning stages of this war resulted in the obvious strategic failure. The US has underestimated the enemy. Despite the unique ability to conduct reconnaissance against the Iraqi military infrastructure through a wide network of agents implanted with the international teams of weapons inspectors, despite of unlimited air dominance the US military command has failed to adequately evaluate combat readiness of the Iraqi army and its technical capabilities; the US has failed to correctly asses the social and political situation in Iraq and in the world in general. These failures led to entirely inadequate military and political decisions:
The coalition force was clearly insufficient for a such a large-scale operation. The number of deployed troops was at least 40% short of the required levels. This is the reason why today, after nine days of war, the US is forced to resort to emergency redeployment of more than 100,000 troops from the US territory and from Europe. This, in essence, is the same number of troops already fighting in Iraq.
The buildup and distribution of the coalition forces have been conducted with gross neglect of all basic rules of combat. All troops were massed in one small area, which led to five days of non-stop fighting to widen this area. The initial attack begun without any significant aerial or artillery preparation and almost immediately this resulted in reduced rate of advance and heated positional battles.
Today we can see that the US advance is characterized by disorganized and "impulsive" actions. The troops are simply trying to find weak spots in the Iraqi defenses and break through them until they hit the next ambush or the next line of defense.
Not a single goal set before the coalition forces was met on time.
During the nine days of the war the coalition has failed:
- to divide Iraq in half along the An-Nasiriya - Al-Ammara line,
- to surround and to destroy the Iraqi group of forces at Basra,
- to create an attack group between the Tigris and the Euphrates with a front toward Baghdad,
- to disrupt Iraq's military and political control, to disorganize Iraq's forces and to destroy the main Iraqi attack forces.
A whole range of problems that require their own solutions was uncovered directly on the battlefield. Thus, combat in Iraq raised serious concerns about the problem of coordination between units from different services. Limited decision-making time and the ability to detect and to engage an enemy at a great distance make "friendly fire" one of the most serious problems of modern warfare. For now the coalition has no adequate solution to this problem. At one location or another every day of this war the coalition troops were attacking friendly forces.
The second problem of the coalition is its inability to hold on to the captured territory. For the first time since the war in Vietnam the Americans have to deal with a partisan movement and with attacks against their [the US] lines of communication. Currently the coalition is rushing to form some sort of territorial defense units for guarding its supply lines and for maintaining order in the occupied territories.
A range of technical problems with equipment has been revealed during the combat operations. Most operators of the M1A2 Abrams main battle tank agree that the tank was inadequate for performing the set combat tasks. The primary problem is the extremely low reliability of the tank's engine and its transmission in desert conditions. Heat from the sun, hot sand and the constantly present hot dust in the air nearly nullified the advantages offered by the turret-mounted thermal sights. Visibility range of these sights did not exceed 300 meters during movement in convoy and reached up to 700-800 meters during stops. Only during cold nights did the visibility range reach 1000-1,500 meters. Additionally, a large number of thermal sights and other electronics simply broke down. The tiny crystalline sand particles caused electrical power surges and disabled electronic equipment.
This was the reason for the decision by the coalition command to stop movement of troops at night when a contact with the enemy was deemed likely.
The main strong side of the coalition forces was the wide availability of modern reconnaissance and communication systems that allowed to detect the enemy at long ranges and to quickly suppress the enemy with well-coordinated actions of different types of available forces.
In general the US soldiers showed sufficiently high combat resilience. Even in the extremely difficult weather conditions the troops maintained control structure and adequately interpreted the situation. Combat spirit remained high. The majority of troops remain confident in their abilities, while maintaining belief in the superiority of their weapons and maintaining reasonable confidence in the way the war is being fought.
It should be noted, however, that the way the war is being fought did create a certain sense of disappointment in most of the troops. Many are feeling that they've been lied to and are openly talking about the stupidity of the high command and its gross miscalculations. "Those star-covered Pentagon idiots promised us a victory march and flowers on the armor. What we got instead were those damned fanatics fighting for every dune and the sand squeaking in your ass!" said one of the wounded recuperating at a hospital in Rammstein. [ Reverse translation from Russian ]
Nevertheless, despite of the sand storms the terrain favors the coalition actions by allowing it to employ their entire arsenal of weapons at the greatest possible range, which makes it difficult for the Iraqis to conduct combat operations outside of populated areas.
Overestimating the abilities of its airborne forces was a weak side of the coalition. Plans for a wide-scale use of helicopters as an independent force did not materialize. All attempts by the US command to organize aerial and ground operations through exclusive use of airborne forces have failed. Because of these failures by the end of the fourth day of the war all airborne units were distributed across the coalition units and used by the attacking forces for reconnaissance, fire support, and for containing the enemy. The main burden of combat was carried by the "heavy" mechanized infantry and tank units.
Another serious drawback in the coalition planning was the exceptionally weak protection in the rear of the advancing forces. This resulted in constant interruptions in fuel supply. Tank units sometimes spent up to 6 hours standing still with empty fuel tanks, in essence, being targets for the Iraqis. Throughout the war delivery of food, ammunition and fuel remains a headache for the US commanders.
Among the US soldiers there has been a wide-scale discontent with the quality of the new combat rations. Servicemen are openly calling these rations "shitty." Many soldier just take the biscuits and the sweets and discard the rest of the ration. Commanders of the combat units are demanding from the coalition command to immediately provide the troops with hot food and to review the entire contents of the combat ration.
Among the strong sides of the Iraqi troops are their excellent knowledge of the terrain, high quality of defensive engineering work, their ability to conceal their main attack forces and their resilience and determination in defense. The Iraqis have shown good organization in their command and communication structures as well as decisive and and well-planned strategy.
Among the drawbacks of the Iraqi forces is the bureaucratic inflexibility of their command, when all decisions are being made only at the highest levels. Their top commanders also tend to stick to standard "template" maneuvers and there is insufficient coordination among the different types of forces.
At the same time commanders of the [Iraqi] special operations forces are making good use of the available troops and weapons to conduct operations behind the front lines of the enemy. They use concealment, show cunning and imagination.
The first strategic lessons of the war
[ Lessons of the war in Iraq are discussed here with a focus on a possible similar war between Russia and the US ]
The main of such lessons is the ever-increasing significance of troop concealment as one of the primary methods of combat. Concealment and strict adherence to the requirements for secrecy and security become strategic goals of the defending forces in the view of the US reliance and that of its allies on precision-guided weapons, electronic and optical reconnaissance as well as due to their use of tactical weapons at the maximum possible range afforded by these reconnaissance methods. Importance of concealment is being seen in Iraq and was clearly demonstrated in Yugoslavia, where the Yugoslav Army preserved nearly 98% of its assets despite the three months of bombing. Within our [Russian/European] battle theater concealment methods will offer us [the Russian army] an enormous advantage over the US.
The second lesson of this war is the strategic role of the air defenses in modern warfare as the most important service of the armed forces. Only the complete air dominance of the coalition allows it to continue its advance toward Baghdad and to achieve the critical advantage in any engagement. Even the short interruption in air support caused by the sand storms put the US and British troops in a very difficult situation.
Elimination of the air defenses as a separate service branch of the [Russian] Armed Forces and its gradual dissipation in the Air Force can be called nothing else but a "crime". [This statement refers to the recent unification of the Russian Air Force (VVS) and the Air Defense Force (PVO) and the secondary role of the air defense force within this new structure.]
The third lesson of the war is the growing importance of combat reconnaissance and increased availability of anti-tank weapons capable of engaging the enemy at maximum range. There is a requirement on the battlefield for a new weapon system for small units that would allow for detection of the enemy at maximum distance during day or night; for effective engagement of modern tanks at a range of 800-1000 meters; for engagement of enemy infantry at a range of 300-500 meters even with the modern personal protection equipment possessed by the infantry.
(source: iraqwar.ru, 03-28-03, translated by Venik)
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