Skip to comments.If Baghdad doesn't fall, it will crumble
Posted on 04/05/2003 8:23:46 PM PST by Prince Charles
If Baghdad doesn't fall, it will crumble
Sunday April 6, 2003
What next in Baghdad? At least one American armoured wedge has penetrated the city. There may be more. There is a report of a US tank commander being killed. They are following an American doctrine: reconnaissance by strong armoured units. It is possible that the 101st Airborne Division is being brought to Baghdad airport to follow up. The 'Centcom' command centre at Qatar is playing this very close to the chest. They are relaxed about finding Saddam and are heading for centres of power.
We know that the Republican Guard has taken heavy casualties as there are reports of large numbers of military wounded being brought into hospitals. The regime seems to be coming apart and losing cohesion. One sign of this is the way the Information Minister is losing contact with reality by making reports of successful Iraqi counterattacks on the airport. The city could fall sooner than expected if his columns are successful.
We are seeing a breakdown in communications, command and control of both the Republican Guard and the militia. The counterattacks on US units at Baghdad airport were uncoordinated and badly executed by a mixture of tanks and pickup trucks with anti-tank and machine guns. US anti-tank missiles and its tanks' main armaments, both capable of being used at night, destroyed many Iraqi tanks and other vehicles. The last serious counterattack was at Nasiriyah.
We began to see this communication breakdown when all of the key bridges on the route to Baghdad fell into US hands intact. Some were prepared for demolition but either abandoned before charges were blown, or only partially destroyed. The trick when blowing a bridge is to avoid leaving substantial parts of one's own forces on the wrong side of the river by demolishing it too early, or delaying too long and allowing it to fall undamaged into enemy hands. So the authority to blow an important bridge is usually reserved to the senior local officer, or even to the overall commander.
There are two prerequisites for getting the timing right - first, the commander concerned must have good communications so he's up to date on the tactical situation, and second, there must be clear orders to the officer in charge at the bridge stating whether or not he may blow it up in the event that he loses touch with the commander at the very moment the enemy is about to rush the bridge.
Some commentators used the example of Kosovo to suggest that air attacks on Iraqi tanks had not been as successful as predicted. After Nato ground forces entered Kosovo, very few damaged Serb tanks were discovered. It is reported that Serb officers had been advising the Iraqi army of methods of concealment and deception based on their own experience. But the Kosovo air campaign was restricted by considerations for the safety of Nato air crews, so bombing missions were conducted from at least 15,000 feet and Apache helicopters were not used. Most important, at the outset there was no land threat to Serb forces in Kosovo coordinated with the air campaign, a strategy one senior officer called 'military buffoonery'. Without a ground threat, Serb tanks remained in their hides.
In Iraq, the Republican Guard had the choice between lying low under cover and doing nothing or emerging only to face attacks from Apaches, A-10 'Tank Busters', and US anti-armour weapons.
Will Saddam unleash chemical weapons on the Americans at this stage? If he does, he risks killing large numbers of Iraqi civilians. Coalition forces have excellent equipment to cope with a chemical attack, which can be a two-edged weapon, as Saddam's troops, whose protective equipment is not as good as the coalition's, will have to mask up and take other measures which could limit their fighting capability.
To launch a chemical attack with maximum effect on the enemy, and a minimum on one's own troops, it is necessary to establish exactly where opposition and friendly units are located. The destruction of Iraqi command and communication centres has made it difficult for the regime, and the coalition is able to get inside the enemy's 'decision loop'. That is, find out what he is doing, decide on the action to take, and put it into effect before he can detect what the coalition is about to do and react to it.
When electrical power in Baghdad was lost, the regime was denied the ability to broadcast propaganda and orders by television, and this was yet another blow to the command and control system. It was an Iraqi owngoal, as the coalition had denied cutting the power cables.
If the early forays of US forces into the city do not lead to a complete collapse of the regime, there will be a pause while they start a 'crumbling' operation. This would involve controlling all the routes in and out of the city. Special Forces and other surveillance will attempt to locate the leaders and identify key points as targets for raids by troops in helicopters, armoured vehicles or on foot. Opportunities for seizing and holding positions in key areas would be exploited.
Meanwhile, the coalition will aim to set about pacifying more of Iraq, and increase the protection of the long supply lines. Special forces will continue to operate in the west, where they now roam almost at will. In the north of Iraq the Kurdish peshmerga guerrillas, with US air and special forces support, will press on to Mosul. It is important that the British are allowed to continue to focus on the taking of Basra and restoring the situation in the south of the country to normal, and are not diverted to Baghdad.
Major-General Julian Thompson, who led 3 Commando Brigade in the Falklands war, is a visiting professor at the department of war studies, King's College, London