TCS Daily

Inside Out, Upside Down

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - August 9, 2002 12:00 AM

Last week, the New York Times reported on the existence of a novel plan to invade Iraq and defeat the forces of Saddam Hussein. Called the "inside-out" plan, this scheme proposes to have American forces take Baghdad, along with a few weapons depots, as the initial prizes in the war. This week, the Times reveals that President Bush has been briefed on the plan, and that it is being advocated as a quick and easy way to win a war against Iraq. The thinking is that the highly centralized nature of Iraqi government and military leadership will cause active resistance to an American force to collapse once Baghdad and key military installations are taken.

What the plan reflects more than anything is a desperation on the part of some military planners to find an easy way to achieve anticipated American military objectives regarding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. Indeed, the inside-out plan is wrongheaded, ill conceived, and will lead to unnecessary American military casualties, along with an unfavorable strategic and tactical situation confronting American forces.

To make the inside-out plan work, American military forces will have to begin a campaign against Iraq with an opening phase that involves heavy aerial bombardment. This will be necessary to ensure that as many enemy soldiers are incapacitated or killed, and to destroy as many weapons installations as possible. The next phase would then entail having American troops land in Baghdad, and around key tactical sites, and then take control of those sites.

The problem with this plan is that even after a successful aerial campaign, Iraq will still likely have access to anti-aircraft artillery, which it can use to fire upon American aircraft being used to deploy paratroopers deep in the heart of Iraq. If the aircraft are hit, it could massively increase the death and injury toll the American military might have to bear in order to wage a successful military campaign against Iraq.

Even if American paratroopers are able to land safely, they will do so with little armor at their disposal (armored vehicles simply weigh too much to be dropped en masse by transport planes). This means that they will have little protection against enemy fire that will be directed against them. Additionally, if American soldiers enter into Baghdad from the outset, they will likely have to engage in bloody urban and street battles against enemy forces without armored support. No army enjoys engaging in pitched battles in an urban environment. The memories of Stalingrad or, for that matter, Mogadishu are still too fresh. And yet, the inside-out plan would expose American forces to exactly that nightmare. Furthermore, if Iraqi ground forces that are stationed away from key sites, including the Republican Guard, are not engaged, they could very well race back to Baghdad, and to key Iraqi military installations, in order to assist in the fight against American troops. Would our forces prevail? Probably, but they might incur heavy casualties in the process. All because of a plan that exposes them to more danger that necessary.

The fact that such a vicious urban battle would expose millions of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad to death or injury should be borne in mind as well. If American troops engage in street battles, they may oftentimes find themselves in a position where they will be unable to tell enemy soldiers from civilians. The death of even one civilian will be used by Saddam Hussein's regime as part of a propaganda campaign to make American forces look like bloodthirsty aggressors and to generate sympathy for Saddam's regime. Also, Iraqi forces will likely use their own civilian population as human shields against American troops, thus increasing civilian casualties, and potentially causing Americans to be excessively timid in the application of force. This would expose American soldiers to still greater dangers.

Supporters of the inside-out plan argue that it will allow the United States to achieve military victory in Iraq without having to rely on hundreds of thousands of troops, and massive amounts of materiel. They argue as well that the inside-out plan is better suited to the politics of the region. The Times report mentions that friendly Arab countries want any war to be over with as quickly as possible, and raise the danger of popular uprisings on "the Arab street" as a way to induce American military planners to opt for the adoption of the inside-out plan, or similar plans.

However, the inside-out plan offers a false panacea. Far from bringing about a quick resolution to any war with Iraq, the many tactical problems facing the implementation of the plan-mentioned above-might actually prolong the war by exposing American troops to a decidedly disadvantageous military position, thus causing the American military to either risk a disastrous defeat, or to increase its troop concentration in the area in order to help the first group of American soldiers that were introduced into the theater of battle. Such a drastic change in military strategy and tactics would take time to develop and implement-thus prolonging the war and inviting increased casualties in the meantime.

Moreover, it should be clear by now that threats of popular uprisings in "the Arab street" are an empty concern. Similar fears were raised at the onset of American military action in Afghanistan. We heard all about how the war against terrorism in Afghanistan would cause rage in the Arab street-rage that would ultimately manifest itself in a paroxysm of violence and terrorism against Americans and their allies. However, when it became clear that American might would prevail in Afghanistan, and when that might was clearly demonstrated, the "Arab street" grew quiet-surprising everyone except those who remembered one of the oldest lessons of history; that the proper and successful application of military power has a unique tendency to cow and intimidate both potential and actual enemies.

Although military plans should take into account political considerations, there is a limit to which such considerations should influence planning. American soldiers should not have to face a tactically troublesome military environment merely because the same vague and invalidated fears about American military action are recycled again and again-much like the geopolitical/geostrategic equivalent of a Wagnerian leitmotif.

It is, of course, easy to sit back and criticize a particular military plan as not being up to snuff. However, it is generally much harder to come up with a better plan. But a better plan does exist.

Instead of relying on the inside-out plan, the United States military should attack from the northern and southern directions. American airpower should be used first in order to relentlessly bomb Iraqi troops on the ground, thus clearing a path for the introduction of American ground forces. Those forces can stream into Iraq from Turkey, which has been of great assistance in the war on terrorism in general, and in holding the line against the regime of Saddam Hussein. In the south, American airpower can similarly be used to clear a path for the introduction of forces near the Iraqi town of Basra. American troops may have to make an amphibious landing to get to Basra, but they can achieve that objective through the use of close air support to clear out enemy troop concentrations-including helicopter gunships.

The advantage of this approach is that it will allow American soldiers to be introduced in the area covered by the southern and northern no-fly zones-an area over which American and British air forces have already achieved air supremacy, and with which coalition pilots are very familiar. Thus, it will be relatively easy to secure the north and south of Iraq as a hospitable environment for a significant American military presence.

Once a powerful American military concentration is established in northern and southern Iraq, it will then be able to proceed to defeat and destroy any remaining Iraqi troop concentrations that remain on the ground, and are able to survive an overwhelming initial coalition air campaign. Inevitably, it will become clear that the Iraqis are unable to match the firepower and superior training of American ground and air forces. The American military will further benefit from being able to take on Iraqi troop concentrations in open ground, and in a non-urban environment. From the north and the south, American forces will be able to take out key Iraqi military installations, and will then be able to move to capture Baghdad. By then, Baghdad may very well be declared an open city, causing enough Iraqi civilians to leave the city in the same manner that Afghan civilians left Kabul in anticipation of an American military attack. Such an exodus would decrease the possibility of Iraqi civilian casualties. It would also make it easier for American forces to engage in street fighting against enemy troop concentrations if the conflict came down to that. It probably will not-American air power will likely be used to subdue the bulk of any resistance that may be concentrated in Baghdad.

Such a plan will require a large concentration of American troops and materiel. This may cause heartburn to some Arab countries, and even to some American military planners. The fact is, however, that a potent American military presence will be necessary to ensure that Iraq does not ultimately fall apart in a post-war environment, and to ensure that Saddam is ultimately replaced by a more democratic leader who will refrain from threatening Iraq's neighbors and other states with weapons of mass destruction, invasion and terrorism.

The inside-out plan that is being proposed to govern a war against Iraq is poorly conceived, and could present American military forces with more problems and with the prospect of massive casualties. It is understandable that American military planners want to be able to win a war against Iraq as quickly as possible. But the best way to do that is to insert a massive contingent of American military forces into Iraq-with their path cleared as much as possible by the application of overwhelming American airpower. This may be a harder plan for some people to swallow. They should remember, however, the old saying that the hard way is sometimes the easiest way there is.



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