TCS Daily

Shut Your MOUT!

By Dale Franks - November 22, 2002 12:00 AM

In my inaugural TCS column, I discussed the potential logistical obstacles that stood in the way of an invasion of Iraq if they were not addressed. Happily, those concerns now appear to be solved. But for the naysayers, there is always a bogeyman looming over American military action. Last year, it was the "brutal Afghan winter." In the campaign against Iraq, the new bogeyman appears to be "brutal urban combat" against the fierce Republican guard.

To be honest, urban combat - or as we now fashion it, Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT) - can be quite brutal, and horrendously expensive in terms of men and equipment. To get an idea of why this is so, imagine yourself in the following situation.

You are part of a squad whose orders are to clear an office building. To do so, you must move down an empty corridor, with offices on both sides. In each office, there may be one, two, or a dozen defenders. You don't know. The corridor you must traverse has no place to conceal yourself, and no obstacle to put between you and any enemy fire. The defenders in each office have steel desks and office furniture to use for cover and concealment. Since most military weapons can fire straight through building walls, they can take you under fire from their concealed positions inside the offices. They know more or less where you are, because they can hear the sounds you make as you fight your way up that open, empty corridor. The enemy knows you must come in through the doors of the offices, so their weapons are already sighted in on them. Your 12-man squad has 20 offices to clear.

On each floor.

In a 3-story office building.

That's a sobering situation to be in, and it's pretty much a given that casualties will probably be high.

The mistake the naysayers make is not that urban combat isn't rough. It is. But they give little explanation as to why we would have to engage in any of it in the first place.

It is true that the Iraqis will most likely concentrate their forces in the cities. They have no other choice. It is literally impossible for the Iraqi Army to fight mobile land warfare against U.S. Forces. In any invasion of Iraq, we will have complete control of the aerospace portion of the battle area. Any Iraqi ground movement will be immediately taken under fire from the air. This doesn't only mean attacks on combat movements of troops or armored vehicles, but on logistical movements of food, fuel, ammunition, supplies, and spare parts. Literally nothing will move on the ground in Iraq unless we allow it to.

Indeed, the Iraqis couldn't complete any serious movements in 1991 when their forces were twice as strong as they are now, and our forces were weaker and less effective than they are today.

If mobile warfare is an impossibility for the Iraqis, then the only remaining option is a static defense of their cities. Cities, however, lack the fundamental requirements necessary for effective defense. Cities may provide many places that can be converted into effective firing positions. But they lack other important things, such as clear fields of fire, or easily interlocking zones of defense. Visibility is limited, making it difficult to obtain a clear picture of enemy positions or movements.

To an extent, of course, these same restrictions apply to an attacker. Assuming of course, that the attacker decides on a frontal attack on the Iraqi positions. But why should such an attack be necessary?

Once the Iraqis are tied to fixed positions, we will know what those positions are. We can prevent them from receiving any supplies. We can cut off all city services, such as electricity and water. Our precision-guided munitions can bombard the Iraqi positions while leaving the remainder of the city unaffected.

There is, in short, no compelling reason to go in and root them out with infantry forces in hand-to-hand combat. Lack of food, water, and sanitary facilities will do that in fairly short order anyway. Lack of water alone will force their surrender or death within a fairly short time.

Moreover, all this assumes that these Iraqi units will remain loyal to the regime of Saddam Hussein. If they are not, even brief sieges will prove unnecessary. It is never wise to assume your enemy will just give up, of course, but even if you believe that these Iraqi units will remain loyal, you're still a long way from making a compelling argument for the necessity of rooting them out in MOUT operations when you can simply seal them off from the outside world.

General Douglas MacArthur said in 1944, "The days of the frontal attack should be over. Modern infantry weapons are too deadly, and frontal assault is only for mediocre commanders. Good commanders do not turn in heavy losses." The key to his strategy in the Island-Hopping Campaign in World War II was to bypass enemy strongholds, cut their supply lines, and let them wither on the vine. In so doing, MacArthur lost fewer men in the whole of his Pacific campaign than General Mark Clark lost in battle at Anzio and Salerno.

Urban combat may be brutal, but it looks like we have better alternatives than engaging in it.



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