TCS Daily

Fire and Movement

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - April 7, 2003 12:00 AM

Battles are won by fire and by movement. The purpose of the movement is to get the fire in a more advantageous place to play on the enemy. This is from the rear or flank.

- Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., "War As I Knew It", 1947

When I was a kid I used to fantasize about what it would be like if a modern infantry regiment with tanks and machine guns had somehow been transported back in time and showed up on the battlefield at, say Gettysburg or Waterloo. Well, we've all been watching something like that on television the last two weeks. A 21st century military force is fighting an "army," so to speak, armed with 1970s, early 80s technology.

By this morning it seemed that the media was finally getting it. There was little talk of the "Siege of Baghdad," no more mentions of Stalingrad, fewer recollections of the bloody 1945 Soviet assault on Hitler's Berlin.

With absolute air supremacy, with an unparalleled real time view from above the battlefield, Coalition forces in Baghdad are now engaged in the humiliation if not the extermination of the Iraqi armed forces there, whether they be regular troops, "elite" units or paramilitary thugs. This is being done by:

  • Swift and devastating armored raids into selected sections of the city.
  • Special Forces operations against Iraqi leadership.
  • Precision air bombardment of discrete targets using smaller bombs and laser guidance to minimize damage and casualties to civilians.

But most of all, it's being done by overwhelming American firepower even in the smallest engagements. Although a great deal has and indeed must be said about the employment of devastating airpower in this war, it is important to emphasize how profoundly even the smallest American and British infantry unit can outgun the Iraqis.

The dashes throughout Baghdad by elements of the 3rd Infantry Division in Bradley armored personnel carriers and M1 Abrams tanks have demonstrated this amply over the last two days. These columns in effect dared the Iraqis to ambush them, dared them to come out and fight. Iraqis who have engaged the columns have been killed, wounded or put to flight, but most killed.

Iraqi forces have for the most part proven incredibly inept in the way they have fought. Their first shots at American armor have often missed widely and served merely to give away their positions. The return fire from .50 caliber and 7.62 mm machine guns and from 25 mm cannons on the Bradleys is disciplined, on target and withering. The Iraqis have never fought an army steeped in the gospel of force protection and the lesson is being written in their own blood.

Now it is possible for American forces to sector off the city and move at will where necessary to engage and eliminate relatively small groups of fighters. The Iraqis have had some small successes - the disabling of a tank here, the temporary slowing of a patrol by sniper fire there. And there will no doubt be more. The strike this morning against a U.S. command post by what was probably a Frog surface-to-surface missile is a sobering reminder that under the best circumstances this is still a dirty, unpredictable business. Lucky mortar rounds and the occasional well-placed anti-tank missile will inflict casualties. But these will not affect the inevitable outcome.

Patience is required now more than ever. Like a cleaning crew working its way through a huge house, American forces must methodically sweep up this city section-by-section. In many ways this has now come down to a manhunt. And there may well be a race to see whether Saddam and his henchmen are caught by American forces or by their own people. Uprisings are now occurring and will grow.

As American forces write a new page in military strategy and tactics, it will be important to sort out military lessons that apply and do not apply. It is unlikely American troops will again have the chance to fight in such a relatively benign environment (virtually no opposition in the air) and against such a hollow army. The dry rot in the Iraqi armed forces is the most eloquent evidence of the total corruption of Saddam's regime. It is an army held together by terror and fear, an army aware enough of the regime it served to have little self-respect. Now it is being put out of its misery.


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