TCS Daily

Looking for a Fight

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - December 3, 2003 12:00 AM

My buddy Bill doesn't follow politics and international affairs that closely. He owns a small business here in my hometown in rural Pennsylvania and, like most Americans, he tends to focus more on local issues. But the other day he had something to say about Iraq.

"What are we doing? I mean, we hear about this soldier getting killed and that bomb going off and two or three more get killed, and what are we doing about it? I never hear about how many we killed. We just seem to be sitting around taking it."

He had perfectly crystallized the uneasy feelings I've had lately about the news out of Iraq. I know we can't begin to have the full picture of this complex and fluid conflict when depending on media coverage alone, but it seems like we've been playing a desultory zone defense ever since we took Baghdad.

And it doesn't work.

After two very bad weeks that included 22 U.S. soldiers killed in the shooting down of two helicopters and culminated in the truck bombing that killed 18 Italians and 8 Iraqis, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. general in Iraq, had this to say:

"The most important message is that we are all going to get pretty tough, and that's what is needed to defeat the enemy, and we are definitely not shy of doing that when it is required."

With all due respect to the general, who may be a very fine soldier, I can't imagine those words coming from George Patton, or Matt Ridgeway. Here's a bulletin, Gen. Sanchez. "When it is required" is right now. And "pretty tough" is not tough enough. Hell, we're fretting over some officer who fired a pistol near some Iraqi's head. It's time to kill some "folks" as the Pentagon and the Administration are often apt to label the enemy.

It was good to hear the news out of Iraq this past weekend, that U.S. forces carrying currency to an Iraqi bank had vigorously thwarted a series of ambushes in Samara. I use the term "vigorously" because the U.S. troops seemed prepared for the action and they clearly gave more than they got.

Five soldiers were wounded and over 50 Iraqis were reported killed. Pardon this armchair general, but that's the kind of balance sheet I like to see. The attacks came in a populated area and some of those killed may have been civilians. Media coverage Monday night was focusing on this, of course. But I fervently hope this is a sign that American forces are going to be a little more offensive in defending themselves. It's about time.

The Movement of an Armed Column

The basic problem for our forces in Iraq stems from the inherent advantages of the Iraqi terrorist guerrillas (let's call them what they are). They are on their home ground. They are reasonably well armed (particularly with explosives) and they figure that time is on their side. Thus far they have been able to wait us out, observe our habits (our unfortunately formulaic modes of operation) and strike when and where they choose. This is precisely why the Samara ambushes took place where civilian casualties would be almost inevitable.

In the military, routine is often a necessity, but coalition forces cannot afford to behave routinely in Iraq. The name of the game now is to deny the guerrillas their inherent advantages. And one of the most important steps American forces can take is to consider every movement of military personnel -- no matter how routine or benign -- as the movement of an armed column looking for a fight.

This is not merely "force protection," to use the Army's term of art. This means that whether they are paying a courtesy visit to village chiefs, taking a load of supplies to a rebuilt school, delivering the mail or delivering ammo to a "front line" unit, the troops involved should embark upon the mission as an opportunity to destroy the enemy.

This means that military police need more than their sidearms. This means that what are commonly called CSS (combat service support) units must be prepared not merely to fight back if attacked, but to fight at every opportunity. In short, supply convoys must be accompanied by heavily armed vehicles ready, not merely to defend the supply vehicles, but to pour withering fire into any ambushing units. And the convoy personnel should be combat personnel ready to employ firepower.

Iraqi ambush parties themselves should become targets of opportunity. This is apparently what happened in Samara, where the "routine" delivery of new bank currency involved eight tanks and four Bradley fighting vehicles.

There Will Be No "Rear"

In a little-noticed paper written for the U.S. Army Logistics Management College two years ago, Maj. Timothy Norton noted that recent war games at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Cal., had demonstrated clearly that both the skills and equipment necessary to defend military supply convoys were "inadequate."

Maj. Norton presciently observed that in the future (read, now) "Logistics units will be everywhere on an ever-changing battlefield to support the combat soldier. Logisticians cannot count on staying in the rear because there will be no 'rear.'"

The major went on to stress the importance of "the presence of armor and other combat vehicles in or very near the logistics units," and the need for advanced training of such units so they could better defend themselves. He pointed out that in future conflicts, CSS units would not merely support the battle but be a part of it.

"Without the 'correct' vehicles and weapons to defend themselves," wrote Maj. Norton, "CSS units will not assist in the fight -- they will be a detriment to the fight instead."

The major concluded that truck companies should be more heavily armed and that armored fighting vehicles should accompany supply columns. I think it wouldn't hurt to enlarge on Maj. Norton's ideas and occasionally place truckloads of combat ready troops unobtrusively within the convoys.

Adoption of such tactics will inevitably lead to some civilian casualties and many propaganda claims of civilian casualties. It will involve destruction of property. There will be mistakes. Given the media's predilections, our television screens will be filled after every firefight with bawling women, pockmarked buildings and the usual turbaned moaners blaming the Americans. But this is the price of turning things around in this ugly phase of a long global war against Islamic terrorism.

It turns out that Saddam Hussein is one tough son-of-a-bitch. He has survived numerous attacks and has proven elusive and skilled at going to ground. In doing so, he has become a rallying point for Muslim terror groups. The Bush Administration repeatedly told us that one of the chief reasons for invading Iraq was because there was really no other way to deal with such an implacable, lying, vicious regime as Hussein's. Well, now is the time to root the bastards out once and for all, and to do so American forces will have to readopt the tactics that worked so well in the dramatic days leading up to the fall of Baghdad -- they need to go out day and night looking for a fight.


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