U.S. Short of Troops For Baghdad Battle!


25 March 2003

US Short of Troops for Baghdad Battle

Three days of violent sandstorms and low clouds are forecast for southern and central Iraq from Tuesday, March 25. For the Iraqis, this means a couple of days’ respite; for the American and British, a scramble to shroud their tanks and equipment in canvas and tarp sheeting to protect them from the creeping grains. Not only are the tanks out of action until the end of the week, but grounded too, as DEBKAfile’s military source report, are the heavy bombers, the fighter bombers and the helicopters which fought their first skirmishes with the Special Republic Guards Al Madina Division near al Kut on the road to Baghdad – and lost an Apache. Its two pilots were captured and shown on Iraqi television Monday night.

In the mountains of Kurdistan in the north, snow blizzards instead of sandstorms will hamper the movements of British and American special forces for the next couple of days. Since Monday, March 24, these forces have been coming down in five northern Iraqi airfields: Barmeni, Harir, Bakarjo and Ankwa and H-3 in the west, forming up for the assault to secure the oil fields of Mosul and Kirkuk. Their next mission will be to head south for the offensive against Saddam Hussein’s tribal home of Tikrit, north of Baghdad.

The Iraqis, accustomed to these extremes of climate, will use the breather for reorganization, re-supplying the units with fresh stores of ammunition, fuel and provisions and urgent repairs of combat vehicles. They will also use the time to carry out snipe at and harry American convoys, stray vehicles and small campsites.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Iraqi high command has diagnosed the weak point of the US columns driving to Baghdad as being their long supply lines, often trailing several hundred kilometers behind and easily vulnerable to guerrilla attack. The Iraqis have begun using small fighting squads, often in civilian dress, armed with hand grenades, mines and RPGs, to blow up bridges and vehicles. This was the tactic employed at Nasiriya and Basra.

Based on the first four days of combat, war commander General Tommy Franks has reached a number of conclusions and effected some revisions in his plan of operation.

1. Contrary to expectation, there are no signs of cracks in the Iraqi high command - from the chief of staff down to division, brigade and battalion officer level.

Franks had one last stab at undermining the Iraqi command Monday, March 24. At a news briefing called without prior notice, he said the Iraqi command is no longer “robust”, hoping perhaps to influence the morale of the lower ranks of Iraqi officers and troops.

2. In view of this and other emerging facts, the coalition is short of ground strength for the assault on Baghdad. Franks’ officers at Doha are saying that the Iraqi capital cannot be taken by two US armies. While there is no intention of postponing the assault on Baghdad, putting in a request to the White House for reinforcements is under consideration. The 4th Armored Division passed through the Suez Canal Monday on its way to the Gulf. To shorten its journey, the division’s troops will probably disembark at Saudi Red Sea ports and cut through east into Iraq. The 173th Airborne Brigade based in Italy, counterpart of the 82nd Airborne Division, has received orders to move out to northern Iraq.

3. All these forces, as well as Iraq’s elite divisions, are making ready to fight the main battle for Baghdad. According to our military sources, that campaign is most likely to get started on Saturday, March 29. Only then, will the two sides bring out their biggest guns and apply firepower to a degree never seen since World War II. If the battle goes against him, Saddam may well disclose the chemical and biological weaponry he has kept hidden, or even resort to some sort of nuclear device. That will also be the moment of greatest peril for Israel and Iraq’s other neighbors.

Away from the main arena, a small yet illuminating scene played out just across the Iraqi border Monday morning. Syria complained that a stray American missile had struck a bus killing five civilians and injuring ten.

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, the only true fact in this terse account was that the bus was Syrian. The missile was no stray. It was deliberately fired from an F-15 fighter-bomber at a bus carrying armed Palestinian volunteers to join up with Iraqi forces, in order to make sure this was the last such Palestinian group of volunteers for Iraq. That F-15 made a piece of history; it carried out the first American air attack on a combatant Palestinian group. More will certainly be heard of this episode.

March 24, 2003

US Troops in First Encounter with Iraqi Republic Guards

After a tough day of facing Iraqi resistance and setbacks - the first American troops were taken captive and 12 were killed – America’s Iraq War took an important military turn late on Sunday, March 23, as reported exclusively by DEBKAfile’s military sources: The first frontal engagements between US troops advancing on Baghdad and Saddam Hussein’s elite Special Republican Guards. They began near Al Amarah, a small town on the Tigris River, and at al Kut, some 100 km upriver to the northwest.

Al Amarah is geographically the southern gateway to Baghdad.

The US-led column driving towards Baghdad along the easternmost route up the Tigris River is led by the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions. Sunday, they bypassed Basra, leaving behind the 7th British division to assert control over Iraq’s second largest city, and dashed north towards Al Amarah. Waiting for them were three Iraqi divisions, the 10th, the 11th and the 4th Corps, which is the Special Republic Guards Nida armored division.

By the end of the day, the Marines and the Nida tank force had entered into their first of clash of arms of the series to come.

Three additional US columns are pushing towards Baghdad.

The 3rd Armored Division with elements of the 82nd Airborne drove out of Nasiriya towards al Kut, after opening up the Euphrates bridges in a fierce battle that cost 10 American lives. Posted there is the Special Republican Guards’ Al Medina Division, 2nd Armored Brigade, the only Iraqi force known for certain by US intelligence to deploy weapons of mass destruction.

During the night, hundreds of US Apache and Black Hawks pummeled the unit’s advanced T-72 tanks, taking heavy ground fire and losing at least one Apache, which was displayed Monday, March 24, on Baghdad television.

This helicopter-tank duel was not the end of the confrontation, but the beginning. It was intended to convey to Saddam’s troop formations that their only option is to surrender or be battered to extinction. The warning, issued as the second Gulf War approached its first 100 hours, the point at which the first Gulf Was discontinued, was meant to drive home a message to Saddam’s defenders that this campaign would go on to the end.

The third American column, led by the US 7th mechanized Division augmented by additional units headed north from Nasiriya toward the two Shiite holy towns, Najef and Karbala, bypassing both, skirting the Bahr al Milh Lake and turning east toward the Euphrates River.

Standing guard over Baghdad at this point is the Hamourabi division of the Special Republican Guards, the final major obstacle on this route to the Iraqi capital. If this division is overcome, the advancing US force can make its way with tanks across the Euphrates River and quickly reach Baghdad’s Saddam International Airport.

The fourth column is the most secret one. Its name has not been released and little is known about its mission beyond the fact that it is the fastest moving of the four, zipping across the vast desert spaces between western Iraq and the Saudi frontier towards al Fallujah, 20 kilometers north of Baghdad. Its objective is to strike at the line of contact between the Iraqi Hamourabi and al Medina Divisions.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that two more spearheads will beef up the four columns when full-scale battle is joined between them and Saddam’s crack units: The northern formation, which is being assembled from US forces drawn in from Kurdistan and other parts of the northern front - since Saturday, March 22, they are being dropped by air over four Iraqi airfields; and the western formation, which is coming in from Jordan and western Iraq, and will start pushing towards Ar Rubta and Saddam’s home town of Tikrit on Tuesday, March 25.

The first four American columns’ overall objective is to bring the Special Republican Guards divisions and the Iraqi capital within range of American artillery and tank guns by the end of this week. The next stage will be to subject Baghdad to a lethal artillery-aerial strike cocktail.

Until then, DEBKAfile’s military experts stress that the crushing bombing-missile air raids inflicted daily on Baghdad since last Friday – with fearful effect on television screens – are not targeting the city per se. After hitting some of Saddam’s symbols of government, the brunt of the blitz is directed at cutting off the Special Republic Guards ringing Baghdad from access to the city. It is meant to demonstrate to their commanders that come what may they will not be allowed to withdraw into Baghdad and embark on an urban war of attrition against US forces trapped in city streets. Any Iraqi troops attempting to fall back will be eliminated before they set foot in the capital.