Republican Guard: Extent of Degradation Unknown

March 31, 2003
Republican Guard: Extent of Degradation Unknown

For several days, Republican Guard (RG) divisions from Karbala to the south of Baghdad have been subject to relentless bombing aimed at destroying their materiel and manpower as coalition forces seek to open the road to Baghdad.

The U.S. command claims the Republican Guard divisions' combat capabilities have been degraded by 35 to 85 percent. Stratfor's sources in foreign intelligence services estimate that air attacks have degraded the combat capabilities of the Republican Guard Al Medina Division by 5 percent, the Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar divisions by 5 percent to 10 percent and the Baghdad Division by 10 to 15 percent. An unknown percentage of the other RG divisions' defenses have been bombed less severely, so damage estimates are not available. The information Stratfor
has gathered from these sources might hold true, for several reasons.

First, as Stratfor stated previously, the Iraqi command has learned much from Yugoslav tactics used to avert significant military losses during the NATO air campaign in 1999. For example, when the Yugoslav army was withdrawing from Kosovo, only 13 tanks were destroyed by NATO air power -- the NATO command had reported several hundred tanks destroyed. Iraq has made an effort to learn from the Yugoslav experience, including sending special research teams to Belgrade after the Kosovo war. The Iraqi command is using decoys extensively and creating fake targets, which are potentially able to deceive U.S. technical intelligence such as satellite imagery by giving off heat and displaying other
characteristics of real targets.

Second, the Iraqi military had its own negative experience in the Persian Gulf War, from which they learned how to hide targets from U.S. air strikes. The Iraqi military had some successes during Operation Desert Storm, such as a fake line of tanks -- which in reality were rubber decoys -- which the United States targeted in a bombing run.

Third, after the Gulf war, Iraq had no illusions that U.S. air power would not continue to grow. The Iraqis have had 12 years to prepare for the time when the United States would unleash its high-tech power from the skies. It is no surprise they have given priority to researching and introducing ways to save their elite forces from the carnage delivered from the air.

Fourth, the RG Divisions' highly trained personnel have excelled in tactical camouflage and maskirovka -- the practice of hiding forces by using the landscape and various other objects as cover. RG tanks, artillery pieces and combat infantry vehicles have been dispersed across a vast territory. They have been hidden next to the walls of houses, under trees and in other covered settings.

Fifth, before the current attack, Iraqi forces had time to dig, and we estimate that at least a few deep trenches could be used as cover for each armored object. Digging trenches might still work against high-tech air power. Osama bin Laden -- or someone writing in his name -- wrote a letter to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the war began, telling him not to fear U.S. air power. The letter gave the following example: Only 18 of the 600 mujahideen who dug into the trenches in the Tora Bora cave complex in Afghanistan during U.S. bombings in December 2001 were killed. And professional RG soldiers probably know better how to dig in than al Qaeda's irregular forces.

Sixth, RG divisions have organized a well-developed air defense system, including portable Russian-made Strela-2m -- analogous to the U.S. Stinger -- that so far have precluded the coalition from using tactical aviation and ground attack planes against them. That has left the coalition with few options, one of which it is using now: bombing the RG positions from high altitudes, which leaves little hope for accuracy.

Seventh, the RG divisions may not be located exactly in the areas targeted by the coalition in the last several days, our foreign intelligence sources say. And since the Republican Guards have not moved -- for example, they have not identified themselves by answering fire from forward-deployed U.S. units such as the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry -- it likely is extremely difficult for U.S. forces to correlate the bombing.

Still, despite the above statements, we cannot say unequivocally that our sources are correct. Nor can we say the coalition command's battle damage assessment of RG divisions is wrong. What we can say is that, due to the above, it is possible that RG divisions have taken less damage from air strikes than the U.S. command estimates. If this is true, it could create problems for U.S. ground forces when they move in to attack major RG combat positions.

We probably will not know which assessment is more accurate until U.S. forces physically engage major elements of the Republican Guard. Alternatively, we may see the signs of RG degradation if defense forces begin to retreat from the positions they now occupy -- but that is unlikely, as moving would expose the camouflaged RG divisions to coalition air power.