War Diary: Wednesday
Apr 03, 2003
Baghdad. The name was repeated over and over again in the media. U.S. forces are 20 miles away. They are 10 miles away. Special Forces are already in the city. For some, Baghdad was there for the taking and with it, the war's end. There was truth to that, but as in any war -- and this one in particular -- the reality is far more complex than the perception.
First, there is the question of precisely what is just a few miles from Baghdad. Certainly, it is not all of the coalition forces, gathered in front of Baghdad for a final assault. Rather, leading elements of the 3rd Infantry Division that fought their way across a bridge north of Karbala have moved toward Baghdad throughout the night and will continue to move. It is hard to say how large this force is, but it is certainly not the entire division. A brigade or two are not going to assault Baghdad by themselves. Even if it were possible, it wouldn't be permitted. The battle of Baghdad, if it takes place, will require substantial forces. This will not be a mad dash for downtown Baghdad. There is positioning to be done.
Second, there are still Iraqi forces operating south of the leading elements -- effectively behind U.S. lines. There were reports that an Iraqi force tried to mount a counterattack on the bridge north of Karbala used by the 3rd Infantry to cross the Euphrates. They tried to blow the bridge with explosives but apparently failed. What this means is that Iraqi forces between the Tigris and Euphrates have not been rendered completely inert under bombardment. However attrited they are, they represent a danger to the lines of supply extending to the attacking force. The RG units will have to be dealt with. The United States cannot permit them to move north to Baghdad to bolster defenses. It cannot permit them to move against the flanks. Airpower must take them down, but that necessarily takes time. Until that happens, forces will have to be deployed to protect the flanks of the two main salients that are developing. That will limit the weight of the U.S. assault.
Third, there are reports that Iraqi regular army forces from the north have been moved south into positions blocking the approaches to Baghdad. This indicates that the Iraqis still have both command and control and the ability to execute strategic movement in spite of U.S. airpower. Those forces will have to be attacked from the air. Moreover, airpower will have to be used to prevent the redeployment of additional forces south of Baghdad.
Coalition air forces, therefore, have an awful lot of missions to carry out. The Republican Guard divisions both south and north of the spearhead -- as well as regular army divisions -- have to be debilitated. Forces north of the city must be pinned so that they can't reinforce. Support facilities for the Special Republican Guard must be taken down, and where possible, the SRG must be hit. Those are a lot of missions. The missions cannot all be carried out simultaneously. Even if that is possible, it will take many sorties over several days to achieve success.
There is a way to assault Baghdad directly and quickly, using airborne and airmobile units, but that is a risky maneuver. If resistance in the city is heavy and minimally competent, casualties could be high and the possibilities for failure are there, regardless of how incompetent the Iraqi defenses might be. It is a strategy that is justified only if it is essential that the war be ended very quickly. In our view, there is no rationale for a high-risk operation simply to end the war quickly. We are not sure that CENTCOM has a great appetite for risky operations looking for quick payoffs, when slower, more systematic options are available.
It is not even clear to us that CENTCOM wants to enter Baghdad. If we are to judge by British operations in Basra -- a much smaller city with a relatively small number of defenders -- the strategy of choice is a modified siege. We say modified because it is seemingly designed to simultaneously maintain pressure on defenders while averting a humanitarian disaster. Areas of the city are taken very carefully and systematically while the general siege continues. We expect that to be the strategy for Baghdad as well.
Finally, the fall of Baghdad might not end the war. A substantial number of Iraqi divisions remain north of the city, most positioned near the town of Kirkuk, in the oil fields. As we have argued in the past, the fall of Baghdad does not necessarily end the war, because Iraq might plan to shift the national command authority to the north to carry on the war.
A general collapse of the Iraqi forces is always possible, particularly if the pressure on Baghdad generates a political upheaval. But if that doesn't happen -- while probing operations around the edges of Baghdad will take place, and a careful destruction of exposed Iraqi units around the perimeter of the city will happen -- the actual conquest of Baghdad is not, in our view, imminent. The Iraqi military seems to have lost neither the ability nor the will to resist at some level. That means that the United States still has work to do before it can bring the war to a close.
This is not a question of another Stalingrad. In Stalingrad, the Soviets had forces they could feed into the city faster than the Germans could kill them. The Iraqis are not in this position, and the mathematics of the war are wildly different. Nevertheless, Baghdad is a large and therefore dangerous city. The U.S. command neither wants to take unnecessary casualties nor to inflict civilian casualties. They do not want to turn Baghdad into a wasteland. A risk-averse approach makes a great deal of sense at the moment, unless U.S. intelligence has impeccable information that the units in and around the city are prepared to capitulate if U.S. forces act quickly. Barring such intelligence -- and it had better be incredibly reliable intelligence -- we suspect that the end is not quite at hand and that patience will be required.
To put things in perspective, however, just two weeks after the war began and
one week after the media declared the war a near failure, to be discussing the
time frame on the end of the war indicates how far the coalition has come. However,
this is not a two-week war, and it is probably not even a one-month war. This
will take longer.