Today's Thoughts on Fallujah
Thanks to the Belmont Club for referencing my page. I appreciate the patronage of my new readers! I'll be continuing to offer one to two Fallujah updates a day for as long as the battle lasts. Beyond that, I will begin a series of posts on the possible shape of US military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran, so please continue tuning in. Planning for the battle First off, after doing some thinking on the nature of the upcoming battle, I've decided to reduce my estimate of its length from up to two weeks to around one week. I think there are several factors to believe this to be the case. The US military excels at detailed operational planning. The planning for the invasion of Iraq and the movement up to Baghdad was extremely detailed, used conservative estimates, examined worst-case, and most-likely case enemy scenarios, and practiced for all of these relentlessly. Before we invaded, I could personally have told you the planned actions of all three infantry regiments out to the D+7 mark, and I was a mere lieutenant in a supporting unit. The dead horse had been beaten from every different direction. Moreover, the senior commanders on the ground were extremely motivated to best the estimates of planners in how long it would take to get to Baghdad and finish the removal of the regime. The combination of very detailed planning and aggressive commanders creates a dynamic wherein the commanders want to best the planner's estimates. The planners also get very aggressive in attempting to foresee possible follow-on scenarios and have contingency plans for them. Here's a perfect example of this dynamic: When MajGen Mattis, then the Commanding General of the First Marine Division, addressed my unit in May of 2003 in central Iraq, he told us that while in Baghdad, he and his principal logistics advisor did a back-of-the-envelope calculation that they could get the Division to Damascus in 9 days with two aircraft refueling points (FARPs) along the way. Great example of both an aggressive commander and a well-trained aggressive planning staff (I guess the powers-that-be told him to hold off on Damascus. Oh well.). In April, when two Marine battalions began an assault into Fallujah, they did so on a very short time-frame, with little time for extended and detailed planning. Now don't get me wrong; we were still winning that fight before it was called off, and would have rolled up the bad guys if given the time. But that battle was undertaken on short notice. It has now been 7 months since that assault. Our planners have had 7 months to focus all of their energies on how best to crack the Sunni triangle nut. This means both the Division planners and the higher headquarters MEF planners. Somewhere between 500-1000 field grade officers doing nothing but thinkng about this. Most of the rest of the operations have probably been on relative auto-pilot, as it is really a logistics function to track and plan for reconstruction and the sustenance of the units involved in it. When you couple this fact of detailed operational planning with what we can certainly estimate is far better intelligence, and a larger number of both US and Iraqi troops, I think it makes a compelling case for a shorter battle. So I change my estimate to one week, with two being a maximum. Here are some other reasons to think this may be the case. First, the troops in the Black Watch have been told that their deployment to the Sunni Triangle will be for a maximum of 30 days. This says a great deal about both when the battle will happen, and expectations for its length. Second, Lieutenant General Conway, who was until recently the Commanding General of I MEF, has told reporters that the Bush administration ordered the April attack, then ordered its cancellation three days in. What to make of this? The politicians have probably learned the lesson not to vacillate, when ordering such things, no matter how bloody they get. There must be some agreement with General Conway in the administration, because rather than being rebuked for making such critical public statements, he has gone on to a very good job: he is now the J3 for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in charge of operational planning for the entire US military. This is not a demotion, but a very good place to be. Third, the 7 months of detailed planning allows special measures to be taken to mitigate against specific enemy strong suits. If there are, say, certain goals that the Marine forces must reach, and certain enemy actions or strengths that prevent this, 7 months of planning allows all kinds of "special teams" (a football analogy), precise actions, or new technology to be put together to respond. Fourth, "Up to 80% of Fallouja's population of more than 250,000 has fled the city, said Maj. James West, an intelligence officer with the Marines outside the city. Recent visitors have described Fallouja as a ghost town, with little traffic and few shops open, and masked insurgents, who call themselves mujahedin, guarding principal entrances and exits. "According to U.S. estimates, 3,000 to 4,000 armed insurgents are present in and around Fallouja. Despite the U.S. focus on foreign militants loyal to Zarqawi, officials say it is likely that most fighters in Fallouja are Iraqis. Militants have been digging in for months in anticipation of a U.S. strike, commanders say." This is very good news. As I've said before, a battlefield empty of civilians is better for us, and better for us means faster. If there aren't as many civilians around, you can be much more violent. During the invation last year, an Iraqi artillery battery fired some pot shots at the 5th Marine Regiment as it was assaulting into the oil fields. We responded with a "regimental 2." This means every tube in the entire 11th Marine Regiment, an artillery regiment, each fired two rounds at the offenders. My quick math tells me this is, about, 192 rounds of 155mm high explosive landing on the enemy battery. Yikes. We could do this because we were in relatively open desert. The fewer civilians are present, the faster it will go. Even if the insurgents have been digging in, our 7 months has given us the time to watch them do so. If they have weaknesses, we know what they are, and we can hit them there. I have some ideas on what these might be, but I'll keep them to myself in this forum for now. The fifth and final reason why I am expecting a quick fight: it will add to the psychological toll of cleaning the place out. If Fallujah goes down in lightning speed, it only serves to more greatly demoralize those who would continue to oppose the interim government elsewhere in the country. Defeat IS psychological. It works like this: when you start fighting someone, he probably wants to fight back, and thinks he can win, but as he sees himself starting to lose, he thinks it might be a good idea to just throw in the towel. This can also happen if he sees his compatriots dying off in droves. He may never agree with your side of the argument, but he knows it's better to just get over it. Defeat says, oh well, the time for fighting is past. We gave it a good shot, but it's over now. This can be achieved psychologically. Speed will be a goal of this battle. And a final rumination: Could be that some decisions for beginning the fight have been released to commanders on the ground. Rather than the beginning of the battle being time-driven (like after polls close in the US), it could be event-driven, like when certain units are in certain places. And there has been mention in the press that the overall order will be given by Allawi. Of course, if the US is asking him, he will wait until after our election. But his ultimate goal will be to put as Iraqi a face as possible on the battle. Events related to committing Iraqi troops could be those that drive his execute order.