Zarqawi: Be very afraid . . .
All right folks, here's an update on the situation in Fallujah (map here, here, more maps and imagery here): US ORDER OF BATTLE The Black Watch and 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards are moving from their relatively quiet neighborhood in southern Iraq to the outskirts of western Baghdad. This will allow the I Marine Expeditionary Force's 1st Marine Division, which is based in Al-Anbar province to shift an extra battalion to the Fallujah/Ramadi area, probably to use as a tactical reserve. My guess is that the attack will be prosecuted by the 1st Marine Regiment, with appropriate attachments, supported by CSSB-1 and given air support by at least a full Marine Air Group. The forces that go in will be based in the MEK Training Camp, or Al Taqaddum Airbase (note: this is all publicly available information). I think it is safe to guess that it will take the British forces about a week to get settled into their new area of operations. They should take at least a week to get to know the area with the Marines they are relieving. For a permanent relief, two-four weeks would be more accurate, but I think the shift of British troops is a temporary move -- maybe for six weeks tops for the course of the battle and the cleanup. In addition to 1st Marines, the order of battle will include at least a 3:2 ratio of US to Iraqi forces (same as Samarra): I estimate this at around 2000 to 3000 Marines on the ground, with 1300-2000 Iraqi forces attached to the regiment. Globalstrategy.org is also reporting that around 1000 members of the Army's 10th Special Forces Group have recently been deployed from Colorado, with no mention of where they are going. The article states that the only two possible destinations for these Green Berets are: to find Osama bin Laden, or to reinforce Marine units preparing to assault Fallujah. I don't think they are going to the Paki-Afghani border. Not only do I think that Osama is most likely dead (why haven't we heard from him in 2 and 1/2 years?), but I also think that in the estimation of the Pentagon and the Bush administration, events on the ground in Iraq, especially those involving Zarqwai, are a greater threat to US stratgey than is the finding of Osama at this particular moment. Would Green Berets be helpful with Marines? Not so sure about this one. Usually you would want to train for a good bit together before adding them to the mix, so you could be sure that your techniques and theirs are mutually understandable. This would not be the case though, if the ODA teams are going to be given a very specific mission, like manhunts, or lasing targets, or using the their language skills in a civil-affairs role after the fight. Or you could give them a particular part of the battlespace, like a certain neighborhood or area where their skills might work best. Another idea: let's assume that the US has VERY GOOD ground intelligence on the locations and activities of the insurgent forces. This is a safe assumption given the time put in to developing and working with Iraqi National Forces, and because of the number of successful precision airstrikes that we've pulled off lately. The thing that could make those intelligence sources really sing in a productive manner, and decrease our decision cycle greatly, would be to link them up with US forces that speak Arabic and have expertise in targeting and urban pursuit. My overall opinion: if you see 1000 Green Berets show up in Fallujah, the reason they will be there is their Arabic skills, only a few dozen will participate in the fight, and the rest will roll in during the aftermath for intelligence exploitation. One thousand is a TON of Green Berets though. A thousand would normally be employed over a very large area. You just don't mass those troops on the battlefield. But this campaign has seen stranger things . . . another way to employ a large number would be if they were going to integrate with Iraqi National Forces for the battle. But again, you don't do this without some extensive training together. At this point in the game, whoever has been training the Iraqis and working with them is going to continue to do so. They're not going to bring in any pinch-hitters here in the ninth inning. THE BARBARIAN ORDER OF BATTLE What is the troop strength of the insurgents in Fallujah? Estimates range from 1000-8000. Does Zarqawi remain in Fallujah? I bet that he is there. After spending months -- actually a year or more -- building a base of support there, it is unlikely that he could replicate anywhere else the command and control that he has built for himself in Fallujah. Plus, his departure would be very demoralizing to those who remain there (though of course, they may not know his whereabouts themselves). Overall, hard to tell how many bad guys are in Fallujah, but the good news is that the place has been surrounded and cordoned off for a couple of weeks now, and it's a good guess that anyone left inside is only there to fight. A cleaner, less confusing battlefield is good for us and bad for them. Also, if Zarqawi hasn't left yet, he ain't getting out now. THE LENGTH OF THE BATTLE AND CASUALTIES The downside to having cordoned off the city and given the Iraqis an ultimatum is that it gives them plenty of time to prepare for our assault. If they are truly skilled, they can plan an intricate defense-in-depth, fighting to the very last man, booby-trapping the city, clearing fields of fire, setting up minefields etc. This will make things a little more difficult for us, but not much. We know how to deal with such defenses -- just will make things drag a little more. And the aerial intelligence on a detailed level that the US can gather from assets like the Predator UAVs cannot be discounted. More than likely we've also got a team or two of reconnaissance Marines sitting quietly on a rooftop during the day and watching everything like crazy at night. The longer we wait to attack, the better the insurgent defenses get. The flip side is that the better our intelligence gets as well. How long will the battle last? Robert D. Kaplan, the Atlantic Monthly columnist, was embedded with Marines in Fallujah during the April uprising. Only two battalions participated in that assault, and Kaplan estimates that they had taken 20% of the city in five days. How to guess here? Figure larger American force, plus a new Iraqi National Force, larger enemy force, much better intelligence for us. I think we can take the entire city in two weeks, three tops. For more of Kaplan's description of that battle, see the Atlantic's June/July issue (note; I think this is subscriber-only content). NEGOTIATIONS WON'T WORK Don't expect there to be a political settlement if you assume: 1. There are foreign fighters in some number in the city. 2. We cannot tolerate foreign fighters. 3. The Interim gov't must flex its muscles over the entire country, not just the majority of it. 4. The sheiks are not going to turn in the foreign fighters. 5. The foreign fighters aren't just going to pick up and go home. Face it. The bad guys have coalesced in Fallujah and other similar places. Now we have to kick over the ant bed and kill whatever crawls out. THE DECISIVE BATTLE OF THE IRAQ CAMPAIGN Destroying the insurgency in Fallujah will be the second decisive battle of the entire Iraqi campaign. The first was in Baghdad in April of 2003. That signalled the end of Saddam's regime and the beginning of something completely new and different. Fallujah is not only the center of gravity of the entire insurgency, offering a source of refuge, capital, psychological motivation, munitions, and command and control to the anti-Iraqi insurgents, but it is also a psychological strong point in the Arab mind throughout the region. Check out the references to Fallujah in popular music, as mentioned in this Marine Corps Times article. Cleaning the place out will strike a very powerful blow that will reverberate throughout the region. The attack will begin on or about November 3rd. Bush cannot afford a casualty spike before the election. But he also cannot wait any longer, whether he wins or not. There must be enough time before January for the battle to be completed, a new government installed in Fallujah, the psychological victory to be pursued in other cities, and intelligence found there to be acted upon. This battle will have an incredible impact on the legitimacy of the Iraqi government, the participation in elections, and the overall course of the entire Iraqi theater. As soon as the US election is over, look for the battle to begin. UPDATE: Another successful strike. UPDATE 2: WaPois reporting that both sides are digging in and expect to fight. (Side note: the photo in this story shows US trucks carrying supposedly British armor -- interesting -- Brits usually move themselves).