Chem attack drills?
An alert reader has asked in the comments section what I think about reports that Marines around Fallujah are preparing for a chemical attack. First, here are two reports: SignOnSanDiego.com >A story from June's San Diego Tribune stated that "Marines were worried that insurgents might attack with nerve agents delivered in mortar shells. "For days, a rumor has circulated that intelligence officials had reason to believe rebels might have the nerve agents sarin or soman. That rumor gained credence yesterday when Marines at checkpoint just outside Fallujah were cautioned about the possibility of chemical attacks." And this more recent story from the Australian press (Rebels vow to use chemical weapons) is very interesting indeed, stating, "Rebel commanders said chemicals such as cyanide had been added to mortar rounds and missiles that would be deployed against coalition troops reported to be preparing for a major assault on the town west of Baghdad." and, " A military committee made up of former officers in Saddam Hussein's army, including experts on chemicals and guerrilla warfare, is said to have been organising forces in Fallujah and planning tactics. The committee is understood to include members of all the main insurgent groups, including that of Iraq's most wanted man, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist leader behind the beheading of several foreign hostages and a string of car-bomb attacks." Both of these pieces of information are very intriguing indeed. First, the chem threats. I think there are several ways to take them: 1. They are a bluff, meant to delay the assault by causing the US to spend time on chemical drills. 2. The insurgents have actually obtained or stockpiled chemical weapons stocks. If this is the case, I don't think that they have the ability to mass chemical fires against us, which would be a worse case scenario. Instead, we can expect them to use mortar rounds laced with chemical munitions (and my basic explosives and NBC training tells me this is a tricky combination because you must keep the explosives from destroying the chemicals -- you must have an airburst instead), and if that is the case, then our counter-battery fire will wipe from the map any grid that is the source of the mortar shots. Another option is for the insurgents to use chemical munitions, but to rig them as IEDs in a booby-trap method. This would cause a polluted battlefield and make it very difficult to save even the less severely wounded. It won't stop us, but it will slow us down. Chemical weapons could have come from a variety of places. They could have been stockpiled in Fallujah before the invasion, they could have been collected there during the invasion, they could have been sent to Syria, then smuggled back in once the insurgency gained strength. I think it is entirely plausible that one of these events has happened. The only plus sides are completely political. The Bush Administration would be vindicated, and more of the world would be sympathetic to us. These are very small pluses, almost embarrassing to mention. Earlier today I mentioned that all of the MEF's embedded reporter slots have been filled. If there is a serious threat of chemical attack, the troops are probably practicing a good bit. Look for reporters to be practicing too. Second, the brief bit about the "military committee" in the city. I think this proves that my earlier assertions about the concentration of command and control capabilities in Fallujah makes it unlikely that the fighters will melt away. There are several points to take away from this: -I believe the story because the foreign press can often get much closer to the other side than we can (especially the Europeans, who at times are downright sympathetic). If a reporter from Australia can get good reporting on the actions of enemy commanders inside the city (and get away without being beheaded), then friendly Iraqi spies can too. This is good news. -This shows that the enemy in Fallujah, though much smaller than the Republican Guard Divisions that we faced in the invasion, possesses one key thing that many of our previous enemies haven't: the will to fight. Breaking that will is paramount. The existence of chemical munitions and elaborate coordination and mutual support on the enemy side could drastically slow down the battle if they are true. I think it all comes down to one thing: how good is our intelligence on the ground? If chemical attacks are involved, I'm not quite willing just yet to change my estimate of one week, but I will say that casualties will be much higher. I am nearly certain now that I have had a few hours to think it over that we can expect a rolling series of attacks, starting with Fallujah, then moving elsewhere. I'm not going into detail.