Is the Coalition War Strategy Going to Plan?
Is the Coalition War Strategy Going to Plan?
Just over a week into the war in Iraq, the briefings that are being given by the US Central Command and the Pentagon insist that the operation is proceeding according to schedule and both Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair claim to be pleased with the progress of the Coalition assault. Both leaders need this war to be short in duration and decisive in victory if they are to emerge with their political reputations and futures intact. Also, they also need to produce conclusive proof that Saddam Hussein does possess weapons of mass destruction. So far this evidence has not been forthcoming and the Pentagon and CENTCOM are claiming that this war could last longer than predicted. What has gone wrong?
The Coalition plan has been built around speed and the US forces fighting on the western flank have been successful in achieving this. They are currently situated less than a hundred kilometres from Baghdad and are preparing to overpower the Republican Guard units dug in around the capital. The problem with this plan is that re-supply and reinforcement has become a serious problem. I am surprised that the forward elements of the US forces are not being supplied by air. This may be due to the lack of landing facilities close to these positions but it is interesting to note that there have been no reports of the US establishing large-scale supply depots towards the front lines as they did during Operation Desert Storm.
The front line in this war is fluid and moving all the time. The images of large convoys moving slowly across the desert highways suggest that the pace of the Coalition advance has far outstripped the schedule and the logistics capabilities. The other reason may be that the US military planners believed that they would have control of a major Iraqi centre at this stage and planned to use that for their stores. The US forces are deploying significant elements of its main combat forces in protecting these long convoys from Iraqi attack. The main bulk of the armour is committed in the front line and with it the more experienced of the US troops. Hence the vulnerability.
The unforeseen factor in this conflict has been the level of resistance shown by the Iraqi forces, especially as they appear to have adopted an unconventional approach. The killing of four US marines by a suicide bomber is not necessarily the work of an army in crisis but rather an indication that the Iraqis realise that they cannot match the Coalition in open combat. Hence their best weapon is to use hit and run raids and draw the Coalition forces into the urban centres where their firepower is less effective.
The use of these tactics and the manner in which one labels them depends upon a person’s point of view. The phrase that ‘one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter’ rings true in this conflict as in any other and one should hesitate to use a label if they are to maintain a balanced view. It is extremely cowardly of the militia to use civilians as human shields in their attacks however these claims have not been independently verified. When I was discussing the war with a university colleague of mine, we were reminded that the Iraqis are fighting for their country and would view any tactic as legitimate. A very grey area and no matter what labels are applied to these methods it is forcing the Coalition to adopt a new strategy and to revise their plan.
Ultimately the actions of the paramilitaries will have little effect on the outcome of the war. The vast open plains of the Mesopotamian desert are ideal for forces with superior firepower and equipment and unlike the mountain terrain or the jungle there are few places for concealment. The other reason I believe the paramilitaries will fail is that the Coalition forces will encircle the urban areas and starve the militiamen of supplies and ammunition. As is the case with Basra, the British are only entering the city on their terms and striking targets associated with the Saddam regime and then pulling out. In the process the militia are sustaining casualties and gradually they will cede their assets. The final point I wish to make is that they are unlikely the receive shelter from the Shi’ite population who have suffered at the hands of Saddam’s government for many years. Although there has been no popular uprising as yet, once the people in the south realise that the Coalition forces will not be withdrawn immediately they will move closer to the Allied side.
The presence of the paramilitary forces and the hesitation shown by the Coalition in securing the cities can only slow the US and British advance. It will not prevent a Coalition victory. The Allies are now having to adapt their strategy to engage a mobile enemy that blends into the civilian population and is having a moderate degree of success in attacking supply personnel and equipment. These attacks will continue to prove an irritation for the Coalition as the war progresses and perhaps after the fall of Baghdad however it is the lack of evidence supporting claims that Iraq possessed banned weapons that should be causing concern for the US and British political leadership. They fought this war on this premise and have used it to justify their campaign and they need to produce the proof that these weapons exist. While the stubborn Iraqi resistance is proving to be damaging at present, this lack of evidence will be even more so in times ahead. If no weapons of mass destruction are found then that will be the major casualty inflicted in this war.