Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Iraq War (2003- ) Planning the War

The attacks by the terrorist group Al Qaeda on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, fundamentally changed the calculus for American policy makers. Within a matter of months U.S. forces attacked and overthrown the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which was actively and enthusiastically supporting Al Qaeda. Early in 2002 President Bush and his advisors turned to Iraq. Saddam’s regime represented a seemingly perfect target for a forward leaning policy of preventive action against terrorism: Iraq had supported terrorist groups throughout the Middle East over the past several decades – though probably not Al Qaeda. Moreover, Saddam had launched two terrible wars against its neighbors, while using gas warfare against its own population. [Should WMD argument be mentioned here? [I don’t agree; up to you. PK]] To many in the administration, it appeared Iraqis would welcome a military effort to overthrow Saddam.

Major planning for an invasion of Iraq began in spring 2002. At the same time the Bush administration initiated efforts to enlist foreign support. The latter task proved difficult. Few Arab states lined up in support. Only Kuwait, Qatar, and some of the other Gulf States proved willing to support such an effort. Even America’s European allies, who had enthusiastically supported the intervention in Afghanistan, resisted the idea of a military invasion of Iraq. France, Germany, and Russia—l—refused to support the coming war. [OK? Seems relevant here. [I don’t see the relevance; they weren’t acting as Sec. Council members but as individual nations with self-interests. PK]] Only the British, led by Prime Minister Tony Blair, supported the war with major military forces. Great Britain supplied one third of the ground forces that launched the initial attack, while its air force provided substantial numbers of fighter-bombers and tanker support.

Military planning for the war proved easier than diplomatic efforts. Planners had the advantage of having watched the Iraqi military over the previous decade. The fact that American and allied aircraft had flown tens of thousands of sorties over the no-fly zones without losing a single aircraft indicated that Iraq no longer possessed a viable air defense. Close observation of Iraq’s ground forces indicated that they rarely, if ever, engaged in serious training. Moreover, because of his paranoia, Saddam had divided Iraq’s ground forces into a number of separate organizations—the regular army, the Republican Guards, the Special Republican Guards, the Ba’ath Party militias, and a number of fedayeen and martyrs brigades—none of which cooperated at any level. Indeed, unbeknownst to coalition planners at the time, Saddam prevented his military from entering the environs of Baghdad or even participating in planning for the capital’s defense.

By the autumn of 2002 planning had advanced to the point where the flow of military forces into the region could begin. The main blow for the ground offense would come from Kuwait. In addition planners hoped to launch a major offensive from Turkey against Iraq’s northern provinces. From Kuwait two American divisions, the army’s 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Division, and one British division, the 1st UK Armoured Division, would cross into Iraq. The initial objectives would be as follows: for the British, the Ramalah oil fields and Basra, Iraq’s second largest city; the U.S. Marines would support the British and swing west to cross the Euphrates. {I’m cutting some extraneous words in this combat section to make room for some attention to the “American society” dimension. PK] They were to advance through the central Mesopotamian Valley towards An Numinayah on the Tigris River. Meanwhile the 3rd Infantry Division (ID) was to drive up desert roads west of the Euphrates to reach the Karbala Gap – one of the main approaches to Baghdad from the west. Along the way it was to seize a number of key bridges over the Euphrates. The bridge north of An Nasiriyah was particularly important, because two Regimental Combat Teams of the 1st Marine Division were to cross at that point.

A drive from the north, with a British division and the 4th ID, was also scheduled to play a role in the defeat of Iraq’s military forces. However, that operation depended on Turkish cooperation, and the Turks proved recalcitrant. Just before Christmas, the British concluded that the Turks would not allow Coalition troops on their territory. Over the next two months the British changed their deployment plans and managed to assemble the 1st UK Armored Division in Kuwait. The switch explains the rather strange composition of the division: one heavy armored unit , and two light brigades So late did the British deployment take place, that armorers finished outfitting the last Challenger II tank with its desert kit just three days before the start of operations.

The planning for the air campaign was substantially different than in 1991. There would be no prolonged air offensive before the ground operations began. Because so many American and British troops had concentrated in Kuwait, planners decided that dispersal was the best means of protection against possible Iraqi use of chemical weapons. Thus, ground forces would disperse forward by launching their ground attack concurrently with the air. Nevertheless, air planners determined to launch a massive, “shock and awe” aerial assault on Saddam’s centers of power in the optimistic assumption the it would precipitate the regime’s collapse.

As allied planning progressed, Saddam Hussein apparently refused to believe the Americans would actually launch a major ground war. On the one hand the dictator underestimated American resolve; on the other, he believed that international opposition, particularly by the Europeans, would prevent an American offensive. Should an attack occur, he was confident that the Iraqi military would be able to inflict sufficient losses on the supposedly casualty-averse Americans to make them quit. Thus, right up to the outbreak of war, Saddam forbade defensive measures such as mining the oil fields or the bridges across the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers for destruction.


MC Master Chef said...

No mention of the Phase IV after-combat operations planning controversies? It seems to me to be a rather crucial part of the picture... Have you read Major Wilson's study of the subject by any chance? Curious to know your thoughts.

Mark G. said...

Will do right away. This is just the kind of feedback I hope for. Many thanks!