More On Urban Warfare

The Agonist has a very pointed dissection of both Steven Den Beste and myself on the subject of urban warfare. He starts off with a quotation from Sun Tzu that may be the key to the US strategy within Iraq:

"[One] who excels captures other peoples cities without attacking them."

Sean-Paul also makes the point that the Iraqis have learned from the lessons of 1991 and 1998, and are trying to negate the American ability to use precision airpower. He identifies three strategies that the Iraqis will use: concealment, hardening, and intermingling. The hardening strategy may be much less effective than previous conflicts, especially if we’re willing to use nuclear weapons. (That’s assuming that our other forms of bunker-busting munitions don’t do the job first.)

The other two options are thornier, but I believe there’s evidence that we’re working to negate those strategies. The Washington Post reports that US special operations troops are already in Iraq and may have been there for some time. My theory about this war has always been that the most action will happen in the first 24-48 hours, and will involve a decimation of Iraqis communications, ballistic missile, and leadership capability. Kenneth Pollack estimates that Iraq has around 40-50 Scud missiles left. Chances are those missiles have already been targeted. If we’ve done our groundwork right, we stand a good chance of eliminating much of Saddam’s defensive armament right away.

Intermingling is going to be a major problem, and will probably result in many Iraqi civilian deaths. However, there is also the chance that unconventional methods such as sabotage may be used to destroy Iraqi defenses in civilian areas. (More on this later.)

Sean-Paul then asks me a question based on my previous post:

How do you starve someone out yet provide humanitarian relief at the same time? Please, I am really curious about that. This is a sad contradiction and poor logic from someone I really like. I hope you elaborate?

This is an idea that someone had advised the UN to do in Mogadishu. (Unfortunately I no longer remember where I heard it… I believe it was PBS’s FrontLine, but I can’t be sure of that.) In essence, it involves creating a large humanitarian camp outside a major city. This camp would be designed so humanitarian relief could be given in an area where there would be no active fighting still going on. In essence, you would have a demilitarized zone in which each person could be checked, disarmed, and kept safe while the city itself was kept under siege. That way, defenders inside the city could be forced to remain and starve or leave and be disarmed. (Granted, this is a very difficult thing to do, and would require considerable logistical and other challenges, but it is very possible.

Finally, I don’t think a lot of these considerations will come into play. I don’t see this war as being one in which urban warfare will be nearly as widespread as some have predicted. The reason why boils down to this: the Iraqis, with a few exceptions, don’t really care that much for Saddam. The Iraqi military is a hierarchical military, and cutting off the head means that most of the lower-level units and even many of the Republican Guard won’t be willing or able to hold out for very long. You can’t change decades of military doctrine overnight, and the Iraqis have never really specialized in guerilla warfare. The Afghanis has years of experience in such tactics, and even that couldn’t prevent them from being rolled over by US air superiority and advanced infantry-level tactics.

Granted, this is war, and in war things can and do go wrong. This won’t be a simple sweep through the desert, as Sean-Paul puts it. We will face resistance from Republican Guard units, and we will probably see urban combat. However, we have advantages in air superiority, combat tactics, and logistics that have been created over years of military experience. While this war will not be a cakewalk by any means, it won’t be a Vietnam either. The best weapon the US military has isn’t necessarily precision weapons, night vision, or even armor-piercing rounds. It’s a system that’s adaptable enough to learn from its past mistakes and make sure that they’re not repeated in future conflicts.

4 thoughts on “More On Urban Warfare

  1. Pingback: The Agonist
  2. NLF: Northwest Liberation Front terrorized Portland, Oregon with machineguns and sawed-off shotguns long before ELF: earth Liberation Front made that city it’s aboveground communique headquarters. NLF planted dynamite timebombs while ELF just plays with matches (Everyone Loves Firebugs!)

    Little boys who play with matches will wet the bed.


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