February 8, 2003
How to Invade Iraq Like a Mongol- The tactics to be used in Iraq will be somewhat different than what was seen in 1991. This time around the battle will be faster, with a shorter air campaign. Actually, given the JDAM smart bombs ability to hit targets without any help from a ground observer (with a laser designator) or pilot (except to drop the bomb close enough to the target so the GPS guidance can guide the bomb directly to the target), an initial bombing campaign of only a few hours might be sufficient to paralyze the Iraqis. Right after that, the ground attack could start. This would involve armored columns advancing out of Kuwait, Marines landing from carrier based helicopters or from the sea via landing craft, Army air mobile troops would fly down from Turkey in helicopters to seize bases and airfields in northern Iraq, and aircraft would drop Rangers and commandos via parachute on key targets. All of this activity is a tricky business, but it's the sort of thing that the American armed forces have been working up to over the last three decades.
Over the last year, much information has been collected on the state of the Iraqi armed forces, and who might fight, and who might not. Apparently, the less warlike Iraqi officers have already been contacted with offers to surrender promptly once the war begins. Even some of the hard core Republican Guard are known to be uneasy about dying for Saddam. The initial ground attack would seek to have American troops seize as many military targets as possible, as quickly as possible. These would include air bases and wherever Iraqi ground units are stationed. Since the attack would take place at night, many of the vehicle parks, where Iraqi trucks and armored vehicles are kept, would be bombed. In such an attack, a second wave of bombers might drop cluster bombs, equipped with small anti-personnel mines, to discourage Iraqi soldiers from rushing to save vehicles undamaged in the initial bombing.
Unless the "no fly zone" warplanes crank up their bombing of the Iraqi air defenses, before the big attack, the initial bombing would have to hit every anti-aircraft site. But because surprise is so important, hitting military targets (airfields, military vehicle parking lots) would have to be done at the same time before the Iraqis could disperse the vehicles to residential areas.
Depending on how many Iraqi units could be convinced to surrender ahead of time, the first phase of the ground war would end in a few days, with most of the Iraqi armed forces either bombed or prisoners. The second phase would concentrate on the Republican Guard, and any other units still loyal to Saddam, and Baghdad. The bombing would be going on around the clock, and Special Forces, commandos and CIA teams on the ground would be searching out new targets (like SCUD launchers and chemical weapons units) for the bombers overhead to hit. This part would be like Afghanistan. But there would also be thousands of American armored vehicles and hundreds of helicopters prowling around, looking for resistance to crush. At the same time, Iraqi resistance organizations (including a large Shiite one based in Iran) would be brought into play, if only to maintain order in conquered areas.
The whole idea of the attack is to paralyze the Iraqi ability to resist by destroying key units (the ones most likely to fight) and scaring the hell out of the rest. This is nothing new. These were the tactics the Mongols used in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Mongols were actually ahead of most of their opponents in terms of technology, training and leadership. But, most importantly, the Mongols seemed to come out of everywhere, all of a sudden. In this way, the Mongols often fought outnumbered and won. It worked then. It worked numerous times during World War II (both for and against the Germans) and it can work again. But the 21st century techno-horde expects to use a lot of gadgetry (smart bombs, electronic warfare, night vision equipment) to go after the enemy night and day for a week or more. Against that sort of attack, it would take a remarkably robust and determined defender to survive shock. And the Iraqi armed forces have never been known for being robust or determined, even in the best of times.
More realistically, in order to minimize American casualties, the campaign would more likely be fought over a longer period of time. While this would give the Iraqis more time to react, it would enable American ground commanders to advance more methodically. But many U.S. Army commanders remember that during the 1991 "Hundred Hour War," they could have marched on Baghdad, and taken it, in a few days. It's since been pointed out that outnumbered British troops did just that in 1941. It could go either way.