Infantry: March 14, 2003


One of the "good news, bad news" situations infantry sometimes find themselves in is too many enemy troops surrendering. Often, in hard fought battles, orders are quietly given to "not take too many prisoners." The reason is practical. The front line infantry units have to use some of their troops to guard the prisoners until they can be marched back to where the military police (or support units) can take custody. Too many prisoners, and you find that your infantry units are very understrength and incapable of continuing their advance. Too many troops are taking care of POWs. This problem was vividly seen during the 1991 Gulf War, where some 69,000 Iraqi troops promptly surrendered when American and British troops began advancing against Iraqi positions. This did slow down the advance, and if it had not been for the other coalition force that was speeding through the desert to the west, this delay would have helped the Republican Guard get away. 

A 2003 war with Iraq will probably generate even more prisoners. In fact, the Iraqi troops have already begun to surrender. Last week, a dozen Iraqi soldiers, hearing British marines firing machineguns and mortars just across the border in Kuwait, thought the war had begun. So the Iraqis made their way out of their trenches and towards the noise of the British weapons. They approached the British troops and indicated (with their hands up), that they wanted to surrender. The British told them that they were just practicing and the war had not begun yet and that they would have to go back to Iraq. The Iraqis, disappointed, trudged back to their trenches. Iraqi deserters in the northern Kurdish area report that most Iraqi army troops, and many Republican Guards as well, are keen on surrendering as soon as the shooting starts.

In anticipation of this, the United States is sending more military police units and training the combat troops to rapidly process (search for weapons and move to the rear) surrendering Iraqis. Other arrangements have been made as well, including arranging for units surrendering to stay in their barracks until the fighting is over. How well these new procedures will work are uncertain. This sort of thing does not arise often in military history. 


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