Leadership: June 30, 2003

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Ground combat tactics in Iraq were designed for the special kind of fighting that was expected.. It was mostly meeting engagements (encountering enemy troops while moving in column down a road), and night battles against an enemy who was slow to realize American night fighting capabilities. Troops were organized in columns to keep moving against light opposition. Constant surveillance by aircraft and UAVs ahead of the columns guarded against surprise attacks by enemy tanks, or large units of infantry. But the small groups enemy troops armed with machine-guns and RPGs were to be taken care of by tanks and infantry in armored vehicles (M-2 Bradleys for the Army and AAVs, or armored amphibious vehicles for the Marines.) Mobile artillery was always within range, and fire could be brought down on targets in minutes. Helicopter gunships (Apaches) and A-10 ground attack aircraft were also available from time to time. Most of the time, however, the A-10s operated farther ahead of the columns, as were the Apaches (until the Iraqi irregulars- fighters without uniforms- began to attack supply columns). By the time the American troops approached Baghdad, most Apaches were escorting combat and supply columns, to look out for enemy troops, and add their firepower as needed. 

When columns stopped, often at night (to allow for sleep and because driving at night was slower and more accident prone), they had to watch out for Iraqi troops trying to sneak up and attack with assault rifles and RPGs. The Iraqis never seemed to catch on to the fact that American troops were plentifully supplied with night vision equipment. American troops would let the Iraqis get close enough so that fire from many M-16s and machine-guns would kill all the attackers. But the major American advantage was not weapons, but training. The U.S. soldiers were better disciplined and skilled at using their weapons. When ambushed, American soldiers were quick to return fire and maneuver their vehicles to avoid RPG, mortar or tank fire. Iraqis were much slower and uncertain when responding to American firepower or U.S. infantry and vehicles advancing towards, or around, them. American squad leaders and vehicle commanders were particularly quick in responding to enemy action, and the Iraqis were rarely able to survive this. 

Most American combat troops received a few weeks of urban warfare (street fighting) training while in Kuwait, and this was used successfully. The urban warfare tactics called for speed and careful observation for where the enemy was, or could be. Most of the "urban warfare" was in villages and small towns on the way to Baghdad. By the time the U.S. troops arrived in the big city, Iraqis were much less willing to fight. The "Thunder Runs" (combat patrols using dozens of tanks and infantry vehicles) intimidated those few Iraqis still willing to fight, and killed most of those that did put up a fight. The Thunder Run was a technique first used in Vietnam by American armored cavalry units, although it was usually seen used outside of cities. By using overhead reconnaissance to look for ambushes and enemy armor or anti-tank weapons, the Baghdad Thunder Runs were able to blast their way through anything else  encountered. The Thunder Run was mainly a psychological warfare tactic, though. After American units had done it a few times, very few Iraqis were willing to resist. 

There was nothing special about the tactics used in Iraq. It was mostly well trained and disciplined troops using their heads and lots of speed to overwhelm a less well prepared enemy.

 


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