Murphy's Law: December 29, 2003


The 23 day campaign to defeat Iraq in 2003 is now being examined by all the participants to determine what was most responsible for making such a striking victory possible. Researchers at the Army War College did a study, interviewing 176 participants (including Iraqis) and concluded that the major factors were the new technologies (GPS smart bombs and satellite communications systems like Blue Force tracker) and the much higher skill levels of coalition troops. The Iraqis had expected smart bombs, but they were unable to cope with the sheer speed of the advance and combat tactics of the Americans. And when the Iraqis fought, and they often did, and quite steadfastly, the better trained American troops just blew them away. The Iraqis were in shock from all this, and after about 20 days, resistance collapsed. The word got around that to fight the Americans was to die quickly. Nothing worked against them, and they would keep coming at you and kill you. 

This is nothing new to a military historian. The ancient Assyrians, Alexander the Great's Greeks, the Roman legions, the medieval Mongol army and the German blitzkrieg of 1939-41 were all examples of a "skill imbalance" (as the army researchers put it) that regularly brought the more skillful armies quick victories. The new technologies allowed the better trained coalition troops to move even faster and with more devastating effect. The "battlefield Internet," as best exemplified by the Blue Force Tracker, made it possible for the American commanders to always know where all the friendly troops were. This capability was unique in the history of warfare, and it took well trained officers to quickly adapt to this new tool. Same with the JDAM GPS (satellite guided) bombs, which got their first real front line workout in Afghanistan. The army also used new long range, GPS guided rockets for the first time, but their achievements were overshadowed by the JDAMs. 

It's easy to assume that a bunch of new technologies will just come together fine the first time they are used in combat. Historically, such is not the case. It takes very well trained troops to get it right the first time with this new stuff. We tend to be fascinated with the technology and lose sight of how important the skill of the troops is. A common reaction among the 700 embedded reporters was along the lines of, "these guys are real pros." Yes they were, and that's why Baghdad fell 23 days into the campaign.


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