The sandstorms blowing across Iraq have reduced visibility to 20 or 30 meters in many areas. It’s a “brownout”: you can’t see, but you can still fight and advance, albeit at a fraction of the good weather pace. The First Marines have broken through Iraqi resistance near An Nasiriyah, and are on their way to Baghdad as fast as the weather permits. The main problems go far beyond visibility. Helos can’t operate in many areas, and the blowing sand clogs everything from rifle actions to air intakes on vehicles. You have to stop and clean them again and again, further slowing the progress. But if you can count on anything in the fog of war, it’s that the Marines will keep charging. As of this morning, that’s exactly what they’re doing, having taken two bridges across the Euphrates, and running their tanks and infantry across ‘em.
The British have another big problem. They stopped about 50 Iraqi tanks from breaking out of Basra, and may have gotten them all. But the Brits are now fighting in the streets of Basra, and until the area is secured the desperately needed humanitarian aid–food, water, and electricity–won’t get to the people huddled there. The Iraqi troops who still fight are apparently content to let their countrymen starve or die of dehydration, rather than surrender and let the supplies get through. And they’re still trying to mine the waters off Umm Qasr, the port that the supplies for Basra need to pass through.
Clearing those mines and preventing more from being sown is the task of the Navy, with the SEALs and their three unconventional operating partners interdicting the small boats that are trying to re-mine the channel. Porpoises–along with some sea lions–are operating with the SEALs to spot and remove the isolated mines that may escape the helo-towed mine clearing sleds the Navy has been running up and down the sea lane. These well-trained animals (and no cracks about the SEALs, please) can spot mines and in the case of the sea lions, have been trained to attach cables to underwater objects like mines and divers who aren’t where they are supposed to be.
The SEALs are also operating with their Polish counterparts, boarding and searching suspicious boats. SEALs, Poles, porpoises and sea lions. It’s enough to make your head hurt. But it’s all true, and all to the good. I spoke to one of my former-SEAL pals over the weekend. A scout-sniper who served in Somalia, he’s walking around muttering to himself, wishing he were there. The good news is that Um Qasr was declared open this morning, so supplies can be landed. As soon as Basra is secure, they will be delivered.
A red circle has reportedly been drawn around Baghdad by the Iraqis, marking one of the lines of defense. Iraqi mortar positions have been dug in, and can deliver chemical weapons. The theory is that the red circle marks the point in the coalition advance which will trigger a chemical attack. The Iraqis have 120mm mortars, which have a range of up to five miles. It’s a formidable weapon. Especially against unprotected civilians. The barbarians we’re fighting are as likely to fire into the city as at our troops. Saddam may want to set the stage for an accusation of war crimes against our guys. Our people will fight through any chem attack, but there will be casualties.
What the Republican Guard may not appreciate is that while the weather may slow the ground advance, it will give them no respite from the battering they’re taking from the air. For months (years?) the Air Force and Navy have been creating “mensurated” targeting information for most of Iraq. As I understand it, these data are created by combining digital satellite maps with information on the ground and fixing a spot using global positioning satellites. The data are used by all the fly-guys to hit targets–even small moving targets–in any weather with great precision. This is the stuff that can toss a 2,000-pound bomb to within about three feet of the aim point. Which, with pretty much any size bomb we have, is plenty close enough. Remember the old saw about close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades? Not any more.
We call it many things: depression, nervous breakdown, and many other psychoterms I don’t know. I like what the spec-ops guys call it: “emotional breach.” When you emotionally breach someone, you get past all the mind’s defenses, and screw them up altogether. Which is what Saddam may get to experience any minute. The most recent report–which may be true and may not be–is that we have tapped Saddam’s phone, that he’s in a bunker in Baghdad, and the Delta Force commandos are narrowing the search for him. This report–broadcast on television a few minutes ago–is certain to reach Saddam in minutes. Have a nice day.
The last time Iraqis rebelled against Saddam, it was because we asked them to, and then we stood by while were massacred for their trouble. Today, an unknown number of Iraqis in the city of Basra attacked some of Saddam’s troops as the Marines and Brit forces pulled out to speed north toward Baghdad. The Saddamites turned mortars and leveled artillery on the rebels. Coalition troops are rushing back to Basra to try to save the rebels, and it’s only even money that they will get there in time.
If Basra’s rebellion succeeds, it will spread. Even more importantly, the word will spread–through Iraq and beyond–that America and its allies bring freedom. The end result will be the cornerstone of the foundation of real freedom and democracy in Iraq. If we fail, Iraq’s future may look more like Yugoslavia’s than America’s. We are making a huge investment of blood and treasure in Iraq. It may all be lost if we don’t prove we aren’t the same bunch that hung them out to dry last time. Lost also will be any thought of the continuing crimes of Saddam’s regime.
Saddam’s soldiers, probably with the help of Al-Jazeera–all terrorists, all the time television–are now dressing in American uniforms, and racing ahead of our guys to “accept” the surrender of Iraqi soldiers. When some hapless bunch surrenders, they are promptly shot to pieces. My bet is that Al-J is there to film it all for the later war crimes allegations that Saddam –or his estate–will bring against us in the Euros’ International Criminal Court. It is their criminality that should be obvious to anyone who isn’t willfully ignorant of the facts.
We heard today that Iraqis are transporting soldiers in Red Cross-marked ambulances, and mounting military operations from inside hospitals. As Gen. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said today the only substantial losses we have suffered were incurred because the Iraqis are violating every law of war and every part of the Geneva Conventions.
After the abuse of American POW’s got around among the troops, their reaction was one that made me proud. No threats of retaliation. From what I’m hearing, among the fly-guys– Air Force and Navy and Marine–there was a spontaneous reaction, and the taking of a blood oath. No American soldiers will face any more than one or two Iraqis–even ones pretending to surrender–without the fast-movers covering from upstairs regardless of time of night, weather or anything else that might stand in the way. Any “surrendering” Iraqi who opens fire won’t be answered with a 5.56 mm rifle, but with a 20mm automatic cannon, which is enough to ruin your hairdo. Well done, gents.
Big Dog got a little snarly with the press for the first time in today’s Pentagon briefing. Don Rumsfeld has been the darling of the Washington media, and usually plays them like a Stradivarius. But thanks to retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey’s statement that we’d suffer two or three thousand casualties in taking Baghdad, most of the day was spent beating up Mr. Rumsfeld about how he “mismanaged” expectations about the war.
In truth, it has been many television and print pundits–not Rumsfeld or the president–who taught us that this war would be easy, and that all we had to do is show up to win. But now that we have hit a few speed bumps–and that’s all the negative developments of the past day were–people are saying that we’re back to the “q” word: quagmire. Oh, please. We’re six days into this, with less than half the casualties we had in the First Gulf war. Our troops are now engaged in the first big battle with the Republican Guard, and by all reports are kicking tail. CENTCOM refused to get into the “body count” business today, and wisely so. The trail of blood and burnt vehicles will tell the tale too well, once the battlefield is safe for journalists to wander.
You might wonder why Gen. McCaffrey–like Gen. Wesley Clark and several others–seem to be shilling for the Dems who oppose the war. A pal of mine, who was a Navy officer at the time, told me about how the entire staff of the European command he served in was summoned on short notice for an urgent briefing one day in 1996. Seems like some bigshot White House general was coming to get everyone straightened out about life. My pal glanced at his classified files, threw them in the safe, straightened his tie, and went into the briefing room. Forty-five minutes late, Gen. Barry McCaffrey walked in, and not to do business with the staff. McCaffrey took the occasion to lecture them roundly and soundly about how the kiddie corral that made up the Clinton White House were the best and brightest ever, and how the assembled officers should be proud to serve under such a president. McCaffrey–once Clinton’s drug czar–had been seduced, and remains so. His judgment, like Clark’s (who wants to be the Dem candidate for president), is entirely suspect.
What isn’t suspect is the fact that today marked the first use ever of a directed energy weapon. The “HPM” weapon is a high-powered microwave. When it goes off–it’s not a shot as from a gun, more like turning a powerful radar on and off–it produces such an awesome electromagnetic pulse that it literally fries the circuits of every computer, radio and other electronic device within range. An experimental one was used in Baghdad late tonight, and took Iraqi TV off the air just after it had broadcast Saddam’s demand to keep fighting. High doggone time we zapped these guys. With any luck they will be gone permanently. If not, we should drop another one, and another. Any left after the war can always be used on NPR. I love it when a plan comes together.
Tomorrow will be another big day. Iraqi anti-exposure suits, just like the ones our guys use, are being found in many places, and may be evidence of a coming chemical weapon attack. The Iraqis apparently tried to get atropine injectors from Turkey. They contain the stimulant (not an antidote) that theoretically keeps you alive long enough for the dose of the nerve agent (like the VX Iraq has) to wear off. Whether or not Iraq got the atropine, they may use chem weapons when we get closer to Baghdad.
The battle near Najaf may turn into a “meeting engagement”, one that is both large and decisive, if not for a war, to a large chunk of one. We will win it. After that, there will be other Republican Guard divisions to deal with. Give the fly-guys and the ground pounders a day or two off, then go at ‘em again. As Rummy said today, we are closer to the beginning of this war than to the end. But that will change, and soon.