Right Into The Danger Zone
Making history.


Modern military campaign plans are exceptionally complex undertakings. They begin with an objective — in this case set the military conditions for changing the regime in Iraq. The objective(s) are guided by the civilian leadership — the president, SecDef, and others, amplified by the chairman of the JCS and his staff. The plans usually include a number of sub-objectives and goals, such things as find the WMD sites; find the terrorists training camps; defeat missile launches against allies and friendly forces; etc. At one level, they include the “big BLUE arrows” of force movements, phases, branches, and sequels, and other contingency elements.

There are tough discussions and analysis of what forces are needed where and when. Because there are only so many combat and support forces, so many lift assets to get them there, and only so many bases and lines of communication (routes) to flow along, many different combinations are proposed, assessed, and rejected/incorporated. This deliberate process can take one or two years, or be compressed into a few months. Every war plan in the U.S. military goes through this process and is formally reviewed by a wide variety of military participants. Eventually, the secretary of defense approves the “put-on-the-shelf” plans, and participates in the process of developing and assessing the most pressing contingencies. The combatant commander focuses on his theater; the secretary does that as well, and adds in considerations for other theaters as well.

The broad outlines of the plan are fairly obvious: Use air power for pounding strategic, operational and tactical targets, paying particular attention to command and control and combat vehicles and artillery. Bring ground forces from the south, west, and north. Use the Marines and British as a screening and urban-warfare forces, then convert them to major elements in the Baghdad portion of the campaign.

The good news about the war against Iraq is cascading, and the volume of the cascade will increase on an hourly basis. On the Iraqi side of the line, this cascade is a confusing jumble of bad news; outdated, incomplete, and wrong information; and sudden death. They can’t communicate with their higher headquarters or their subordinate units in a militarily useful way. They are behind the decision curve, and it’s getting worse.

One wonders if our advancers have been so powerful and so fast that, when combined with a largely non-functioning Iraqi command-and-control system, there has been no decision time to use the chemical weapons we believe they have. Such decisions require getting permission from someone, warning your own troops, moving the munitions, knowing where to shoot, and being able to somehow take some advantage of the effects.

The Iraqis have selected a losing strategy — hunker down, dig in, use civilian human shields, engage in urban warfare, and hope the Coalition gets discouraged and goes away. They are pounded day and night, every day of the week. When they move, they are killed, as well. Talk about a poor campaign plan. As U.S. planners are fond of saying, “Hope is not a course of action.”

The military portion of the regime is falling apart. The Coalition ground forces are within 19 miles of the Baghdad. There have been at least two crossings of the Tigris River — a major advance for the Coalition forces.

In just a few weeks the U.S.-led Coalition military has gained control of: the skies over Iraq, well over half of the land mass of Iraq, the major ports serving Iraq; the majority of the oilfields of Iraq. The success is astonishing. Coalition aircraft fly virtually where and when they wish. Increasingly, ground forces are experiencing the same freedom. Critical, very long, lines of communication are harassed by unconventional forces — ineffectively. Years of Coalition training for urban warfare are paying off as well.

Several of the supposedly best fighting units in the Iraqi Army — the Republican Guard divisions — have had their fighting capabilities reduced by over 50 percent. We have apparently utterly crushed one of those: the Baghdad division, and working on the Medina division. The Coalition has taken thousands of prisoners of war, likely killed or wounded thousands more, and lost about 100 of its own people to POW, MIA, dead and wounded, and accident status.

Because desperate people do desperate things, Coalition forces are entering an exceptionally dangerous period in the campaign. We will likely see continued military success against conventional forces, increasing terrorist and unconventional attacks by Iraqi extremists, and still the possible use of chemical weapons. The chaos that will follow the failure of the regime will be a sight to behold.

Charles E. Miller is a retired Air Force colonel.