April 13, 2003


Confused Start, Swift Conclusion: Invasion Shaped by Miscues, Bold Risks and Unexpected Successes (Rick Atkinson, Peter Baker and Thomas E. Ricks, April 13, 2003, The Washington Post )
It was the low point of the war for the two generals.

On March 27, outside the city of Najaf, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, commander of the U.S. Army's V Corps, met with Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division. As they sat on gray folding chairs in the desert wasteland, the war seemed to be in dismal shape.

The critical crossroads city of Nasiriyah had degenerated into a shooting gallery for U.S. convoys. An Army maintenance unit was ambushed on an overextended supply line. In just one day, 36 U.S. soldiers and Marines were killed, taken prisoner, or missing. That night, the first deep strike by AH-64D Apache attack helicopters was beaten back by small-arms fire that downed one chopper and riddled 33 others with bullets. Then a harsh sandstorm swept in, grounding U.S. helicopters, jamming some weapons, bringing most operations to a halt, and demoralizing the troops. And they had not yet engaged the Iraqi Republican Guard, which they expected would greet them with chemical weapons.

Wallace, wearing cotton cavalry gloves and Wiley-X sunglasses, said in an interview after the meeting with Petraeus that, in light of the damage sustained by the Apaches earlier in the week, it was not clear how they could be used in Iraq. He added, "We're dealing with a country in which everybody has a weapon, and when they fire them all into the air at the same time, it's tough."

Just 13 days later, Baghdad fell.

What ended as a military victory that toppled the Iraqi government in 21 days was filled with moments of uncertainty, miscues and unexpected successes for U.S. forces. This article is an anatomy of the war as described by dozens of military officials and commanders, including key participants in the decision making on the battlefield and in Washington. They provided an inside look at a conflict that upended a host of specific assumptions about how the war would unfold even as it delivered the final collapse of Iraqi resistance that commanders had forecast.

Some of these participants said the war got off to an unexpected and confused start. But it reached a swift conclusion in Baghdad in part because of the debilitating impact of air power against Iraq's Republican Guard divisions.

In particular, they said, a Special Operations campaign to guide bombing attacks against Iraqi forces even in the midst of a howling sandstorm appears to have been far more effective than generally realized.
But another Special Operations effort, to persuade Iraqi forces to surrender at the outset of the campaign, was suddenly overtaken by the decision of Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the overall war commander, to start the ground offensive a day earlier than planned. This decision, the commanders and officials said, sparked a roiling argument within the military's elite Special Operations units about whether the start disrupted the surrender plan. Some officers say the course of the war would have been far smoother, with fewer casualties, had they been allowed to bring the surrender appeal to fruition.

Despite the successful drive to Baghdad, some commanders still believe the invasion force was too small, and that their supply lines were so stretched that there was a chance that front-line units would run out of food and water.

Finally, officers and Pentagon officials said that during the critical second week of the war, when the two generals met outside Najaf, a sharply different assessment of the state of the war emerged between the field commanders and officials in Washington.

If, like me, you found the war parts of War and Peace terribly confused the first time you read it and thought maybe Tolstoy just had no hand for describing battle, try reading Isaiah Berlin's great essay, The Hedgehog and the Fox. In fact, it's worth considering, before reading anything that anyone has to say about a war in progress. Posted by Orrin Judd at April 13, 2003 12:57 AM

Overstretched supply lines? And they think

it could have been done with fewer casualties?

Fire the reporter, fire the special ops guys. I've

never had much respect for special ops, anyhow.

In fact, if some of the stories out of Afghanistan

and Iraq are true, that will be the first time

special ops has ever paid its freight.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 14, 2003 1:34 AM


Seen Black Hawk Down?

Posted by: oj at April 14, 2003 8:28 AM