Friday, April 11, 2003
This past Wednesday Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney had his first out of bunker experience since the Meet the Press appearance, where he did not use the word “cakewalk”, three Sundays before the beginning of the war.
Speaking before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Cheney called the war “one of the most extraordinary military campaigns ever conducted…with every day, with every advance of our coalition forces, the wisdom of that plan becomes more apparent.”
The Vice President, who avoided the military draft during the Vietnam era through student and marriage deferments, attempted to dismiss critics and mislead the media by mocking some television commentators as "retired military officers embedded in TV studios."
Mr. Cheney went on to discuss his plans for Iraq’s oil and nation building.
In many different newspaper stories about this speech, including an article in Editor & Publisher, quotes from the Vice President abound but nowhere did I see Mr. Cheney quoted as having said a public thank you to the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces. Instead he heaps praise on“the wisdom of the plan.”
I partially agree with the Vice President’s characterization of the war (I would say the ground advance) as “one of the most extraordinary military campaigns ever conducted…” We differ with this sentence, “every day…the wisdom of that plan becomes more apparent.”
As I’ve posted here in reports from a variety of sources both military and journalistic, the ground advance to Baghdad was, indeed, extraordinary. Primarily for the speed of an operation conducted under dire circumstances. Air was very helpful but did not achieve its primary objectives to kill Iraqi leadership and prevent a northern flow of the more sophisticated Iraqi fighters and their allies. That Air was not primary contributes, in a modern sense, to the historical aspects of this campaign.
According to what we understand of Mr. Cheney’s initial plan, ground force requirements were lighter than tradition might dictate due to the massive pre ground operation bombardment of enemy positions and political interest in “lighter” force deployment. This plan did not work, in that, Air did not prevent “massive enemy resistance” to the advance of US and Allied forces. This resistance increased the demand for additional ground forces. Troops in the field, for several days, suffered from sporadic supply and limited air support. Commanders had to modify the rulers of engagement to counter what one local Commander called “the mindless Iraqi advance.” That Commanders had to adjust battle strategy and that limited ground forces contributed to tight undefended supply lines are further indications that other aspects of “the plan” referred to by the Vice President did not work as well as intended.
It is here, I imagine, where the Dowdy Incident occurred at the intersection of war and politics. Politics wanted a rapid advance and soldiers wanted a brief regroup. A translation of American field reports from Russian journalists available on Rense.com said, “At the outset of the war on March 20, the three units -- the 1st, 5th and 7th Marines, totaling about 20,000 troops -- drove from Kuwait to seize the Rumaila oil field…Then they pushed 75 miles north to Nasiriyah, where they skirmished with Iraqi irregular fighters and crossed the Euphrates River beginning around March 24. They moved into central Iraq and then paused as they grew low on some supplies and a huge sandstorm howled across the country. Earlier this week (the 2nd week of the war), the Marine units drove on two axes toward Kut, where Dowdy's 1st Marine Regiment was ordered to pin down the Baghdad Division of the Republican Guard.”
An April 5th Washington Post article by Thomas Ricks said that, “At Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, the 1st Marine Regiment's mission included feinting a move toward Iraqi positions in such a way as to draw artillery fire, according to a Marine officer. That maneuver was intended to expose the locations of the Iraqi gun batteries, which could then be hit by air strikes. The Iraqi units didn't take the bait and never opened fire, the officer said. “ A report from the Los Angeles Times reprinted on NewsMax.com said, “The Marines had come under heavy fire at the town of Al Kut, where they had run into stiff resistance from the Republican Guard's Baghdad Division. Previously, fighting at several cities along the way, including Umm al Qasr and Nasiriyah, had slowed the Leathernecks.
After the fight at Al Kut, with Dowdy still in command, the Marines drove all night with their headlights on to make better time. The tactic, usually considered an unsafe move, came on the heels of Mattis’ (Dowdy's immediate superior, Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, the commander of the 1st Marine Division, has the reputation of being an extremely aggressive commander) demand for greater speed at a meeting of officers.
Remarks posted in an online forum called Sgt. Grit’s Marine Forum were very informative in a military scuttlebutt fashion. One post contained a hint by describing the contents of a final letter received by the fiancé of a 1st Marine Regiment soldier, “(the soldier) was squared away, and it would be a damn shame if he died because of somebody's ambition…” The key to rapid advancement for an ambitious military officer (think Alexander Haig) lies with pleasing politicians.
Colonel Dowdy was confronted with “non war gamed situations” and adjusted accordingly to preserve the lives of soldiers under his command. Some one wanted to achieve Baghdad rapidly without concern for excessive expenditure of young Marine lives.
The encirclement of Baghdad came at a very politically opportune moment. The televised statue toppling came as the Vice President claimed that,” With every day, with every advance of our coalition forces, the wisdom of that plan becomes more apparent.”
History was made with the rapid ground advance to Baghdad. History was made with young troops previously untested by battle that executed their orders with a ferocity that more than matched their “mindless” foe. Army and Marine forces outshining the air assault forces made history. History was made by front line Commanders creatively and successfully adjusting to non intel’ed enemy guerilla tactics and the vicissitudes of sandstorm, limited rations and minimal air support. Relieving the Marine 1 Commander on the battlefield made history.
History was not made by the light ground force and heavy air force bombardment campaign of "the plan".
Mr. Cheney should say thank you to his battlefield commanders and their troops and journalists should be exploring what exactly happened in the drive up the road to Baghdad.