Sunday, December 04, 2016

General Mattis - The Iraq War of 2003

Back in the early days of the Iraq invasion in March 2003, I watched with awe as 1 MarDiv shot out in front of the invasion force. I had heard good things about the Divisional Commander, but I didn't know a great deal about the man.

As I watched 1 MarDiv launch across Iraq's borders, I thought of Abhimanyu - the son of Arjuna in the Mahabharat War. As you may recall on the 13th day of the Great War, the Kuru warriors had cast their most formidable defensive formation - the Chakravyuha. Abhimanyu had been tasked with penetrating the arrangement and causing the core reactive elements to mobilize. In doing so his actions would leave the entire defensive perimeter compromised and other Pandava allied units would penetrate the arrangement. Abhimanyu knew that he was to be sacrificed - but from his sacrifice victory could be arranged on the thirteenth day.

For the modern Abhimanyu that was 1 MarDiv - the main target was the Saddam's feared Iraqi Republican Guard armor and mechanized Infantry divisions. As no commander in CENTCOM could be certain that the intelligence reports of Iraqi RG inactivity were correct - the possibility that the entire Iraqi RG had simply gone to ground was always real. Additionally the whole world thought that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and the likelihood of those being used was believed to be quite high.

As with the Abhimanyu of legend - I felt that 1 MarDiv's task was to lure the Iraqi RG into the open. In the process of-course I believed that 1 MarDiv would suffer grievous losses but the exposed Iraqi RG would be killed by Coalition air power in a repeat of Col. Warden's brilliant strategy of years past.

As hour after hour passed, I sat around waiting to hear what I presumed would be dreadful news of a terrible battle.

The news never came. Stories of a few small events appeared and disappeared in a week or so.

In a fashion that astounded me - 1 MarDiv shot clean across Iraq and encountered no enemy concentration of armor or mechanized infantry. I knew something was completely wrong at that point but I didn't know what exactly was off. I was troubled - I wondered what had become of the Iraqi RG's weapons stashes but all that washed away from view as the words "Mission Accomplished" flashed across the TV screen.

It seemed like the Republican Guard had simply vanished into thin air. The Agency took credit for making that happen in the lay press. I remained baffled.

Enlightenment came to me much later in the form of an unflattering book written by Evan Wright. And it was a terrible enlightenment.

1 MarDiv and its recon battalion had raced across Iraq and looked under every grain of sand for the Iraqi RG's vaunted armor and mechanized forces.

In this grand quest - driven to the point of collapse by a hard charging commander - the men had made mistakes. Over reacting to the shaking of the slightest bush in the wind - they had launched air strikes and artillery fire on civilian targets. The frantic lunge had left thousands of Iraqi women and children dead as they were simply not able to get out of the way of the division.

1 MarDiv found itself enforcing a peace - something it was never trained to do and no concept of how to proceed with.

Who is responsible for those deaths? And the suffering?

Is it the intelligence community that could not reassure the military leadership of the validity of their information? or the military commander who chose to act as if all intelligence was essentially incorrect?

Who is to blame for the carnage? the politicians who created a false case for a war against WMD? or the general who failed to apprise his troops of a change in the mission profile?

I don't know the answer to this.

If any of you are more informed - please educate me.


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