Baghdad: Outside in and
By Marc Erikson
at this writing (12:00 GMT, 16:00 Baghdad time, April
3), elements of the US 3rd Infantry Division are within
reach of Baghdad's Saddam Hussein International Airport
southwest of the city and elements of the US 1st Marine
Expeditionary Force have closed to within 10 miles of
Baghdad from the east. The US Central Command in Doha,
Qatar, reports that US Special Forces (and, one assumes,
Central Intelligence Agency paramilitaries) have seized
critical command and control facilities inside Baghdad.
On that information, US Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld's "guess" at the outset of the war that Baghdad
will fall "from the inside out" no longer looks
far-fetched. Is Saddam still in Baghdad? Is he still in
control? This will become apparent within days if not
hours. He may have retreated to his and his clan's
hometown of Tikrit, defended by two Republican Guard
divisions. If so, might Baghdad fall without the feared
in-city resistance of the vaunted Special Republican
Guard, Saddam martyrs (Fedayeen Saddam), and sundry Arab
suicide commandos? It's too early to tell. Coalition
forces will pick their time for and approach to the
final assault on the Iraqi capital on the basis of all
available intelligence information and - if necessary -
bide their time. "Victory is near," said a taped message
by Saddam aired on Iraqi TV on Wednesday night. He may
be right, but he could have gotten the sides wrong.
How did the coalition forces get so far so fast,
considering that as late as Monday they appeared to be
stalled in their advance north, and questioning of the
war plan ruled the day? A bit of military history will
help to explain it, as will some necessary corrections
to the view of coalition forces leader General Tommy
Franks as an unimaginative general officer.
The battle of France, May 1940
"phoney war", as it was called prior to the German
attack in the west, came to an end on May 10, 1940. The
French had it all figured out. The had built the Maginot
Line after World War I to protect their central front.
Its northern-most point was near the town of Montmedy,
at the edge of the impenetrable Ardennes Forest. Further
north, they had placed their 1st and 9th armies to guard
against a World War I-style German flanking action (the
"Schlieffen Plan") through Belgium. Their tank forces
outnumbered those of the Germans nearly two to one.
Their "methodical battle" plan called for full-scale
readiness within four days of the outset of hostilities.
All that, thought German tank general Heinz Guderian,
presented some interesting opportunities. With 1,800
tanks he advanced on the Ardennes, and within three days
had cut through to cross the Meuse river at Sedan, then
wheeled right and left to trap the French armies in
Belgium and attack the Maginot line from the rear.
Unfortunately, the French Maginot Line guns were
emplaced in such a fashion that they could not fire
south. At the Maginot Line and south of the Ardennes,
Guderian's XIX PZ Corps (19th tank corps) captured
scores of French staff officers who were still in day
three (of four) of their "methodical battle" plan. In
effect, the war in the west was over in three days -
though it took another month and a few handfuls of
German casualties until France surrendered on June 22,
General Franks' "phoney pause"
After advancing some 200 miles out of Kuwait in 36
hours, Central Command slowed the coalition forces'
progress north for a week. The New York Times and other
knowledgeable newspapers and sources credited the
Fedayeen Saddam and other Iraqi irregulars with causing
the slowdown. Franks' (and Rumsfeld's) war plan came
under fierce attack from talking heads on TV - mostly
retired colonels of whom it should have been asked why
they never made general's grade. It was no forced pause.
It was a time to prepare the battlefield around Baghdad
with heavy air power and to await the arrival of the US
4th Infantry - the US Army's finest - at Kuwait for
backup if needed.
The offensive on Baghdad
started on Tuesday. The 3rd ID resumed its push north,
west of the Euphrates, to Karbala. The 1st Marine
Expeditionary Force (MEF) pushed north between the
Euphrates and Tigris. They would meet the Republican
Guard divisions head on, said the talking heads (with
French training?). They did no such thing, of course.
Simultaneously, on Tuesday night, the 3rd ID turned East
and crossed the Euphrates near Karbala, the I MEF turned
east and crossed the Tigris after destroying the Guards'
Baghdad division at al-Kut in less than 24 hours;
meanwhile, Guderian-style, but with Apache helicopters
rather than tanks, the 101st Airborne cut across the
Euphrates at Hindiya and split Republican Guard forces
to the south and north of it.
University of Texas drop-out and "muddy boots" soldier
who never made it to West Point, has carried out a
coordinated wheeling east maneuver about which military
historians will write for years to come. During the Gulf
War in 1991, he was ADC (assistant division commander
-maneuver) of the US 1st Cavalry that confronted
Republican Guards north of the Kuwait desert. He
appreciates their fighting strength; he wasn't impressed
with their tactical maneuvering skills. He and his staff
officers have put such insights to use.
"pause" was a pause. Backup by the US 4th ID was
reasonably regarded as critical by Franks, who is no
cowboy, but a meticulous, careful and patient planner.
It was also a ruse, preparing for the wheel east,
driving through Iraqi positions from the flank. This has
brought US forces to the immediate outskirts of Baghdad
in 48 hours - a move that "informed" French military
observers writing in Le Monde (Monday) estimated might
take another month of fighting. The French, it seems,
are a bit hard at learning.
What next? Inside
out, says Central Command. This could have several
meanings. US Special Forces fighting outwards. US
paratroopers landing inside fighting out. Iraqi elements
changing sides and joining US troops in Baghdad. If it
comes off, this campaign may well be over in days rather
than weeks. Franks will not speak about it. He shuns big
talk. Some time back, he told a press conference about
the first book he ever read: "It was a book about Julius
Caesar. I remember parts of it. The book said Julius
Caesar was a general. He made long speeches. They killed
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