Lessons from the war in Iraq

Lessons from the war in Iraq

A.A. Korabelnikov

Plans for the operation provided for the creation of three operational groups of ground forces: in the South, for operations from Kuwait; in the North, for operations from Turkey and the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq; and in the West, for operations from Jordan.

The group in the North was to be comprised of the “Task Force Iron Horse” based on the 4th Infantry Division with attached units of the 5th U.S. Army Corps totaling 30,000 troops. Since the Turkish parliament didn’t allow transit of U.S. forces across its territory to Iraq’s northern areas, the group of forces in the North did not materialize as planned.

By the start of the war the task groups were made up as follows:

The group in the South (Kuwait) of 3 mechanized divisions, the 101st Airborne Division, a brigade of the 82nd Armored Division, up to two special-operations battalions of the U.S. Army; the 7th Brigade of the 1st Armored Division; the 16th Separate Assault Brigade, up to one special-operations company of the British ground forces; up to one special-operations company from Australia, units of the 1st and 2nd Expeditionary U.S. Marine Divisions and the 3rd Marine Brigade from Britain.

The group in the North (the Kurdish autonomous region) was comprised of up to two U.S. Army special-operations battalions and up to one company of the British ground forces.

The group in the West (in Jordan) was comprised of up to one infantry Rangers regiment and up to one special-operations battalions of the U.S. Army.

During the operation of April 27, the group in the North was reinforced with the 173rd Separate Airborne Brigade. The group in the South was reinforced in mid-April with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army. The control over the coalition’s ground forces during the preparations for and during the operation was exercised by the staff of the 3rd Field Army. The group of U.S. ground forces was controlled by the staff of the 5th Army Corps (both staffs were stationed in Camp Doha, Kuwait).

The operation put to the test the new U.S. Army field manual, FM 30, dealing with operations basics.

Tactical force elements capable of independent actions, based on organic brigades, were deployed for the conduct of combat operations. They included field army units and units of combat and logistic support. Mixed force elements consisting of mechanized (armored) and light units were formed at the time of taking built-up areas and destroying fortified areas. Once a built-up areas was taken, some of the combat battalions in combined units were replaced by battalions trained in military policing. Once their policing functions were over, the battalions were sent back (to the 101st Airborne Assault Division).

The main feature of offensive operations of the coalition forces was that they avoided head-on clashes with the defending enemy as the main bodies of troops outflanked the pockets (areas) of resistance. The pockets of resistance were sealed off with all available weapons (combat planes and helicopters, first of all) delivering massive fire on the Iraqi troops. The coalition forces proceeded to mop up and take control of the pockets of resistance only having inflicted guaranteed damage and thus avoiding big casualties among their own personnel.

One should mention here the high effectiveness of the reconnaissance units that provided information to both commanders and weapons in real time. This was possible because they used the entire set of reconnaissance assets of the U.S. armed forces–reconnaissance satellites; E-8 GSTAR and E-3 AWACS, RC-12 aircraft, surveillance helicopters, radars of field artillery non-visual target acquisition, ground forces reconnaissance units (including special-operations detachments), forward artillery observers and forward air controllers.

The U.S. and allied ground forces relied for reconnaissance and surveillance on their organic personnel and assets. Combined-forces commanders of the company-battalion echelon were getting systematized information that enabled them to reliably estimate the situation in the battlefield and make correct decisions.

The absence of appreciable casualties and losses and the fluidity of the active phase of the operation did not practically necessitate restoration of the battleworthiness of combined units of the coalition group of forces by having them withdrawn from action and replaced. The main method of restoring the battleworthiness of combined units during operations was the efficient supplying of the troops on the ground with timely meals, ammunition, fuel and lubricants and maintenance of equipment.

The employment of artillery during the operation was highly intensive. In the initial stage, the troops on the ground too often called upon aviation for hitting targets that could have been hit by artillery fire and army aviation. The U.S. ground forces command managed to end this trend when fighting went into the second or third day. The conventional types of weapons (tanks and artillery) demonstrated their importance–in their absence the ground operation could not have been a success. The war in Iraq showed that man remains to be the main factor of success in any war. There can be no victory without good infantry.

Of equal importance are engineer support and comprehensive concealment of personnel and equipment, which helped the Iraqis to considerably offset the enemy precision-weapons and air superiority. Failing to take large-scale measures to conceal their personnel and equipment, they would have not been able to hold out for so long.

It is impossible to hope for victory in modern warfare without gaining air supremacy. In the final analysis, the fact that Iraqis had no aviation helped the Americans attain their objectives. It is only thanks to aviation that the American forces could repulse the enemy counterattacks on March 21-22 near Nasiriyah (when an Iraqi attack force of up to 80 tanks split their tactical orders of battle) and west of Karbala on March 27.

Identification of potential targets proved to be a serious problem for the coalition aviation. Thus, flying in poor visibility near Najaf on March 27, an A-10A ground-attack aircraft fired, at 0615, on a friendly armored convoy and called for artillery fire on it. The result–an M-1 tank and four APCs were destroyed, 50 men killed and wounded.

The rear services did not always cope with bringing supplies to the troops. The main battle tanks M-1A2 Abrams proved a failure. According to all participants in the fighting, this tank is not up to the combat missions. This first of all concerns the low reliability of its drive system in desert conditions. Its armor also proved unreliable. 90 percent of armor-piercing projectile hits pierced the armor to knock these tanks out of action.

The artillery proved unable to effectively destroy Iraqis’ fortifications in urban areas. Excessive reliance on gun-howitzer pieces of longer range resulted in shorter service life of their barrels and a slower rate of fire during protracted deliveries of fire. Whereas the throw-weight and the offensive potential remain the same, the density of fire reduced by half.

The bet on precision weapons, electronics, electro-optical instruments, laser and infrared-imaging surveillance and sighting instruments and EW assets proved wrong. The electronic equipment proved whimsical, unreliable and constantly breaking down. The excessive reliance on electronics resulted in instruments interfering with each other. The hot weather, scorching sand and the constant hot dust hovering up in the air brought practically to naught the advantages of the imaging infrared sensors installed on tanks. They could see not farther than 300 meters on the move and 700-800 meters while halted. The visibility could be 1,000 to 1,500 meters only on cold nights. The fine crystalline dust put out of operation some instruments.

On the whole, the war on Iraq has proved as unrealistic the doctrine of “push-button warfare,” “high-tech war,” and airland battle. It has debunked a myth about precision weapons as being a decisive factor of modern warfare making possible to achieve strategic superiority with no direct contact with the enemy.

* For the beginning see: Military Thought, No. 3, 2003.


Scientific Secretary of the AMS,

Doctor of Military Sciences

We complete publication * of addresses by participants in the meetings of the Academic Board of the Academy of Military Sciences to analyze operations by the coalition forces in Iraq in March-April 2003 (the texts are unedited and slightly abridged).

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