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November 16, 2004

Random Thoughts While Holding at the CP...

I love reading CounterColumn (aside from John of Argghhh!, of course). Here's what he wrote:

Another reader emails:

[Casualties in Fallujah have been]Remarkably low for a week of
urban fighting. Any idea what is going on?

Low numbers of enemy?
All the urban combat training paying off?
Massive firepower?
Corpsmen in the right place at the right time?

What do you think?

It's a variety of things, although "low" casualties is always a relative term. Casualties can be above or below your expectations, and above or below what you planned for. But if it's you bleeding out...or worse yet, one of your troops...then casualties will seem unbearably high.

Nevertheless, military doctrine does provide some guidance regarding casualty expectations. As an assistant Brigade 4 (very briefly) and a Bn S-1 (twice), when I was doing planning and manpower projections, I used an operating assumption of 25% casualties in the offense, and 10% in the defense for a given battle, plus an assumption that on any given day, infantry in the field would suffer 2% casualties from illness, sprained ankles, car wrecks, heat exhaustion, etc. You HAVE to do these progressions, because you have to anticipate your casualty figures BEFORE the battle, in order to order your replacement troops (by rank and military occupational specialty.

The 2% a day figure was usually pretty good. Fortunately, the 25% casualty estimate was far too high in Iraq (although far too low at the National Training Center.

Given the amount of time the insurgent had to prepare the Fallujah battlefield, casualties are about what I thought they might be in Fallujah. Perhaps a little's tough for me to get a sense of how big the fight is. I.e., are the battalions in the fight reinforced with additional companies?

But then again, this is no Stalingrad for US forces. Casualties are very low by historical standards. There are several reasons for this.

1.) Most importantly, the Iraqi insurgent is a terrible marksman. The AK 47 is a fine assault rifle, but often the insurgent will use a sawed off stock and engage using the 'spray and pray' method. The Marines, in contrast, are excellent marksmen. And as a result, any given engagement will turn one-sided very quickly.

2.) Air power is being used in lieu of close assault. In WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam, it was almost unheard of to devote a 500 lb. bomb on a building occupied by a measly two squads of irregulars. Now it's a matter of course. As it should be. Bombs are cheaper than Marines and soldiers. I believe in reconnaisance by fire, the forgiveness of sins, and the chemlight everlasting.

3.) Body armor. We have body armor, they don't. Which means that a good number of marines and sailors who would have been wounded or killed in past wars now just have collectors' item ceramic plates. And in an engagement, our guys who might have been wounded in past wars keep putting rounds down range. Which contributes to fire superioriority.

4.) Good troop quality. In Viet Nam, urban warfare was the exception. In Iraq, urban warfare is the norm. The platoons have competent infantry who've been around the block a few times, and TTPs for urban operations have already been well developed.

5.) Overwhelming firepower.

6.) Better communications than we've ever had,coupled with GPS and satellite imagery, and troops down to the squ allowing better articulation of forces, and quicker maneuver to the decisive point. If the insurgents take a stand anywhere, they will quickly find themselves pinned down by Yankee .50 cal fire, and an element from out of nowhere appearing in their flanks and rear. So he must withdraw. But when he withdraws, he exposes himself to be hit again.

That's how things went down in Najaf. That's how things are going down in Fallujah.

Splash, out


Here's what I wrote:

From my position (holding at the Contact Point itching to kick some ass*), I'd add:

-Operational training unparalleled in modern times. The Navy started it with Top Gun, the Air Force followed with Red Flag. In both cases, the Aggressors were peers in smaller, harder-to-see jets that did everything they could to kill you. Yeah, they had red stars on their helmets, but they were Americans with all the aggressiveness, skill and independent decision making that entailed. Shooting one made you feel like King Kong...'cause it was so haaard! But it boosted our kill ratio in Vietnam from 1:1 to 14:1 by the end of the war. The Army followed with NTC with aggressors who knew the Peanut like the back of their hand (the CAS guys know what I'm referring to) and fought Blue as a team for at least three years before PCSing. Think about that...only training better than that is war.

-A learning ethos. Act. Evaluate and analyze. Adjust. Train. Repeat as necessary. It's being done just as aggressively in MOUT as in force-on-force training.

-A free society. See "a learning ethos" above. Add liberal dose of initiative and creativity and a command structure's willingness to entertain suggestions and alternatives.

-A technological demographic. Comfort with Xbox = comfort with laser range finders, targeting and tracking systems and the need for speed. Pacman is responsible for a generation of frighteningly efficient, agile and adaptable killer kids. And, no, don't try to apply that to the Marine who popped the Muj...not the same thing.

-Lots of other cultural-political dynamics in Iraq proper, but that's for another day.

Active, Guard, Reserve..these guys and gals are just tremendous. If they were any less adept at their jobs, Michael Moore would enrage me. But these kids are so good that his ilk just make me laugh. Hard to explain...basically, the ground-truth performance of these troops is the most effective counterpoint imaginable to the Loopy Left.

God Bless them all. God Bless them all.


*retired Hog Driver's fantasy...