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  Brave American Soldiers - An Analysis  


By: Hari Sud
October 09, 2004

Myth of brave American soldiers was broken recently when the Iraqi insurgents took truck drivers from many third world countries as hostages. After their release, the truck drivers related their harrowing tales in captivity but also related the role played by the brave American soldiers escorting the truck convoys. The US soldiers were in the lead and at the tail end of the convoys in their much-vaulted Humvees. The Iraqi insurgents knew the routes and waited for the convoys on the main roads of Iraq for an ambush. Their weapon of choice: the easily available roadside bombs and small arms fire. 

It is well known that as soon as the convoy ran into the ambush, the American soldiers escorting the convoy ran first. The casualty conscious American generals and their political masters in Pentagon have devised a new strategy for the military escorts i.e. run first, fight later. The truck drivers were left stranded at the mercy of the insurgents. Like this, numerous reports have been published which state that the American soldiers fight only with F-16 in the overhead and protected by the armored personnel carriers. The urban warfare currently in progress in Iraq is not conducive to these tactics.   

For American soldiers who are highly trained, heavily equipped, the above, is a bad record. Gone are the days when brave Americans infantrymen and marines landed on the beeches of Iwo Jima and Normandy and beat back the enemy by shear guts and bravery. 

Where has the American military prowess gone today? 

There are three possible answers to it: 

  1. American public in general and American soldiers in specific, do not consider the President Bush’s war in Iraq as a patriotic war.
  1. The American soldier is well trained and well equipped but mentally he is not equipped to withstand the rigors of war especially if it is not a patriotic war.
  1. Battlefield tactics used by American generals are designed to minimize their own causalities but maximize damage to the enemy; hence they resort to air attacks instead of infantry combat.

Let us examine the above a bit further? 

NO Patriotic Wars have been fought by America in Last 50 years 

Last patriotic war fought by the Americans was beating back of the Japanese during WWII. American Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy wrote the book on bravery and self-sacrifice by defeating an equally resilient enemy. After the WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, were wars of interference. In each case the political and military establishment could not explain to the soldiers at the battlefront, need for self-sacrifice to defeat the enemy. They lost both the wars. America learnt no lessons from both these wars. They concentrated merely on one thing – quality of the military hardware. The latter was designed to scare the Soviets away. The military hardware superiority edge with the Americans has been so great that nobody dared to challenge them in last 50 years.  Then in early nineties a great opportunity emerged in Middle East for US to test its military hardware and their command &control techniques. Hence Gulf War I & II were fought for flimsy reasons. Beating up Iraq by a highly superior army, is comparable to a target practice. Soldiers joined in the fun of shooting easy targets like playing video games. American causalities were very few. Most were battlefield accidents. The real problem arose when the Iraqi army melted away after Gulf War II and regrouped in the urban centers and started to inflict causalities on American with home made bombs and small arms fire. Daily tally of causalities on 6’0clock news made the American public and the politicians nervous. It also did not help the soldiers in Iraq. They began to question whether they are fighting a patriotic war or fighting a deadlocked Vietnam type war. This resulted in low morale and lack of courage during combat.  Mindful of ambush, the soldiers avoided outside contact, without an F-16 escort overhead.  

Military Training stiffens their Muscle but not their Mind 

Huge amount of effort is made in US as well as elsewhere to train raw recruits and build up their physique, their stamina and technical expertise to handle the weapons they are going to use. As they finish their training they are physically fit and well prepared for the job ahead. But there is a missing element. They have not been mentally prepared for the rigors of - to kill or being killed. Freedom and democracy are excellent buzzwords, but they are not enough for the soldiers or airmen to lay down their lives in the battle unless their own self or their homeland is threatened. Hence the soldier’s mindset is weak. He or she wishes to avoid the battle completely by staying in the safety of an air umbrella provided by the F-16s overhead. In recent weeks the American news media has been showing countless battles in Fallujha and elsewhere in Iraq where Marines advance in armored personnel carrier but get bogged down under a light small arms fire. A well-motivated soldier with a strong mindset will find ways to advance until he achieves the objective. In the process of achieving the objective, a few lives are lost. That is what happened at Iwo Jima, Guadacanal, Battle of the Bulge etc. during the WWII. But in Iraq soldiers and commanders prefer an air strike. Victory has been claimed in many small battles like Fallujha but these victories have come at a huge loss of property and civilian lives. Truthfully these are not marines or infantrymen’s victories. These are F-16 victories. The latter paved the way for their advance.   

Armies until very recently were trained to hold their fire until they could see the whites of the enemy’s eyes. Not so in the western countries. The US and the NATO armies are being trained and deployed to occupy ground after the air campaign has cleared the area of the enemy. This tactic is excellent for the casualty conscious western countries. But imagine a scenario in which these forces tangle with a competent army capable of shooting down their F-16s. Then the battles will be lost, as the marines and the infantrymen would not know how to advance without an air cover.   

Now, let us look at the adversary US is facing in the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan. These militiamen fighting the US are poorly educated, poorly trained and meagerly supplied. But they have been motivated to fight a patriotic war for their own country. Some of them may have received religious indoctrination to lay down their lives for a cause. Hence, no matter how poorly they are equipped; they carry the fight to the Americans with crude bombs and small arms. If US media reports are to be believed then they are winning. If they could make the casualty count for US high enough then US will find reasons to leave. Hence well-trained and well-equipped soldiers are no matches to well motivated militiamen.  

Today’s Battlefield Tactics is Breeding Poor quality Soldiers 

Today’s armies are a volunteer force. Draft has not been seen in US and elsewhere for the last 30 years. Hence, people joining the Army, the Air Force and the Navy are attracted by propaganda and chance to learn a trade. Traveling all over the world is an additional attraction the US Armed Forces offer. Training moulds them into warriors. The same is true about the US officer class. The latter are highly educated, very intelligent and well-trained community. Today’s battlefield training for the Officers and the soldiers in the West is close to playing video games. The general’s Staff Headquarters look like a system’s operations room cluttered with computers and monitors.  The battlefield planning is done with e-mail and click of a mouse. The progress of the battle is watched on a monitor. The digital battlefield has given an added advantage that the commander can e-mail instructions and order firing of mortars or artillery with the click of a mouse. It is assumed that the commander has precise information on his monitor. In fact he is far away and has not even heard the battle cry of the soldiers or thud of the incoming mortar. But, he still commands and directs the battle from a digital battlefield.   

Now let us look at the insurgents in Iraq. They are hiding in the civilian complexes, Mosques and waiting on the roadside with home made bombs. That makes all the digital battlefield training and tactics useless. Still the US command structure has become so dependant on instant information on the screen that they insist upon the lieutenants and the captains who are actually in the thick of the battle to use these devices to communicate with the command all the time. Hence the soldier is too busy using his digital devices than confronting the insurgents. 

All the above is good to breed systems analysts but not warriors. 

US Special Forces 

These are the elite of US forces, trained not for combat but to locate and destroy enemy’s military installations in the rear. They operate behind enemy lines, which, requires courage and bravery. They were instrumental in the toppling of  theTaliban in Afghanistan and complete route of Saddam Hussain’s forces in Gulf War I & II. These soldiers are mentally prepared and physically fit for the arduous task ahead. They are especially trained to ignore issues which infantrymen, airmen and sailors may get affected.  They seldom make contact with the enemy for a pitched battle and are out of the battle zone once their task is done. They operate during peacetime, before the start of the war and during the war. They are unsung heroes and come very close to the highly motivated insurgents they confront. They are only the true match to the religiously motivated self-sacrificing insurgents. 

Is Technology Helping or Hurting? 

Throughout the ages armies conquered under a great leader and with weapons & tactics which caught the enemy by a surprise. Hannibal in third century BC caught the Romans in a bag like trap and annihilated them at Canae. Ghangiz Khan conquered the Middle East and Eastern Europe with superior tactics and horsemen who could throw an arrow from a horse at full gallop. Chakka the legendary Zulu warrior of the nineteenth century South Africa devised a tactic to catch the enemy’s supplies with his swift runners and then strike the main force headlong. Technology with each of these warriors played lesser role. They were leaders first and relied upon shear weight of their personality to motivate soldiers.  

Modern armies especially in the West have gone for the best weapons and training but have devised tactics to minimize causalities – their own. Hence the soldier in the field finds himself boxed in, and waits for the air power to do the job. The foregoing is good for a conventional battle where battle lines are clearly defined. Enter the last fifty years of guerilla warfare, where there are no well-defined battle lines. The soldier has to rely upon his guts and motivation together with his weapons to neutralize the opposition. An artillery strike or a pinpoint missile strike or a JDAM bomb will kill a few insurgents, but many more innocent civilians will die. The latter breads more insurgents. 

Hence technology is a slight advantage in insurgency but it is not to be considered a great advantage.  

Collateral Damage 

This is a name given to wide spread destruction by bombs falling from the sky or missiles screeching to their target or artillery shells coming at the unsuspecting citizens. US have very meekly admitted to damage done to lives and property in Afghanistan and now in Iraq. Most damage is done when soldiers in the field are unable to penetrate the insurgent’s defensive line and call in an air strike to make their job easier. Countless lives are lost on faulty intelligence or incorrectly targeting an area. And all this damage helps the insurgents by swelling their ranks and stiffening their resolve to fight on. This collateral damage could be minimized, should the soldiers step out of the safety of the air cover and armored personnel carriers.  

Hence Today’s soldier in the US is …….. 

He is as brave as anybody in the world. He is poorly motivated and can find no reason to lay down his life unless it is a patriotic war for his homeland’s defense. The political and military masters in the Pentagon have devised tactics to minimize battlefield causalities. This has boxed him into a no win situation. It is resulting into Vietnam era bombing which will ultimately turn local people against them. To the American’s surprise, the insurgents are well motivate, although poorly equipped yet are fighting for their homeland’s defense.  Bombs dropped with pinpoint accuracy still cause considerable collateral damage.   

Only two years back the Pentagon sent an Analyst to India to determine the state of India’s military strategic thinking and its military preparedness. The famous Julie MacDonald report was deliberately leaked to embarrass the Indians for not being forward thinking and poorly trained for strategic partnership with the United States. At that time US was not fighting the loosing Iraq war. It also pretended that it has learnt and absorbed the lessons of the US war in Vietnam. As the things stand today, It does not seem that US has learnt anything. On the other hand, Indian Army is giving a better account of itself in Kashmir insurgency where insurgents are confronted face to face and not with high explosives bombs dropped from the air. The Indians also gave a very good account of themselves when they confronted the American F-15s over Gawalior in a mock exercise this year.  I believe Pentagon should rehire Julie MacDonald to analyze, what is wrong with the US army and its tactics and training.

Hari Sud

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