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:
- American public in
general and American soldiers in specific, do not consider the President
Bush’s war in Iraq as a patriotic war.
- 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.
- 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
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
Today’s Battlefield Tactics is Breeding Poor
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
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
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
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
Hence technology is a slight advantage in insurgency
but it is not to be considered a great advantage.
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
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.
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