Iraq: March 10, 2003

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It may be just another deception, but paratroopers in the Persian Gulf are making preparations to jump. There were no jumps in the 1991 war, because the generals wanted to keep the casualties down. A combat jump can generate injuries among about two percent of the troops even if there is no one on the ground shooting at you. But this time, the injuries (mostly minor, sprains and broken bones) may be worth it. Iraq has about a hundred airfields scattered across the country, and many of them are abandoned or lightly guarded. Paratroopers dropping at night could easily take many of their airfields, and then fly in heavier weapons, equipment, and more troops. This would enable the air-mobile troops (the US 101st Airborne Division and units of the British 16th Air Assault Brigade) to fly in their helicopters and make attacks from the new bases. This would happen fast, within days. 

Success also depends on knowing where the key enemy targets are. This is the shadow war, the constant struggle to find out what they enemy has and where it is at any given time.  Bombs alone don't win a war, even if they are all smart bombs. You need troops to go in and accept the surrenders, or to fight it out with the diehards. And to do that you have to know where the enemy is and which units are likely to resist. Both for the Afghanistan operations, and for Iraq, dozens of intelligence units were sent overseas. Much of the intelligence work involves examining aerial and satellite photos. Although a lot of this analysis is now done by computer, humans still have to double check finds and make the final determination about what's really down there. Intercepting and analyzing voice and email communications is also done using computers, but humans still oversee and double check a lot of the material collected. Language has more nuances than geography and sorting things out is both science (lots of computers and  math) and art (because the enemy is trying to mislead you.)

Large numbers of Iraqi troops are preparing to surrender. Civilians and military deserters coming across the border tell of regular army troops who are completely demoralized. Poorly led, armed and fed, the regular army troops are becoming openly anti-Saddam and their officers are starting to desert. The more loyal Republican Guard are also having morale problems, but not as severe as the regular army. About a third of Iraq's troops are in the Republican Guard. The national and secret police, who comprise several hundred thousand lightly armed men, are beginning to disappear, or look for a deal to spare them after Saddam falls. 

 

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