Iraq: April 3, 2003

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Several battalions of the Republican Guard tried to recapture a bridge over the Euphrates river Mussayib. American troops destroyed most of the attackers and no damage was done to the bridge, which is 30 kilometers from Baghdad. While some U.S. scouts have advanced close enough to see the Baghdad skyline, most American troops were seen digging in, which may only be a short delay while bombers and gunships seek out and destroy nearby Iraqi combat units. If the Republican Guard want to hang on to any of their armored vehicles, they have to keep moving them away from advancing American troops. But as the Iraqis do that, American ground or air forces nail them. But with Baghdad so close, the surviving Republican Guard troops will probably get back to the capital as infantry only. There is also the fear that some, or many, of these Republican Guard troops will stay outside Baghdad and snipe at coalition supply and support troops. This would slow down supply operations and divert some combat units to deal with the attacks.

American marines are to the east of the U.S. Army units, and a little farther south of Baghdad. Bombs continue to fall in and around Baghdad. Coalition intelligence appears to be pretty good, with Iraqi attempts to set up new headquarters interrupted by smart bombs attacks shortly after they have started to move in.

Breakpoints and Basic Loads

Coalition forces are out to push Republican Guard units past their breakpoint. Every army has a breakpoint, that level of casualties where most of the troops decide that they have lost and stop fighting. Breakpoints vary from nation to nation. Few military units will fight to the last man, most will get discouraged after taking losses from ten to fifty percent. For the Iraqi regular army, it's closer to ten percent, for the Republican Guard, it's closer to fifty percent. When a battalion or brigade has reached it's breakpoint, the first thing you notice is that you get less fire from them, and see less movement. The enemy troops who have reached their breakpoint are more concerned about surviving and getting the hell out of there than they are with fighting the enemy. Eventually the unit that has reached it's breakpoint just melts away to nothing, or a small core of officers and NCOs. 

The three American divisions leading the drive on Baghdad (3rd Mechanized, 101st Airborne, 1st Marine) all had a few days to replenish their supplies. What they did was stock up so that they had their "basic load" of ammo, food, fuel and so on. This is the total amount of stuff they can fit on their armored vehicles and trucks. The basic load gives you enough supplies to take off and move and fight for 2-4 days (depending on the degree of opposition and how much you have to move.) 

With a full basic load, coalition units can now make a drive on Baghdad. The Iraqis have nothing that can face them in the open. The coalition has nearly 500 M-1 and Challenger 2 tanks, both of which are practically invulnerable, from the front, to any anti-tank weapons Iraq has. With helicopter gunships and bombers overhead, the best the Iraqis can do is hide and hope they won't be spotted before they can get a few shots off. In the last week, most Iraqi troops have discovered, or heard, that the coalition troops are equally lethal in cities. While there may be a Battle of Baghdad, the street fighting won't favor the Iraqis. The only other weapon Iraq has is nerve or mustard gas. But to use either of these so close to downtown Baghdad, would kill and injure far more Iraqis than coalition troops. 

The destruction of two Republican Guard divisions ("Baghdad" and "Medina") should come as no surprise. These units are often inaccurately labeled as "elite." The Republican Guard is elite only in relation to the Iraqi army units. One thing that makes Republican Guard troops "elite" to Saddam is the willingness of the Guard troops to commit atrocities against the Iraqi people. Iraqi army units cannot be trusted to do this sort of thing. Compared to U.S. and British units, the Republican guard is poorly equipped, trained and led. In the 1991 war, the Republican Guard units would fight, and be promptly destroyed, while Iraqi army units were more prone to disintegration or massive surrenders. A month ago, the six Republican Guard divisions had nearly 70,000 troops, 800 tanks, a thousand other armored vehicles and some 500 artillery. Nearly a week of air attacks are thought to have destroyed about fifty percent of those vehicles and maybe a third of the troops. There have been some desertions as well, although most of these men head for home, not coalition forces, when they decide to quit. 

Most of the damage to Republican Guard units has been done from the air, using a new generation of smart bombs ("wind corrected munitions dispensers") that release dozens of smart bomblets that, in turn, use radar and heat sensors to seek out and destroy armored vehicles below. These smart bombs destroy most vehicles within a area 150 by 360 meters. Coalition aircraft track vehicle movements in most of central Iraq around the clock. When what appears to be a military convoy is spotted, several of the smart bombs are dropped along the route. Aerial photos the next day show many burned out armored vehicles along that road. During the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi were able to deceive coalition bombers about the success of their attacks. Not this time, or at least so it seems. The truth will not be known until coalition troops come in and inspect the destroyed Iraqi vehicles. 

For the second night in a row, a convoy of American military vehicles (trucks and hummers) crossed into northern Iraq from Turkey. These vehicles are apparently being used to provide mobility for American paratroopers and Kurdish forces. Explosions are heard along the border with Iraqi controlled territory, as American Special Forces call in bomb attacks in support of Kurdish militia fighting local Iraqi troops. The Iraqi army units facing the Kurds are usually interested in fighting, and after a few of the American bombs, the Iraqis will retreat a few kilometers. As the Iraqis are pushed back closer to the outskirts of Mosul and Kirkuk, the two major cities in northern Iraq, they are putting up a fight. That is what is going on today. But these are Iraqi army troops, who tend to retreat if put under too much pressure.

For the first time since 1991, a coalition warplane has been shot down by a missile. A U.S. Navy F-18 was downed by an unknown type of Iraqi missile. 

 

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