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Home > News > Columnists > Varsha Bhosle

Cherchez les bureaucrats

April 07, 2003

No matter what America's politicians and generals are saying now, it is evident that Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's shock-and-awe theory envisioned one combat division coolly strolling into Baghdad and taking over Iraq after a dramatic and precise aerial bombardment had shattered the enemy's will to resist. Alas, the enemy didn't cooperate: The war-planners had underestimated Iraqi resistance and miscalculated local support, leading to inadequacy of US troops on the battlefield, and necessitating the shipping in of 1.2 lakh more troops to boost their forces.

No matter how fast the US advance to Baghdad ("...the deepest and fastest in military history. Some armoured combat units were... almost 400 km deep inside Iraq within six days," writes retired Maj Gen Ashok Mehta), it was only after the body-bags at Umm Qasr that the Americans began talking about "tough fights" and hard ground battles. The US had finally woken up to the real world -- a world in which material comfort is not all that matters, and, poverty and suffering do not necessarily make for one's facilitating a foreign take-over of one's country. Hence, the stream of Iraqi civilians returning from Jordan and Syria to fight for Iraq. In every country, there is always a section of people who would rather die than submit. And it's this section that generates respect for that country -- in even unlikely quarters: I, for one, totally admire Iraq's nerve.

This is a lesson that the scumbags who declare patriotism to be the "last refuge of the scoundrel" should absorb (and remember when they're reviling the "war-mongers" aligned against Pakistan). After all, it's not like the Iraqis have the heavens to gain by keeping President Saddam Hussein in power; the Iraqi resistance is based on no more than "my country, right or wrong." P-A-T-R-I-O-T-I-S-M -- that's what has kept the pinkos' current "peace project" from succumbing to the "Imperialists." I wonder how the dipweeds square their sorrow for an invaded Iraq with the obvious ideology of the Iraqis, viz, nationalism, that which they so despise!

Uff, I digressed. Then again, can't help it: India's very worst internal blight is the Left, and I can't let you forget that...

To get back. The US forces have been faced with embarrassments galore: Two soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division killed and a dozen others wounded in a grenade launched by their comrade, Sgt Asan Akbar (no friendly fire, this). A British Tornado fighter-bomber shot down by a US Patriot missile. A US Navy F-18 Hornet shot down by a Patriot missile. A Patriot missile battery destroyed by a US F-16 after it locked on to the jet and prepared to fire. A UN-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash near Karbala, killing at least 6 US soldiers. One British soldier killed when a US A-10 'tankbuster' fired a depleted uranium shell. In Afghanistan, a HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crash, killing all 6 aboard. Nine Marines killed near Nasiriya in friendly fire. A British ITV reporter killed, another victim of friendly fire. 30 US marines shot by another group of marines. Five British soldiers killed by US friendly fire, making the Brits call them "trigger-happy cowboys with no regard for human life."

What the hell was going on??? Of course accidents happen.... but so many?! Why couldn't the most technologically sophisticated military in the world prevent one of its units from attacking an allied one?? Of course, there have been some explanations, like, the very precision and lethal nature of the highly advanced weapons is what makes them so dangerous to friendly personnel, because, once programmed, such weapons unfailingly eliminate the target.

Hmm... nope, I don't buy that. For the question still remains: Why can't the most technologically sophisticated military in the world prevent such fatal errors in the aiming of these advanced weapons...? Are American soldiers just bundles of highly taut nerves that break apart at the hint of a shadow?? Nah, I don't think they lack cool, grit and guts. That a person should give up the splendid life-style that America affords and join the military, speaks volumes for his jigar. True, they ain't in the same class as India's Finest, as attested by "Exercise Airborne Africa 2002"...

In June 2002, a team drawn from our Special Forces beat 28 squads from 12 countries, including the US, Britain, South Africa, France, Malaysia and a host of African nations, winning several individual prizes in the process. This was the first time that India participated in the war games, for which our soldiers were given just two months to prepare. The competition comprised of, among other tests, a 35-km 'endurance march' through loose sand with the full kit; a 87-km trek with troops carrying a full combat load of 50 kgs in the scorching Kalahari; a 10-km 'navigation exercise'; a 10-km 'speed march'; casualty evacuation of 10 kms; 'observation and surveillance'; and parachute jumps.

On his return, Maj Animish Ranade said: "It was an eye-opener for us. The Westerners, whom we perceived as real toughies, in spite of being physically and equipment-wise pretty superior, proved lacking when it came to mental challenge in real-life conditions... Our spirit of sacrifice, mental toughness and experience paid off."

Uff, I digressed again. Then again, can't help it: The only good thing about India is the people who join its armed forces, and I can't let you forget that...

So where was I? Oh yeah: Why can't the most technologically sophisticated military in the world prevent fatal errors in the aiming of advanced weapons...? I got one hint from Air Commodore (retd) Jasjit Singh's analysis: "Iraq decided to use force in ways different from what was expected and asymmetric to the capabilities fielded by the US. Doctrinally, Pentagon had adopted asymmetric warfare as a central method of warfare, and trained its forces for it. But somewhere it seems to have assumed that Iraq would not pursue the type of asymmetric strategy that it has done."

That's when the fragments floating in my head coalesced into an answer: Training... strategy... asymmetric... war games! And that's when I remembered a mini-scandal from last year that people seem to have forgotten: In September, Nicholas Kristof wrote in the New York Times, "The American fleet confidently steamed off to war in the Persian Gulf recently -- and promptly got creamed. This was an elaborate war game, not the real thing, but it reminds us that an invasion of Iraq won't necessarily be a cakewalk." He was referring to "Millennium Challenge 2002," the largest war game ever held, involving some 13,500 people and costing $235 million, and scripted as a war in a Gulf country.

What happened was, retired Marine Lt Gen Paul Van Riper, who commanded the opposing force (OPFOR), quit the war game halfway through in disgust. Why...? Well, the answer to that is what gives credence to Seymour Hersh's allegations against Rumsfeld -- that he took over crucial aspects of the day-to-day logistical planning; repeatedly overruled the senior Pentagon war-planners; he and his coterie "were so enamored of 'shock and awe' that victory seemed assured. They believed that the weather would always be clear, that the enemy would expose itself, and precision bombings would always work." (The New Yorker, April 7 issue)

Gen Van Riper had stood the Pentagon's strategies on their heads. For instance, OPFOR used motorcycle couriers instead of radio/electronic messages, and sent orders as code words inserted into the muezzins' prayer-call. Result: Blue Force (the US) had no messages to intercept and thus couldn't predict enemy movements. Or, when the Blue naval fleet entered the Persian Gulf, OPFOR surrounded the ships with small boats circling harmlessly -- till the "embedded" muezzin call. That's when Blue Force realised, too late, that the boats were suicide-bombers. Result: most of the Blue navy ended up at the bottom of the sea. In short, the US got thrashed.

But that's not the scandal at all! The disgrace lies in the way the Pentagon responded to every unconventional method of warfare that Gen Van Riper used or sought to use. For instance, officials running the war games:

  • banned urban combat;
  • denied him the freedom to use his own tactics and ideas against Blue Force;
  • directed OPFOR not to use certain weapons systems, such as chemical or biological weapons;
  • ordered him to reveal the location of OPFOR troops so that Blue Force could find them;
  • ordered OPFOR to move or turn off air defence systems so that Blue Force paratroopers could land safely.
In short, the enemy could not -- and in a real war, would not -- use irregular warfare and conventions against America simply because the US Department of Defence had proscribed them...

This is why Lt Gen William Wallace, commander of the US Army forces in the Gulf, commenting on the Iraqis' guerrilla-style tactics reducing the chances of a swift conquest said, "The enemy we're fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed against."

Such, then, has been American training: the factor that forms the mindset -- and hones the reflexes -- of raw soldiers, and affects their morale during real combat. Why wouldn't our Maj Ranade see that US troops fell short in "mental challenge in real-life conditions"? Why condemn the Marine who said, "I've had enough of being fired at from all directions, I just want to go home" (BBC, March 28)? Or mock those who stated, "We were very surprised. We were told when we were going through Nasiriya that we would see little to no resistance," and, "They weren't rolling over like we thought they would" (Reuters, March 27)? Hey, these boys were misled and deceived! Cherchez les bureaucrats -- beginning with the "master politician-bureaucrat."

The hypocrisy of people who reach the top of the work pyramid never fails to amaze me (maybe it helps them get there). Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen Richard Myers, who, in the months before the war, supported Rumsfeld's plan for reduced troops and material sent to Iraq, and who also toured the naval ships during the war games, said last week: "Warfare is more Art than Science. One must be ready for all unpredictabilities."

"Unpredictabilities"?? As in the games that had a predetermined end, and for which the Joint Forces Command scripted the exercise to that end...? As in not making quickly available additional personnel/hardware in the Gulf to meet said "unpredictabilities"? Uff!

If you're wondering why *I* am so worked up about the Marines, well, I think all soldiers everywhere -- EXCEPT Pakistan's, because they are all jihadis, besides which, they've never EVER won a war, all 4 of which THEY had initiated -- should be honoured by civilians, and given more than a fair chance by bureaucrats and politicians, who control their training, arming, clothing and thus, their life-spans. Whether the DoD or the MoD, every person therein is suspect. There's no space left to go into the crimes the MoD has committed against our soldiers (remember the canvas shoes our jawans were given to battle in the Himalayas?), but the Millennium Challenge 2002 saga should alert us to the despicable attitude of civil servants and politicians -- everywhere.

Napoleon said that the Army marches on its stomach. However, in Iraq, the US supply convoys have been halted by -- heavens! -- Iraqi guerrillas to such an extent that infantrymen are eating just one meal a day when they require a minimum three. In the end, of course, the US forces will win. But, they will do so in spite of -- and not because of -- the political class, which includes the yes-men among top military commanders.

Varsha Bhosle

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