Thursday, August 31, 2006

Elevated from the comments section 
Regarding the news that mortality among young black males in Philadelphia exceeds that of troops in Iraq, A reader comments:

Error on my part: the death rate of military personnel in Iraq is 2.5x the death rate of American males 18-39.

The statistic that really stands out is that the Iraq death rate is 18% of the Vietnam death rate. This makes me wonder whether the U.S. operation in Iraq is actually too cautious. Not that I want more dead, but are commanders being too risk-avoidant?

I have read elsewhere that U.S. troops in Iraq tend to use 100 bullets where one will do, to the point that a bullet shortage appeared and commanders had to tell troops to fire less often.

This is true of infantry combat since time immemorial. In combat, very few bullets actually strike human flesh. S.L.A. Marshall did a lot of writing to the effect that in a real infantry fight, only one or two men in ten are actually aiming their rifles.

This is certainly true of the insurgents, who routinely carry stockless AK-47s useless for anything but spray and pray.

But I don't think the author understands infantry combat. Modern combat, right down to the squad level, consists of fire and maneuver. The support by fire element is relatively stationary. It's goal is not to kill, so much, but to pin the enemy in place. This, theoretically, allows the assault element to maneuver to the enemy's flanks and rear, from a direction from which the enemy is not covered or concealed, and from which he cannot bring effective fires to bear, because his fire is masked by his own troops. Essentially, the infantry leader is trying to pin the opposing fleet on the rocks, and then cross his "T" with the assault element. Then the assault element does the real killing. Actually, the assault element fights a battle of annihilation.

It's a small-scale enactment of Sun Tzu's ordinary and extraordinary forces. The high volume of fire comes from the support by fire element. And this volume of fire is supposed to be overwhelming. If it's not overwhelming -- if the sheer volume of fire isn't disintegrating mason walls from in front of the enemy force, causing them to shrink their heads into their shirts, dig their faces into the ground, and pray for their Islamo-mamas long enough for the assault element to shoot them in their backs as they whimper and cry, then the support element leader isn't doing his job like he should.

The shortage of ammunition is not due to the inefficiency of the soldier, but to severe procurement problems because of an antiquated industrial base.

The US Army logistical system has plenty of spare throughput for ammunition. So does the USMC. They can each support a pitched mechanized battle at the division and corps levels. Military logistics are not being taxed. But the civilian infrastructure is - thanks to decades of short-sightedness and neglect.

Hope you didn't spend the entire peace dividend.

I've also read that U.S. troops in Iraq are more likely than, say, the British troops there to call in an airstrike when under fire from a sniper somewhere.

I would hope so.

Any on the ground commander who is in contact, and has air available, and doesn't use it is guilty of deriliction of duty.

The reason U.S. troops are willing to use more firepower than UK troops is because we have the firepower available. That's a good thing. Not a point of criticism.

There was a Scottish regiment sometime back that got into an old-fashioned bayonet charge against anti-Iraqi forces.

An English regiment engaged in a bayonet charge at Goose Green in the Falkland campaign in 1982. Yes, the leader of the charge won the Victoria Cross. And yes, it was posthumous.

As far as I'm concerned, if any U.S. soldier or Marine is reduced to a bayonet fight anywhere in the world, then someone in the logistical chain has failed him.

As an infantry company XO, it was my job to ensure that no matter how many bad guys we faced, there wasn't going to be any bayonet fighting.

I don't know if any of these criticisms are accurate, and I'm sure that the chest-beaters of the U.S. military will call me a friend of the terrorists for asking the question, because tough questions are the very last thing they want to face.

Don't worry. Your questioning isn't very tough.

But if the military is being too risk-avoidant

When it's you and your friends suiting up...and when you and your commanders have to write the letters home and attend the memorial services, the risk-reward calculation looks and FEELS a lot different than when you're posting on a blog.

That's not to discount the question. A commander must know when to commit, and must understand that violent action from a position of temporary advantage and resulting in a decisive victory NOW is better than delaying and risking an indecisive or bloodier engagement later. Which is true at all levels of command, right up to the commander in chief.

(an outgrowth of Rummy's not sending as many troops as the generals wanted in the first place?)

That sentiment, quite simply, is a lie.

Only General Abizaid and General Franks had the standing to request more troops. And neither of them did. In fact, General Abizaid made a conscious decision to limit the number of troops on the ground early on even though more were available at that point. (Looking for the link. It's buried in the comments section somewhere last spring).

Update: But see here for some useful critiques of my thinking.

the consequences could be expected to be pretty similar to the ones that are now going down in Iraq, such as daily disorder and a wide gap between the local people and the U.S. forces.

Although that sentiment is not a lie. In fact, I expected a protracted guerrilla campaign all along - akin to Israel in the West Bank or the Brits in Ireland. But the commenter refers to 'the local people' as if they were one monolithic group.

They are not.

The comment belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the war.

There are large areas in Iraq where relations between Iraqis and the United States are excellent. There are other areas which are hostile. This is no surprise. And this is key: No realistic amount of US troops in 2003 would have changed that fact.

Yeah, and we're winning the war, too. Maybe if Runmmy had sent enough people in the first place, Baghdad wouldn't have been looted in the first three weeks and the insurgency wouldn't have grown so large as a result.

And if it was so obvious that there was going to be a prolonged guerilla war, then why did Rummy and his idiots say it would be such a cakewalk? Why did the Idiot in the White House stand under a banner that said Mission Accomplished?

Why did he tell them to "Bring It On?" Why did your stupid vice president say the insurgency is in its last throes? You can concoct all the elegant excuses you want to, but failure is failure no matter how you dress up the pig.
As I recall, they captured Baghdad inside three weeks, the capital city of the country with one of the largest armies in the ME. If that's not a cakewalk, what is?

Anyway, about the bayonet charge...I can only imagine being on the receiving end of all that cold hard steel would be a psychological trauma that would demoralise an enemy used to being the ones doing the chopping.
The initial invasion went so quickly that I don't see how anyone could question the troop strength at that point. Afterwards, it became a counterinsurgeny operation, a type of operation where most if not all of the authorities on the subject agree that more troops is not the answer and are usually counterproductive.
Injury-related death rate of 20-35-year-old men in the states in 2002: .086%

Death rate of soldiers in Iraq between 2003 and 2006, including accident : .153%

So a young man is a little less than twice as likely to die if he is serving his nation in Iraq, than is a ciivlian here at home playing video games, and watching MTV between beer runs. Thanks to the heros who choose to make it count for something.

And the stat about the death rate among young blacks in Philly being higher than the Iraq rate was not in error, but that is true in more areas than Philly.
You know, the whole "the Brits are better" meme pops up so frequently - but never among guys who've worked with them. They're unquestionably men of courage and good will, but TRY to get them to plan, prepare or rehearse - and you get a look of astonishment: "Actions on the drop zone? Well, we treat it as one big movement to contact." People who've never done an airborne operation (that was my experience with them) invariably applaud this as an example of British resourcefulness and spontaneity, rather than asking the question: "why not use the time, if you have it?"

And as for the officers, well, again - men of undoubted courage and valor, but not not not technically proficient - an inch or two deep on technical knowledge. The artillery actually gives commissions to senior NCOS as "battery captains" to do the hard, technical work that every officer in the U.S. Army learns to do as a matter of course. In sharp contrast to the French Army, I should add, where the officers are some of the most technically proficient artillerymen I have ever come across. It's no wonder that we copied so much of their method, technique, and doctrine.
Show me where Rumsfeld said it was going to be a cakewalk?
I take objection to the comments about an officer in the US Army being technically proficient. I am sure they learn alot...but it was my experience not too long ago that they do not apply much. Battery commanders do not do much...infact...none of the heavy lifting. NCO's run the battery. The FDC chief decides what to shoot at. The Gunny lays the battery. The 1sgt deploys it.

Not saying that artillery officers are not trained to do things...but they surely don't. I would wager that they couldn't if they had to. The OIC of a battery FDC (back when they had such things) had one job...to convert degress in to mils. A PFC with a conversion chart could have done that...

What Army did you serve in? I was a battery and battalion FDO in the U.S. Army (the latter in both active and reserve units), and I was involved in every aspect of computing firing data - checking the computer inputs, computing GFT settings, checking the charts to verify lay, giving the fire commands, determining the source of the problem when the primary and secondary sources didn't check, catching errors like the chart operator forgetting to announce Angle T, figuring out why a round suddenly drops out of sheaf - and you had to know a hell of a lot more than the degree-mil relation to do that. Why? Because most units don't fill to 100%, and they don't have the depth to allow for 24 hour ops if the chief and the FDO don't both know what they're doing, that's why. I never had more than one experienced (i.e., BNCOC-PLDC trained) 13E in my FDC, and I ran it for a year and a half. And all of the FDCs in that battalion ran on the same basis, for the two years I worked as a battery and then the battalion FDO.

Your comments about BCs are off, too - every battery commander I knew (with one widely-mocked exception) made a point of mastering the aiming circle so he could direct the selection and setup of gun emplacements on the advanced party. And you've completely negelected the XO, who has as much of a place in the laying and safeing of the battery as the Gunnery Sergeant.
If having lots of troops doesn't help in anti-insurgent warfare, then why is the Idiot in Charge raising troop levels? And what about that Pentagon report released, in classic fashion, on a Friday afternoon before a holiday, saying that the insurgency is stronger than at any time since the U.S. blundered into Baghdad?

If this is victory I'd hate to see what a defeat looks like. I take a certain amount of comfort from the growing likelihood that the U.S. will be cuttin' and runnin' out of the Green Zone in those copters while the Idiot in Chief is still in office. Always best to have the guy who did it get his nose rubbed in it.

Of course, we can count on the Knee-Jerk Brigade to blame the American defeat on Cindy Sheehan. Man, what a powerful lady, huh!
So, you take comfort in thoughts of US Military defeat. Speaks volumes.
I don't take comfort in the defeat. I take comfort that it appears likely to happen on Bush's watch. This is appropriate, since he got us into the mess to begin with.
In other words you take comfort in the idea of the US Military being defeated because you can use that as a club against a politician you don't like.

How noble.
Let me try this again, because it would seem Patrick Chester cannot read. I don't take comfort in the defeat. I take comfort that it appears likely to happen on Bush's watch. This is appropriate, since he got us into the mess to begin with.
Bush has a mere 29 months left. Do you honestly expect us to believe, after the stuff you've spouted off in here, that you wouldn't be glee-ridden if it happened on the 30 month?

"I take a certain amount of comfort from the growing likelihood that the U.S. will be cuttin' and runnin' out of the Green Zone in those copters while the Idiot in Chief is still in office."

In other words, 'Please, PLEASE let the US Military be defeated in the next 29 months, the sooner the better. I just want to see the look on Chimpo's face! The likelihood of defeat appears to be growing, and that's a comforting thing.'
This blog seems to be a home for the reading impaired, so I guess I'll have to try it a third time. I don't take comfort in the defeat. I take comfort that it appears likely to happen on Bush's watch. This is appropriate, since he got us into the mess to begin with.
I'm not reading impaired, I just don't believe you. This isn't about Cindy Sheehans and Michael Moores.
It's about people (like you) who prioritize Bush losing over the USA winning. You'd rather be a 'useful idiot' for the Islamofascists because it scores points against W.

Admit it Comfort Girl, you got pwned. You came here and posted to agitate, and got agitated yourself.
For the fourth time: I don't take comfort in the American defeat in Iraq. I take comfort that it appears likely to happen on Bush's watch. This is appropriate, since he got us into the mess to begin with.

What is "pwned?" Is that some sort of wingnut code that you exchange in freeperland?
Not a freeper thing at all, Comfort Girl.
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