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Thursday, December 30, 2004

The tale of the numbers

another day, another blown pipeline

A post from the Kos diaries.

The Dark at the End of the Tunnel: The numbers from Mosul
by Stirling Newberry

Thu Dec 30th, 2004 at 09:06:33 PST

In The Dark at the End of the Tunnel I asserted that the over all casualty rate of the Coalition against insurgents is in the range of 1:4, and that this, combined with the failure in creating an Iraqi security force indicates that the US is now at, or will soon reach, a military crisis point in the occupation.

For those who doubt the validity of running the numbers, the recent attack by rebels on a US firebase in Mosul provides a grim rebuttal.

I. By the numbers

In the attack as many as 50 insurgents attacked the US firebase, and they wounded 15 Americans, one of whom has since died from his wounds.

First let us look at casualty rates. Because the insurgents were attacking a firebase, it is likely that all 25 dead are guerilla fighters, at the low end would be that air support killed a few non-combatants. It is also likely that most of those who escaped are not casualties, in that they will not be lost to combat. The rebels, without medivac infrastructure, face a grim proposition where wounded means dead.

Under usual rates for insurgents, perhaps 12 of those who escaped were wounded and 10 would turn out to be casualties. Or between 20 and 35 casualties inflicted on the rebells.

For the US - given current trends of fatalities being approximately 15% of serious wounds gives an estimate of 6 US casualties as the low end. However, among 14 wounded, the casualty rate, one would expect 8 to be casualties on the ration of serious to non-serious wonds. Or a range of 7 casualties - 6 wounded 1 dead - as the low end expectation and 9 casualties on the high end.

This results in a range from a best case ratio of 35/6 = 5.8 and a worse case scenario of 20/9= 2.2 with a probable expecation of 4.

Now for the bad news, an occupying army losing at 1:4 against insurgents, in general, is treading water. They are not making any progress against the rebellion, and while they will be able to maintain power as long as they can recruit new troops, they are locked in what can be called "quagmire".

Now for the very bad news - most of the insurgent casualties, according to the army personnel statements made - were from the employment of "close air support". This means that ground soldier for ground soldier the rebels are far closer in combat capability to US forces than the numbers indicate.

Now for the extremely bad news - the rebels were engaged in a very dangerous offensive mission against a hard target. This was a high risk opperation, and it means that this casualty rate is what the rebels could execute if they were trying to push the US off the map. With 1:4 rates, that means that the rebels could push 100 US troops out of a city if they could mount between 500 to 750 offensively deployable rebels. These numbers are attainable for the rebellion at their current rates of recruitment.

II. Trap, Strike, Bleed, Shatter

The Mosul attack was a gamble for the insurgency, and its failure shows where they are on the spectrum of progress of guerilla war. The stages of a guerilla army are to trap, strike, bleed and shatter the occupation. The US is trapped in Mosul as a firebase, and the ambushes, such as the one on Wednesday, show that the rebels are able to execute strikes on US forces. The mess hall attack was proof that they could execute ambushes against troops "behind the lines", as they have ambushed Iraqi government security troops.

The over-run attempt was an attempt at a "shatter". It's failure indicates that the rebellion is not, presently, a threat to throw Iraq into turmoil, and "liberate" areas from Coalition control. Note I say coalition control. Because the situation with the Iraqi Government security forces is different. If the Coalition is treading water, the technical term for the Iraqi Security forces is "fresh meat". The very same guerilla attack which failed against the coalition, would have driven out an Iraqi security group.

The guerilla command, and it is clear that there is some nominal form of networked control, must take a great deal of satisfaction that ground for ground they can fight the best defenses in country, and are superior to the Iraqi security forces.

In short, only by US will, and the ability to sustain casualties to our core warrior class, is Iraq being held stable.

III. A Short History of Stupidity

The story of the US attempts to create an Iraqi security force are a festival of folly. From using Chalabi's unreliable "Free Iraqi Forces", to the disbanding of the Iraqi army, through appointing Samir Shakir Mahoud al-Sameadi, a man with no ability or experience organizing security forces - as the architect and then interior minister of the second generation of security forces, through the mismanagement of the pipeline security - which haas failed to prevent more and larger strikes against oil infrastructure - to the ineffective "Iraqi National Guard", slated to be disbanded early in January, months ahead of schedule. The entire story is a parade of bad decisions on top of which have been slapped some name meant to evoke World War II or Americanism - and instead have been motly assortment of mercenaries and raw recruits, lead by individuals who have little to no tactical, strategic, political or military understanding.

That the would be central government does not have an armed force at its disposal, that it cannot protect its own police stations, bases, recruiting and transportation centers, or even its heavily fortified green zone and oil infrastructure - indicates that the trend towards disassociation from it will continue. Indeed, the stage is ripe for an internal coup run by those who can at least recruit and train a force of "storm troopers".

The parallels to other post-colonial failures, particularly the Diem regime in Vietnam, will not escape commentators. The inability of the United States to appoint individuals in our occupation authority, or in our military liason to the Iraqi government, will be noted. The casualty rates of the Iraqi government forces have already been understood by the locals, who realize that the pay simply isn't worth that hazard.

IV. Conclusions

The Mosul attack, while a tactical defeat for the guerillas, points to a troubling underlying truth: it is only with fortifications, superior armor and close air support that the US maintains military superiority on the ground over the insurgency. The insurgency is close to being able to mount successful shatter attack on fortified US positions.

These very factors are creating a vulnerability. Until now, US air support could be well out of reach of insurgent ability to counter attack. In order to execute close air support, greater vulnerability of air forces to ground based SAM and small arms fire will occur, which opens high value, both in equipment and personnel, casualties more likely. Given the past ability of the rebellion to exploit vulnerabilities, it is a question of when, not if, they will learn to execute on aircraft as they have against M-1 tanks.

This implies that the situation with respect to the Iraqi government's own security forces is much more grim, that the guerillas have ground tactical superiority over their government counterparts, and that this a direct result of mismanagement by the political leadership in the US. Without an army to hand power to, there is no exit strategy, other than "declare defeat and go home". Without a civilian lead military structure capable of suppressing the rebellion, the way is cleared for a coup by either nationalist or theocratic elements, or a combination of both, capable of mounting a short sudden strike against the Green Zone and key parts of the oil infrastructure.

The Mosul attack confirms the general trend of casualty numbers asserted in the previous, namely that the US is at virtual break even against the insurgency on the ground, and that this represents an non-sustainable drain on our pool of available force

I would point out that the helicopter support has already been reduced to fast moving Blackhawks hopping from base to base at nap of the earth and armored attack helos. There are no heliborne operations in Iraq. The US is as roadbound in Iraq as the French were in Indochina. Using US doctrine, US units should be able to insert battalion-sized forces into guerrilla areas. The problem is that the large numbers of RPG's make such assaults impossible. And once the US is road bound, all that stolen RDX makes for a great way to deny highways and railways to the US.

And the Iraqi Army and their top company and battalion commanders clearly have gone over to the resistance. There are too many instances of Iraqis acting in ways only trained soldiers can, like launching company sized attacks, which does not come from guerrilla training. The people who can lead, are leading, troops against us. And the longer it goes on, the more the locals will ally with the resistance.

posted by Steve @ 1:54:00 PM

1:54:00 PM

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