Sunday, August 14, 2005

War Story II

I just finished watching Control Room, a documentary about al-Jazeera and the Iraq War. It reminded me of another story worth sharing:

After the invasion of Iraq had begun, the US 5th Corps and 3rd Corps were driving towards Baghdad in armored spearheads, while the British forces were spreading out and resolving "areas of difficulty" in the South. There was concern that resistance would stiffen as our forces neared Baghdad and the more loyal Iraqi forces began to make concerted stands against the US advance. This led to the fear that the US advance would bog down and lead to a more asymetrical war--definitely not what the US wanted. Of course, we now know that Saddam intentionally siphoned off his core forces to take up future 5th column activities--the current insurgency--but at the time there was significant concern that if Saddam's more crack troops could fall back to urban areas they could mount a serious urban resistance. A plan had to be devised that would take Baghdad early--isolating these forces in the more open areas south of Baghdad where they could be destroyed.

Enter Operation SCORPION. I was involved in planning the electronic warfare portion (specifically communication jammin) as I was the Chief of Intelligence for the 41st Electronic Warfare Squadron at the time, based out of "Camp Snoopy" in Doha, Qatar. However, as Camp Snoopy was also the headquarters of an expeditionary wing of C-130 transport aircraft, it was ground zero for planning, as this was going to be one of the largest airborne insertions since Arnhem. More on that last part in a bit...

To sum up Operation SCORPION: Delta Force with their Little Bird helicopters establish a expedient perimeter around Baghdad International Airport, immediately followed by several dozen C-130 and C-17 aircraft flying in a few thousand infantrymen into a field that barely, hopefully, controlled. Use this island to precipitate the early fall of Baghdad, etc.

The problem: well, other than the extreme risks of landing a plane like a C-130 on an essentially hot airfield in a city that has hundreds of people with SA-14s who want to shoot you down, there was a serious logistical issue with tarmac operations. Once the planes landed and proceeded to the unloading zone on the parking apron, they would create a long single-file line of aircraft. If one broke down, or was damaged by enemy fire, there would be no way for the planes behind it to get around it or turn around. And the whole operation was dependent on throughput--get the planes in and out fast enough to get enough forces into the airfield to be viable in the face of a counterattack. The whole thing was beginning to remind me of the problems that 30 Corps faced in the drive to Arnhem--literally the "Bridge Too Far".

For those of you not familiar with the movie "A Bridge Too Far", in an attempt to sieze a critical bridge over the Rhine in World War II, Field Marshal Montgomery directed a daring airborne operation siezing three towns by air--the last being Arnhem with the actual bridge over the Rhine--and then connecting the dots and providing necessary holding strength by driving 30 Corps (Armored Corps) down narrow one-lane roads all the way there. Germans shot the tank in front, the whole armored column had to stop, ended in disaster and retreat, etc.

We didn't know if Operation SCORPION would actuall go ahead, as it depended on the bogging down of V Corps and III Corps south of Baghdad. But, in the interim, I decided it was time for a little guerrilla warfare of my own--after all, this kind of thing was far too important for a lowly Lieutenant with a history degree to have anything meaningful to add. So... I borrowed a friend's copy of "A Bridge Too Far", marched down to the mission planing tent, and put it up on the big-screen. Lay people may think that when planning a mission of such importance there was no time for watching a movie. On the contrary--in this case a movie was welcome relief from the nearly endless hours of "Medal of Honor", a first-person-shooter game that worked remarkably well on our mission planning LAN. So, we watched a movie, conversations spontaneously sprung up about the similarities between Arnhem and SCORPION, and my work was done.

I'd love to say that this led to the cancellation of the operation, or at least some re-thinking. In reality, our ground advance never bogged down and the operation was never needed.

So it goes...

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