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POST-STRIKE ANALYSIS

The Battle of Fallujah: Another Air Power victory

In a recent article in "The New Yorker" magazine on my newest novel "Plan of Attack," "The Talk Of The Town" columnist Ben McGrath quipped that I was rather critical of U.S. Central Command commander General Tommy Franks' performance in Operation Iraqi Freedom because he didn't use an QAL-52 Dragon airborne laser aircraft in his stunning defeat of the Iraqi military.

I concede the point and accept the jibe: I am an unabashed advocate of air power, the more advanced the better. However, when I was asked about the war, I said that Gen. Franks had a different mission than General Norman Schwarzkopf did in Operation Desert Storm. Schwarzkopf's mission was to remove the Iraqi military from Kuwait and eliminate the Iraqi military's threat to its neighbors; Franks' mission was to defeat the Iraqi military, take down the Saddam regime, and secure the country to eventually allow an elective government to be established, all with a minimum of civilian casualties and destruction of Iraq's infrastructure. Given the constraints of Franks' substantially more complicated mission, I thought he and his forces did and are doing a superb job.

That said, let's examine the timeline of the recent insurgency in Al-Fallujah and analyze some changes that took place:

On 8 and 12 February, insurgents attacks U.S. convoys in Al-Fallujah; the attack on February 12 strikes the convoy which protects U.S. Army Gen. John Abizaid, new commander of U.S. Central Command. On 14 February, insurgents attack a police station, freeing prisoners and killing a score of Iraqi police and civilians. On 18 March, insurgents fire rocket-propelled grenades at municipal buildings and shoot down a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter. On 24 March, the 82nd Airborne Division leaves Fallujah, replaced by the 1st Marine Division.

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Then, on 31 March, a convoy of U.S. contractors was attacked, and the bodies of four dead Americans were dragged through the streets, mutilated, and hung from a bridge, reminiscent of the infamous "Black Hawk Down" incident in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993.

By 15 April, seventy U.S. Marines had been killed in and around Fallujah in attempts to suppress the uprising, including one flying an unarmed rescue mission. Despite ongoing talks and a cease-fire announced on 19 April, attacks on U.S. Marines continue. The Marines report that many of the attacks are originating from mosques, and they suspect large numbers of weapons and explosives are being stored there because the insurgents know mosques are off-limits in the current rules of engagement.

On 26 April, during another firefight with insurgents, the Marines finally call in air support. An F-16 drops bombs on a mosque in Fallujah, hitting a minaret that snipers were reportedly using as a firing platform, and damaging part of a wall surrounding the mosque.

On 27 April, the fighting subsides and cease-fire talks resume.

On 28 April, U.S. Marines take fire from insurgents while searching buildings on the outskirts of Fallujah and immediately call in air support. An AC-130 Specter and AH-1W Cobra gunships respond and blast insurgent positions, destroying several buildings. The 1st Marines also announce that they are bringing 40 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks back into the theater, with eighteen scheduled to deploy to Fallujah.

The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan--who has been very quiet during the past month--warns the United States against escalating the conflict and urges that the "voices of restraint and peace must now be heard from."

On 29 April, F/A-18 Hornets from the aircraft carrier USS George Washington dropped laser-guided bombs against targets in Fallujah. Hours later, another cease-fire agreement is reached, where Marines will withdraw from the city and be replaced by the so-called Fallujah Protective Army, a 1,100-man force supervised by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force but commanded and manned by Iraqis, most of whom were members of the Iraqi Army.

There is no question that America commands the heaviest firepower and most advanced weaponry in the world. The question is: why weren't we using it? Of course I realize that there was much more to the cease-fire than a couple bombs and a couple AC-130 sorties, but the fact remains that the application of intense, sustained precision firepower seems to have turned the tide in Fallujah.

It can be done throughout Iraq. Right now. Today.

It sometimes seems as if we are embarrassed or apologetic for having such an overwhelmingly effective military force. For some reason, we chose to march into Iraq with a powerful but probably inadequate ground force, like the British marching in a neat and orderly column into Concord and Lexington--powerful, yes; victorious, ultimately no.

The focus of our current strategy in Iraq now is to build up Iraqi police and military units from previous Iraqi Army commands. We apparently have decided that because Saddam no longer is in charge that it is OK to leave the security of the country in the hands of those who were responsible for it before the war started.

The decision is a sound one. At the risk of sounding like yet another Monday-morning quarterback, sitting in the comfort of a field headquarters in Lake Tahoe instead of Qatar or Bahrain, the question is: why didn't we think of this before?

In my gilded little world of high-tech airpower, my siege of Baghdad would have been similar to what the Marines have orchestrated over the past couple days in Fallujah: use unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and covert reconnaissance forces to spot targets, then nail them with precision-guided weapons from high above. Every government or military building in the country would have been destroyed by cruise missiles and GPS- and laser-guided bombs, forcing the leadership to flee underground or to less well protected positions. The "spiral" tactic of using several different types of aircraft and weapons on patrol all around the country was highly effective in suppressing all kinds of hostile action, from snipers to all-out assaults--this can be duplicated throughout Iraq to deal with any kind of threat.

My siege would have been the "Shock And Awe" that everyone was expecting, except not against infrastructure targets such as power plants--since I knew that I might have to rebuild those things in the future I wouldn't want to destroy them unless I knew that enemy forces would be using them against me. I would have knocked all Iraqi broadcasting facilities off the air by bombing or jamming. I would not have used U.S. Army tanks to pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein--I would've used a 2,000-pound laser-guided bomb to do it.

The siege of Baghdad would have been just that: a siege, not an occupation. We would have stayed on the outside. No need for a Coalition Provisional Authority, no need for an Iraqi Governing Council--the government, police, and military that survived the bombings would still be in charge. If they dared, the Sunni minority and the Ba'ath Party would still be free to oppress dissenters and exert its dictatorial will on the majority. Hopefully the people would eventually rise up and throw off their oppressors, but that would be up to them.

True, no B-52 bomber could have captured Saddam Hussein hiding in his little rabbit-hole in the outskirts of Tikrit. True, Saddam would not be in custody unless he surrendered. But he would be in charge of yet another shattered capital and decimated military force, unable to resist the pounding from the sky every hour of every day.

Eventually the outrage and indignation of the United Nations against the American bombing campaign would become so intense that they demand a cease-fire. We would agree on one condition: Saddam Hussein steps down. After a few more weeks of bombings and negotiations, a deal is worked out; Saddam turns power over to a lackey, a cease-fire is signed, and the bombing stops. The United States occupies an airfield in north-central Iraq ostensibly to protect the Kurds but in reality to keep Saddam in check. Oil shipments resume. American casualties are kept to a minimum.

This scenario is fictional, of course, but why couldn't it have worked? Why did we believe that we could take a force of only 150,000 troops and take a nation of forty million Arabs, most of whom are Muslim and hate us just because we don't believe the same religion as they do?

I am not criticizing the necessity to deal with Saddam Hussein and his regime--they needed to go. I am not criticizing the job the Coalition troops are doing in Iraq, and I am certainly not saying that those that made the ultimate sacrifice died in vain.

But if the goal of Operation Iraqi Freedom was to destroy Saddam's regime, I believe we could have done it with air power. We could have prosecuted the war with a careful mix of heavy bombardment and tactical precision-guided strikes to destroy and scatter the Iraqi leadership and military forces and take the fight out of guerrilla, foreign, and suicide fighters. Clerics like Ali al-Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr could still whip worshippers at their mosques up into a murderous frenzy at Friday evening prayers, but there wouldn't be any U.S. patrols, camps, or checkpoints to attack after they all spilled out into the streets afterwards.

For some reason we didn't use the technology and power at our fingertips and instead chose to engage in what quickly became an urban guerrilla war. We chose to try to directly interact and insert ourselves in with a hostile Arab population that did not see us as liberators, only as invaders.

We have Saddam Hussein in custody--that was Job Number One, successfully accomplished. Let's take the lesson from Al-Fallujah and apply it to the whole of Iraq right now: find Iraqi generals willing to take command of their forces again, brush off the dust they accumulated from hiding in their own rabbit-holes for a year, and put them in charge again. Shiite clerics Al-Sadr and Al-Sistani will shut up quickly once the Sunni-led Iraqi Army is in charge again, I guarantee it--and the Iraqi Army will have no qualms or contrary rules of engagement about attacking any mosque that harbors insurgents.

The Coalition forces should withdraw to isolated, easily defended air bases throughout Iraq in order to support the indigenous forces as they begin to assert control throughout the country, but the bulk of Coalition forces should IMMEDIATELY begin to pack up and go home. A concentrated air reconnaissance of the entire country should be set up to be sure that no hostile forces are allowed to build up, especially in key areas such as oil fields and transshipment points. We should have enough air forces in the region to be able to strike anywhere in the country at will within hours of any kind of uprising or insurgency that threatens the stability of the region.

I don't really care what kind of government is in place after Saddam is gone. We purchased millions of barrels of oil PER DAY from Saddam--there's no reason we can't buy it from some other leader, even if he doesn't like the U.S. The new leadership, be it secular or religious, should understand that the U.S. will not tolerate another destabilizing regime in the heart of the Middle East. That region is too important to vital American interests to leave alone.

And yes, I'm talking about the oil. We need it; we want it; we should fight to keep it flowing. There are many energy alternatives, and we should be aggressively pursuing them--WITH NUCLEAR POWER IN THE FOREFRONT--as aggressively as we are pursuing this war in Iraq. But until economical alternative energy sources are developed oil is king, and we need to maintain access to it.

Let's start acting like the greatest nation on Earth. We may not have been perfect throughout our many decades of foreign policy, but the United States has a moral clarity and sense of right and justice that puts most other nations to shame. We shouldn't care about "winning hearts and minds" and always being nurturing and careful and politically correct. Let's use the technological and moral superiority we've built over two centuries of trial and error to protect our citizens and get the job done.

Yes, I'm a die-hard rabid air power advocate. But it looks to me like air power changed the course of the conflict in Al-Fallujah. Let's go back to the formula that gave us victory in Operation Desert Storm and apply it to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Let's let air power take over the fighting and win the day, like it did in Fallujah.

Click here for more on Plan Of Attack!

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Plan Of Attack (MAY 2004)

The unthinkable is about to happen in this high-flying novel of adventure and suspense.

In Air Battle Force, Dale Brown introduced U.S. Air Force aerial warfare expert Major General Patrick McLanahan and his air combat unit of the future. Armed with a force of these robotic planes, the general and a handful of commandos were secretly deployed to the oil-rich nation of Turkmenistan to stop a Taliban invasion. And though the Americans won the battle, the war is far from over....

To punish McLanahan and his fleet of robot warplanes for their audacity, Russian president General Anatoliy Gryzlov decides to do the unthinkable: a sneak attack on America-unlike anything ever believed possible-that devastates her strategic air forces.

McLanahan has collected information that not only foretold the Russians' daring plan, but also gave him the data he needs to plan a counterstrike that could stop the Russian war machine dead in its tracks. But Patrick is no longer in charge of Air Battle Force, and the Russian sneak attack has left the embattled U.S. president with few options: retaliate with every weapon in his arsenal, even if it triggers a global thermonuclear war, or to a cease fire on Russia's terms...

...or listen to a disgraced and discredited young bomber commander's long-shot plan of attack.

"The novels of Dale Brown brim with violent action, detailed descriptions of sophisticated weaponry and political intrigue... His ability to bring technical weaponry to life is amazing."
--San Francisco Chronicle

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