- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

The spectacular drive of Army and Marine units into Baghdad was truly a testament to the superb combination of troop training, high-technology and creative operational planning that makes the American military the best fighting force on the planet.
Yet, there is a danger in thinking of the Iraq campaign as easy. The invasion has taken far more effort that is apparent in most media reports. Attention has focused on the Army's 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, making it seem that only a handful of U.S. ground troops have been needed to overrun Iraq. Both units are, however, heavily reinforced and much larger than standard divisions. Indeed, 3rd ID brigade groups and Marine regimental combat teams have each been operating like small divisions, with a mix of tanks, mechanized infantry, artillery, engineers, helicopters and support troops maneuvering as independent combined-arms teams.
The Army also used the 101st Airborne Division, 173rd Airborne Brigade and a brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division. The 4th Infantry Division, which was supposed to advance into Iraq from Turkey, offloaded in Kuwait and is now deployed north of Baghdad. There has been a constant flow of troops into the theater. Mopping up remaining resistance, protecting reconstruction and deterring intervention by hostile neighbors will all require continued military commitments.
Army and Marine units are also deployed on other fronts; fighting in Afghanistan, policing the Balkans, deterring North Korea, operating against insurgents in the Philippines and combating terrorists and drug gangs around the world. It must be remembered that the Army was cut by more than a third after the first Gulf war, and there aren't enough Marines to take up the slack. American forces are spread thin. There has been a record call up of Reservists, many of whom are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and National Guard units have been sent to the Balkans.
Rudyard Kipling wrote of the British soldier "Tommy" in ways that describe the general attitude toward ground troops in recent budget battles, "For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Chuck him out, the brute!' But it's 'Savior of the country' when the guns begin to shoot." The infantry seemed particularly "brutish" compared to the elegance of cruise missiles and "smart" bombs in the 1990s. Yet, when truly decisive warfare is needed to overthrow an evil regime and liberate a people, boots on the ground are an absolute necessity.
The rapid collapse of Iraqi resistance was brought about by exploiting battlefield success with highly mobile ground forces that neutralized most of the Iraqi army by maneuver rather than by combat. The diplomatic situation, as well as the need to act faster than Iraqi forces could react, precluded the use of a monthlong bombing campaign like that used in the first Gulf war. Ground forces needed to move from the first day to take territory (oil fields, key terrain, enemy rally points) and break the hold of the regime on the Iraqi people.
The war, however, found the armed forces still operating on the legacy of Cold War defense efforts. The first night of the Iraq War, a CH-46 helicopter crashed from mechanical problems, killing four American and eight British marines. The CH-46 is an old design, first entering Marine Corps service in 1964. The "Sea Knights" flew throughout the Vietnam War, and production ended in 1977. The Marines have nursed this chopper long past its normal lifespan because no money has been available for its replacement. Aging equipment is a problem that runs through all the armed services.
Among the choices forced on the Army by tight budgets was not to upgrade the Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles of the 3rd ID. The division has still outclassed everything the Iraqis have thrown at it; but in a future war against a more competent enemy possessing modern weapons and the will to fight, American soldiers will need to go into combat with the best equipment available. Unfortunately, this has not been the attitude in government for over a decade. Indeed, lack of funding threatens the closure of the United Defense factory in York, Pa., considered the nation's premier manufacturer of armored vehicles and self-propelled artillery.
The 1990s should have been used for the modernization and transformation effort that the Pentagon was just about to embark upon when September 11, 2001, struck. When the Bush administration came into office, it did not expect to have to engage in global warfare and did not budget for it. Suddenly, it found itself confronting a world that is moving too fast to put off rearmament until 2010. It must move now to strengthen its core defense budget and reconstitute the force levels that were drawn down over the last decade.
America has shown that it has what it takes to be this era's pre-eminent power. The trick to staying in the lead is to keep moving forward and not succumbing to the temptation to simply rest on past laurels.

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide