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Discussion of Persian Gulf conflicts and different definitions of victory

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  1. 1. 1 of 8 John Rosenbalm 20APR2009 Persian Gulf Wars: What Will Victory Look Like When Saddam Hussein annexed Kuwait in August of 1990, he opened the floodgates of what would become the newest iteration of modern war. This war was unlike the modern wars before it. The United States came into this conflict with weapons of unimaginable cost and technology and no other superpower to slow or oppose it. Indeed, the United States began this war with the full force of the United Nations behind it. Iraq found itself outgunned from the onset. This war looked to be an extremely short but bloody conflict, pitting the technological, economic, and political power of the United States and United Nations against the regional numerical superiority, disregard for international conventions of war, and “home-field advantage” of Iraq. Almost 20 years later American Soldiers are still embroiled in this conflict with little end or resolution in sight; the Persian Gulf War is not two separate conflicts as common conception sees it - this war is one conflict with a twelve year tactical hiatus. Previous modern wars had clear lines between the front and home, clear beginnings and ends, and clear victories. This war has none of these features. The advent of this new “Ultramodern” warfare must lead to the redefinition of our terms of victory, strategy, and military, as well as a reevaluation of the United States’ goals and means of accomplishing them, not only in Iraq but also around the world. From a purely tactical level, the gulf conflict was and still is tremendously successful for the Coalition forces. Tactical conflict is the action of individual military units and Soldiers on the battlefield, usually it is best to measure this level of conflict in casualties both sustained and inflicted, as well as in territory taken or lost. Only 379 Coalition Soldiers died during the first operational period of 2 August 1990 – 28 February 1991, and only 190 of these Soldiers were
  2. 2. 2 of 8 killed in action, both numbers were much lower than the pre war estimates of 6,000 – 30,000 killed in action (O’ Hanlon 22). The Iraqi Army lost at the very least around 20,000 killed and 75,000 wounded, with around 86,000 surrendering to the Coalition ground forces (Conetta 2). Coalition forces expelled the Iraqi army from Kuwait and occupied a large portion of southern Iraq. The major causes of this drastic difference were mainly the extreme technologic advantage of Coalition troops and the tactical errors of Iraqi leadership. The majority of Iraqi armored forces used Chinese Type-59 and Type-69 tanks, Soviet-made T-55 tanks from the 1950s and 1960s, and a few T-72 tanks from the 1970s. These machines were not equipped with up-to-date equipment, such as thermal sights or laser rangefinders, and their effectiveness in modern combat was very limited. The Iraqis failed to find an effective countermeasure to the thermal sights of Coalition bombers or tanks and the sabot rounds used by the M1 Abrams, Challenger 1 and the other Coalition tanks. This equipment enabled Coalition tanks to effectively engage and destroy Iraqi tanks from more than three times the distance that Iraqi tanks could engage. Iraqi tank crews used outdated steel penetrators against the advanced armor of US and British tanks with minimal effect. The Iraqi forces also failed to utilize the advantage of using urban warfare, for example, fighting within Kuwait City would have inflicted significant and unacceptable casualties on the attacking forces. Urban combat reduces the range at which fighting occurs and can negate some of the technological advantage that well equipped forces enjoy. Iraqi forces also tried to copy the 1950s Soviet doctrine of mass attacks, but the implementation failed due to the lack of skill of their commanders and the preventive Coalition air strikes on communication centers and command bunkers. In the second operational period of the conflict, from 20 March 2003 to the present, 4,568 coalition Soldiers have died, 3,662 in combat. Iraqi losses are difficult to estimate, but range
  3. 3. 3 of 8 from 34,452 to over 150,000 (Tavenise). Coalition forces have completely occupied the entirety of Iraq and have deposed Saddam’s regime. Unfortunately, tactical victory carries little indication of strategic or operational victory in ultramodern warfare. Tactical victories are only useful if they add to operational and then strategic success. Since the Coalition forces are obviously unbeatable in conventional war, as shown during the first period of conflict, the Iraqi forces have since adopted an asymmetrical guerilla insurgency approach to the conflict, essentially negating tactical victories and prolonging the conflict at all levels. While still not “winning” tactical engagements, the insurgent forces have managed to be successful at higher levels of conflict. Although the gap between Coalition and Insurgent losses continues to grow, several factors affect the outcome of the conflict at the operational, level: The first factor to consider is that of “acceptable” casualties. The original operational goal during the first ground conflict was the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait while preventing Iraqi forces from invading nearby Coalition allies. Coalition forces achieved this through a prolonged bombing campaign using their overwhelming air superiority to deplete Iraqi resources and infrastructure before quickly invading southern Iraq. Coalition forces achieved this operational goal in 208 days from beginning of the bombing campaign to the end of ground conflict. The coalition goal was never to openly occupy the country or oust the Ba’athist regime. Coalition leaders were not willing to accept the inevitable casualties of a long-term occupation of Iraq. Iraqi leadership, on the other hand, was more than willing to sacrifice their conscripted soldiers to bloody the Coalition. Since Iraq was a totalitarian state, it could lose thousands of soldiers with little or no serious dissent from its citizens, while even a few casualties would produce public outcry in the United States and other Coalition democracies. Because of this stark
  4. 4. 4 of 8 difference in casualty acceptance, the coalition forces were too operationally timid when they should have aggressively pursued a more complete operational victory with strategic implications. In the current operational period, Coalition leaders have shown more willingness to accept casualties in the attempt to solidify a lasting strategic effect. The lesson that the Ba’athist regime must end to ensure strategic success is reflected in the current operational goal of stable Iraqi democracy, so that there will be no need for a third period of conflict in the future. This operational period is yet undecided, but should be pursued further to the point when it achieves some strategic gains. Another factor to consider is that of Iraq’s “home-field advantage”. As the conflict occurred in Iraqi territory, Coalition forces would have to commit more time and manpower to achieve the operational victory they sought. In the first period of conflict, the protracted air campaign failed to achieve much operational success – the Iraqi forces, were only depleted an estimated 1-2.5% per unit and, although much of the Iraqi command, control, and communication, infrastructure was destroyed, they still controlled Kuwaiti territory until Coalition ground forces seized it from them. Iraqi forces also enjoyed a better knowledge of the terrain and demographics of their own land and could count on willing or forced support from the local populace. The biggest part of Iraqi “home-field advantage” was that of the Coalition exit strategy. Since the coalition was only willing to conduct a short conventional ground war, there was no way they could implement the long-term exit strategy that would have been required if they seized Baghdad and deposed Saddam. The current operational period still reflects this advantage. Although the current Coalition has successfully removed the Ba’athist regime, the coalition is still spending money and manpower to implement a stable and
  5. 5. 5 of 8 sustainable exit from Iraq, while the insurgency manages to significantly undermine these efforts with little resources and low technology, simply because it is their native region and culture. The last factor at the operational level depends on the locality of the conflict. This is the factor of popular support and the difference in detachment from the war. Since large parts of the conflict have taken place in urban areas, the Iraqi people see and live the war everyday, while citizens of Coalition nations are much more detached from the war. This proximity combined with Iraqi propaganda and totalitarian control of the populace led to greater animosity of the locals toward Coalition forces. Conversely, life in Coalition countries changed relatively little. The conflict was an abstract idea in some far off land; the only images the western world saw were through detached media consumption. This detachment led to an eventual cooling of the initial fervor that many citizens felt in the United States and other Coalition nations. This Western cooling of public support over time affected the strategic goals of the Coalition, which in turn will change the operational approach to the conflict. These three main factors have evened the operational playing field in Iraq today. Iraqi forces in both periods of conflict used these advantages to great effect; first, to retain power and deter long-term occupation, then in the second conflict to hinder severely Coalition attempts to stabilize the government, civil infrastructure, and economy. Coalition forces during the first period of conflict achieved an operational victory only because they picked an easily attainable and somewhat passive mission, but this operational victory did not contribute to a strategic solution. The operational goal of the second conflict is still playing out, but it is at least ambitious and gives a possibility of strategic success. The Coalition leaders must examine whether the operational plan in its current form will serve the Coalition members’ larger strategic goals. In short, at the operational level the conflict is currently a draw that is slowly drawing
  6. 6. 6 of 8 towards victory, whether or not this operational victory could lead to strategic success will remain to be seen. At the strategic level of military action, this conflict is complicated and involves the most influence of sources outside the military. This level of warfare is the hardest to control or change, as it depends on a base of strong tactical success and intelligently executed and planned operational warfare. This level of warfare is concerned with achieving the long-term goals of the country, in this case as part of a small coalition of other nations with interests in the area. The strategic interests of the United States and other Coalition nations are a stable, western friendly nation. This would give several advantages, namely a stabilizing influence on all the Middle Eastern, primarily on the politically cold Islamic countries that border Iraq. Second, a stable government would eliminate a potential breeding ground for terrorists and terrorist organizations, thus reducing the threat to Westerners at home. Third, by maintaining the sovereignty of Kuwait, protecting Saudi Arabia from Ba’athist attack, and eventually establishing an allied state in Iraq, the oil-driven economies of the West could have access to oil reserves for years to come. With these strategic goals in place, the United States led coalition forces in 1990 to protect Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait, but they stopped short of deposing Saddam. Instead, the United States expected the blows inflicted to Saddam’s military and infrastructure combined with the CIA cultivation of rebellion amongst the Shi’ites of the south and United Nations sanctions would eventually cause a mass uprising and the replacement of Saddam’s regime. If this plan had worked, it would have paid off well. Since the United States was unwilling to spend time in a protracted war at the time, covert rebellion was the last option. Unfortunately, a large part of the Republican Guard escaped from the conflict and bombing intact, and Saddam’s loyal soldiers were able to crush these revolts before they could get large enough to threaten the
  7. 7. 7 of 8 regime. United Nations sanctions were another bad idea, as Saddam had ample stockpiles and smuggling routes. The only people affected by the sanctions were the huge number of poor Iraqis who did not support Saddam but were too beaten to resist. In the current conflict, the strategic goal is regime change for stability, oil, and denial of terrorist resources. This is the best strategic scenario for a lasting peace in the area. The first period of conflict was a strategic failure because it failed to look far enough into the future or recognize the threat of Saddam. This second period of conflict has much more potential for success since the goals are more long-term this time. The conflict in Iraq is a complicated situation that shows once again that a massive technologic advantage cannot truly root out a determined enemy fighting on their own soil. The best plan for Coalition forces in today’s battlefield is to get out as soon as the new Iraqi government can sustain itself. Tactical victory is still vital at the base of the pyramid, but by itself it cannot achieve anything on its own. In the ultramodern battlefield, the only way truly to win a war is to achieve quick operational victories that will support the nation’s strategic interests, and then leave as soon as these interests are secure.
  8. 8. 8 of 8 Works Cited Conetta, Carl. "Wages of War” Project on Defense Alternatives 8. (2003), pda/0310rm8ap2.html. (accessed April 21, 2009). O' Hanlon, Michael. “Estimating Casualties in a War to Overthrow Saddam” Orbis 47. 1 (2003), 21-40. Tavernise, Sabrina. "Iraqi Death Toll Exceeded 34,000 in 2006, U.N. Says." New York Times, January 17, 2007,