|The Iraq War|
Report for 2003-03-26
March 26, 2003, 1230hrs MSK (GMT +3), Moscow - As of the morning March 26 fierce battles have resumed in Iraq along the entire front. As was previously expected the sand storm has halted the advance of the coalition forces. Additionally, the coalition troops were in serious need of rest, resupply and reinforcement.
For much of the day unfavorable weather paralyzed combat activities of one of the main attack groups of the coalition - the 101st Airborne Division, which was forced to completely curtail all of its combat operations. Combat readiness of this division is of strategic importance to the entire coalition force primarily due to the fact that the division operates 290 helicopters of various types, including the 72 Apache attack helicopters. The 101st Airborne Division along with the 82nd Airborne Division and the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) forms the backbone of the XVIII Airborne Corps - the main strike force of the coalition.
In essence, the 101st Airborne Division provides suppression of the enemy while simultaneously conducting aerial reconnaissance and suppression of any newly-discovered enemy forces. It maintain constant contact with the enemy and contains the enemy until the main forces arrive.
Currently the coalition's main forces are conducting combat operations along the approaches to the towns of Karabela and An-Najaf.
During the past 24 hours the coalition units in these areas sustained 4 killed and up to 10 wounded. All indications are that one coalition special operations helicopter was lost and no communication with the helicopter could be established. The fate of its crew and the troops it carried is still being investigated. Another two coalition helicopters made emergency landings in areas controlled by friendly forces. Aircraft engines were found to be extremely susceptible to the effects of sand.
As was determined by our [GRU] intelligence even before the start of combat operations, the primary goal of the coalition command was an energetic advance across the desert along the right bank of the Euphrates river, reaching the central Iraq with a further thrust toward Baghdad through Karabela. Another strategic attack was to go around Basra through An-Nasiriya toward Al-Ammara followed by a full isolation of the southern [Iraqi] forces, effectively splitting Iraq in half.
The first part of the plan - a march across the desert toward Karabela - was achieved, albeit with serious delays. The second part of the plan in essence has failed. Up to this moment the coalition troops were unable to punch through the Iraqi defenses near An-Nasiriya and to force the Iraqis toward Al-Ammara, which would have allowed the coalition to clear the way to Baghdad along the strategically important Mesopotamian river valley with Tigris and Euphrates covering the flanks of the advancing forces. So far only a few coalition units were able to get to the left bank of the Euphrates, where they are trying to widen their staging areas.
Additionally, the prolonged fighting near An-Nasiriya allowed the Iraqis to withdraw most of their forces from Basra region and to avoid being surrounded.
Currently the coalition forces are trying to get across the river near An-Najaf and Karabela, where, all indications are, heavy combat will continue during the next two days.
Harsh criticism from the top US military leadership and pressure from Washington forced the coalition command to resort to more energetic actions. In addition to that the shock of the first days of war among the coalition troops, when they expected an easy trek across Iraq but encountered stiff resistance, is now wearing off. They are now being "absorbed" into the war. Now the coalition actions are becoming more coherent and adequate. The coalition command is gradually taking the initiative away from the Iraqis, which is in part due to the reliance of the Iraqi command on inflexible defensive tactics.
Now the main tactical move of the US troops is to use their aerial and ground reconnaissance forces to test the Iraqi defenses, to open them up and, without entering direct close combat, to deliver maximum damage using artillery and ground attack aircraft. The coalition has finally stopped pointlessly moving around in convoys, as was characteristic of the first three days of the ground war.
The tactics allowed for increased combat effectiveness and considerably increased losses of the Iraqi side. Due to such attacks by the coalition during the previous night and today's early morning the Iraqis have lost 250 troops killed and up to 500 wounded. Up to 10 Iraqi tanks were destroyed and up to three Iraqi artillery batteries were suppressed.
However, despite the increased combat effectiveness, the coalition forces have so far failed to capture a single sizable town in Iraq. Only by the end of the sixth day the British marine infantry was able to establish tentative control over the tiny town of Umm Qasr. During the hours of darkness all movement around the town is stopped and the occupying troops withdraw to defensive positions. Constant exchanges of fire take place throughout the town. Out of more than 1,500-strong local garrison the British managed to capture only 150 Iraqis. The rest have either withdrawn toward Basra or changed into civilian clothes and resorted to partisan actions.
Near Basra the British forces in essence are laying a Middle Ages-style siege of a city with the population of two million. Artillery fire has destroyed most of the city's life-supporting infrastructure and artillery is used continuously against the positions of the defending units. The main goal of the British is two maintain a strict blockade of Basra. Their command is confident that the situation in the city can be destabilized and lack of food, electricity and water will prompt the local population to cause the surrender of the defending forces. Analysts point out that capture of Basra is viewed by the coalition command as being exceptionally important and as a model for the future "bloodless" takeover of Baghdad.
So far, however, this approach does not work and the city's garrison is actively defending its territory. Just during the past night at least three British soldiers were killed and eight more were wounded in the exchange of fire [near Basra].
It is difficult not to notice the extremely overstretched frontline of the coalition. This frontline is stretching toward Baghdad through An-Najaf and Karabela and its right flank goes all the way along the Euphrates and is completely exposed. All main supply and communication lines of the coalition are going through unprotected desert. Already the supply routes are stretching for more than 350 kilometers and are used to deliver 800 tonnes of fuel and up to 1,000 tonnes of ammunition, food and other supplies daily to the advancing forces.
If the Iraqis deliver a decisive strike at the base of this front, the coalition will find itself in a very difficult situation, with its main forces, cutoff from the resupply units, losing their combat readiness and mobility and falling an easy pray to the Iraqis.
It is possible that the Americans are relying on the power of their aviation to prevent any such developments. It is also possible that this kind of self-confidence may be very dangerous.
Massive numbers of disabled combat vehicles and other equipment becomes a strategic problem for the coalition. Already, radio intercepts indicate, all available repair units have been deployed to the front. Over 60% of all available spare parts have been already used and emergency additional supplies are being requested.
The sand is literally "eating up" the equipment. Sand has a particularly serious effect on electronics and transmissions of combat vehicles. Already more than 40 tanks and up to 69 armored personnel carriers have been disabled due to damaged engines; more than 150 armored vehicles have lost the use of their heat-seeking targeting sights and night vision equipment. Fine dust gets into all openings and clogs up all moving parts.
The coalition command has effectively acknowledged its defeat in the information war with the strikes against the television center in Baghdad and now further strikes should be expected against television and ground satellite transmitters. The coalition is attempting to leave the Iraqis without information in order to demoralize them.
The extreme length of the resupply routes and the actions of the Iraqi reconnaissance units have created a new problem: the coalition command is forced to admit that it has no information about the conditions on the roads. Currently, as intercepted radio communications show, the coalition command is trying to establish the whereabouts of more than 500 of its troops that fell behind their units, departed with resupply convoys or were carrying out individual assignments. So far it was not possible to establish how many of these troops are dead, captured or have successfully reached other units.
(Translation by Venik.)
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