It looks like maybe Saddam wants to come out and play:
A huge column of elite Republican Guard units streamed out of Baghdad Wednesday evening heading toward U.S. forces massed near the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, CNN television reported.
“A major column including about 1,000 Iraqi mobile units that might include tanks, might include armored personnel carriers, trucks and other things are on their way down from Baghdad toward Najaf,” CNN said, quoting one of its reporters who is traveling with the U.S. 7th Cavalry.
CNN said the Republican Guard were moving under cover of a sandstorm which has buffeted Iraq for the past day. It said U.S. troops were preparing for a possible confrontation within hours.
This is the first strategic mistake we’ve seen Saddam make since this operation began. Let me explain.
To date, the Iraqis have played well with the few week cards they hold. With the exception of Saddam’s probably-canned TV appearances, their propaganda effort has been solid — aimed at the domestic audience, the “international community,” and frightened families here in the US. I won’t bother with the details, because you already know them and they disgust me. Leaving small bands behind the lines was also well-played, since they cause a rearward drag on our logistics, and on the Brits and Marines still mostly stuck in the south. And Saddam’s illegal methods of preventing desertions are probably almost as effective as they are brutal.
Saddam isn’t a guy I’d like to play poker with, even though my full house beats his pair of shit. After all, he’d shoot himself and me just as soon as he rans out of chips. But that could take a while, since he’s been betting small and slow, hoping we’ll decide to pass out before the game is over.
If today’s report is accurate, then Saddam is betting half his chips on one hand, when we still hold most of the aces.
Maybe he’s hoping the continuing sandstorm will nullify Coalition airpower enough to give his Republican Guards a fighting chance. Maybe he thinks that the 3rd Infantry Division is at the end of its logistical tether, and lacks the wherewithal for a set-piece battle. Or perhaps it’s just a bluff he hopes Tommy Franks won’t call.
He’s wrong on all three counts.
Is our airpower less effective in today’s nasty weather? You bet it is. But airpower didn’t win the war for us in ’91, and it won’t win the war now. Besides, the sand blinds his forces even more than it blinds ours (we have better goodies), and his air force is non-existent. Really then, the lack of visibility works in our favor, not his — although I wouldn’t try telling that to some poor 7th Cav tanker caught out in it.
Besides, artillery is the real killer in ground combat, and ours can strike from miles out and with chilling accuracy, even in bad weather.
The logistical problem is something else. 3ID has moved fast and far, and fought hard. They’ve shot off a lot of rounds, burned a lot of fuel, and spent a lot of sleepless nights. And they’re dozens and dozens of miles away from the nearest friendly port. Keeping them ready and supplied should be a concern, but don’t let it become a worry. The US Armed Forces are the world’s best when it comes to maintaining logistics — and continuing to fight even when supplies are low. Examples? Normandy. Bastogne. Chosen. VII Corps’ secret move west, in the two weeks before Desert Saber was launched.
Each example given is a case where American logistics performed the near-impossible, or where American soldiers acquitted themselves even without their usual, ample supplies. If Saddam thinks his Republican Guard can do better against 3ID than Hitler’s Wehrmacht could against the Battling Bastards of Bastogne, then I say — bring it on.
And “bring it on” must be exactly what Tommy Franks is hoping for. If Saddam thinks his bluff won’t be called, he’s dead (literally, eventually) wrong. Franks wants Saddam’s thugs to come out of the cities. Franks wants them, sandstorms or not, out in the open. It’s not only easier to kill them in the deserts than it is in the cities, but it’s safer for our troops, and for Iraqi civilians, too.
Come on out and play, Saddam. It may be your field, but it