Bush’s war will be costly

There is a saying that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. If this statement is true, President George W. Bush is leading the United States into a disaster of unprecedented proportions. The disaster will occur in Iraq, or more specifically in the sprawling capital city of Baghdad.

Let me explain. The president and his closest advisers believe that an invasion force consisting of five divisions plus support troops (250,000 total) can seize Baghdad with little difficulty. Oh sure, there will be casualties, but not many. After all, only 293 Americans lost their lives in Operation Desert Storm, and one-fourth of those were due to “friendly fire.” According to Mr. Bush’s logic, we can keep American casualties to a minimum in the upcoming war if we use Operation Desert Storm tactics (and perhaps be a little more careful about shooting our own men).

But Mr. Bush’s war will be different. The previous operation was in the desert, where tanks and strike aircraft could be used to their maximum effectiveness. This time the war will be fought in a city of 3.8 million that covers 254 square miles. There are thousands of buildings, hundreds of narrow streets and innumerable man-made and natural barriers that must be overcome. A force of up to 395,000, consisting of regular army and Republican Guard troops, will defend the city. Americans have virtually no experience fighting in such an environment. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, a veteran of two tours in South Vietnam, is inexperienced in urban warfare. The American troops who tried house-to-house fighting in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 suffered unacceptable losses and ultimately left the country.

History provides us with a picture of what Americans can expect if and when they invade Baghdad. After all, there is a precedent: the Battle for Berlin in the closing days of World War II. In the spring of 1945, the German capital was similar in many ways to today’s Baghdad. Once a city of 4.4 million, Berlin was reduced to 2.8 million through non-stop bombing by the allies. The city covered 343 square miles in area and consisted of some 50,000 structures, many heavily damaged. The Russians had an overwhelming force of 6,250 T-34 tanks, 41,600 artillery pieces and 2.5 million troops (163 divisions) massed on the approaches to the city. However, because the Soviets had to fight on three fronts, only about a third of these forces entered the city and engaged 390,000 defenders, many of whom were members of a civilian militia of old men and boys. The fighting lasted two months, during which time the Russians lost 70,000 troops and 2,000 tanks.

American air power, praised by many for its success during Operation Desert Storm, will be useless in an attack on Baghdad unless, of course, the goal is to kill women and children along with combatants. Also, tanks will be useless even death traps when channeled into narrow city streets defended by Iraqi troops and militia. Thus, there are few parallels between our prior success in the desert and what awaits us in Baghdad. The Russians lost more troops in the Battle for Berlin than the United States lost in the entire Vietnam conflict. Will history repeat itself in Mr. Bush’s war? Only time will tell.

Gary Jacobsen was a tank company commander in Vietnam.

Similar Posts