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Jewish World Review April 2, 2003 / 29 Adar II, 5763

Michael Kelly

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Limited war, so far | WITH THE 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION, Iraq The war the United States is waging against the regime of Saddam Hussein is a critical test of several related and very ambitious concepts. First it is a test of an evolving military doctrine. This holds that the American armed forces' uniquely massive superiority in weaponry and in observation and communication allows it to conduct war, in a sense, on the cheap: to achieve even very large goals with relatively little force in little time at little cost in American lives.

It is, second, a test of systems -- a hugely complex system of integrated battlefield command and control and a hugely laborious system of training officers and troops. These are intended to produce an armed force made up overwhelmingly of soldiers who will perform in their first real battles as they have been taught to perform in years of mock battles.

The third test is of the most radical notion: war as an oxymoron, total limited war. The idea is that, given its great and unique advantages, the American military can wage a victorious war that is at once brutally effective in its killing power while being miserly of American life and property and of the enemy.

The nature of the conflict so far has raised these tests to steep heights. The 3rd Infantry, leading the assault, has faced no serious conventional military opposition. Instead, in the south of Iraq, the division has been plagued by a continued series of skirmishes and battles with irregular small and lightly armed paramilitary units that have mounted suicidal attacks. The clear intent of this campaign has been not to achieve any conventional victory but to slow the American advance and to distract, disrupt and demoralize the American forces. At the same time, the campaign seeks to draw the combat into high-civilian-casualty engagements in the cities.

To a very limited degree, the Iraqi regime's strategy has been a success. The American advance has been slower than planned, and the effort of fighting day and night battles has occupied much of the time and energies of everyone in the division. But none of this seems to have demoralized officers and troops or effected a distraction or delay sufficient to affect the ultimate outcome. Hussein's forces have lost every engagement, catastrophically. The 3rd Infantry and its accompanying forces had, as of Friday night, killed probably more than 1,000 of the enemy and taken more than 560 prisoners. The division's own casualty list stood at one killed in action, one killed in a vehicle accident and 23 wounded seriously enough to require hospitalization.

As Col. William Grimsley, commander of the division's 1st Brigade, put it, the Iraqis have not so much attacked American positions as impaled themselves on them.

Maj. Mike Oliver, the operations officer of the 1st Brigade, directed the brigade's armored task force, the 3-69 Armor Battalion, in a fierce 30-hour battle last week. Fighting nearly the entire time in a sandstorm, the battalion held a bridge across the Euphrates River at the town of al Kifl. Against four M1 Abrams tanks and 10 Bradley Fighting Vehicles backed by artillery rockets and Air Force bombers dropping satellite-guided bombs, the Iraqis attacked in trucks and on foot, armed only with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) backed by mortars.

"The trucks would just drive pell-mell down the road at us, 60 miles an hour, until they would get shot, and then any guys that were left would jump out of the trucks and rush at us with RPGs, trying to get in their shots," Oliver recalled the day after the battle. "They would fire their RPGs at the Bradleys. And we would kill them." In its essence, this battle was typical of all those against the Iraqi irregulars.

Meanwhile, Air Force bombers and Army artillery and rockets, the combined force of which has accounted for much of the Iraqi dead, have destroyed at least several hundred vehicles and all artillery and mortars that have exposed themselves to fire on the U.S. forces. They have leveled numerous Baath Party and Iraqi army command facilities, barracks and fuel and ammunition storehouses.

The only task that has proved genuinely trying to the division has been the third one, that of the oxymoronic war. As the first week of the conflict wore on, its human reality became clear. Some of the hopelessly attacking Iraqis were true Baath and Republican Guard loyalists. More -- it seems likely most in the first waves of attack -- were just local men, forced into self-annihilation by threats of execution or the murder of their families. Judging from the talk, the knowledge that many of the Iraqi dead never even wanted to fight is depressing to at least some of the front-line officers and soldiers.

Walking back to his Humvee for a few hours' sleep on its hood, Lt. Col. Peter Bayer, the divisional operations officer said, "We are learning what happens when a principled nation goes up against an utterly unprincipled one."

So far, the third test is being met: The principles are holding. But it is hard.

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