2004 November 21 Sunday
Scenes Of Urban Warfare In Fallujah

Dexter Filkins of the New York Times was embedded with a US Marines company that did a lot of street fighting in the battle for Fallujah and reports on the high casualty rates from a single week's fighting and scenes from the fighting.

The 150 marines with whom I traveled, Bravo Company of the First Battalion, Eighth Marines, had it as tough as any unit in the fight. They moved through the city almost entirely on foot, into the heart of the resistance, rarely protected by tanks or troop carriers, working their way through Falluja's narrow streets with 75-pound packs on their backs.

In eight days of fighting, Bravo Company took 36 casualties, including 6 dead, meaning that the unit's men had about a one-in-four chance of being wounded or killed in little more than a week.

The Marines did the bulk of their fighting without any armored vehicle support. Was this due to terrain or a shortage of such vehicles?

The screams of the marines when one of their comrades, Cpl. Jake Knospler, lost part of his jaw to a hand grenade.

"No, no, no!" the marines shouted as they dragged Corporal Knospler from the darkened house where the bomb went off. It was 2 a.m., the sky dark without a moon. "No, no, no!"

Nothing in the combat I saw even remotely resembled the scenes regularly flashed across movie screens; even so, they often seemed no more real.

Think about that casualty rate. A month of fighting at that intensity would completely wipe out a military unit. The air support and their training and equipment allowed them to give a lot better than they got. But the ratio of killings between US and enemy forces in urban combat is far less advantageous to the US side than is the case on more open ground. Our capital equipment advantage just doesn't help as much in cities.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 November 21 02:40 PM  Mideast Iraq

Invisible Scientist said at November 22, 2004 9:08 AM:

By the time the Coalition attacked Fallujah, many of the insurgents had already
sneaked out of the city as a strategic retreat, for the purpose of continuing the
guerilla war elsewhere. This is a VERY complicated situation for the US, because even
though the original attack on Iraq was not a good idea, right now we are stuck there.
The question is how (if at all) the US can get out of there without being seen as retreating
under fire. I still say that energy independence remains crucial for the successful conclusion
of this war in 15 years. Otherwise, the long term survival of the US is at stake.

MichaelA said at November 22, 2004 10:35 AM:

We are currently burning through approximately $200M dollars/day to sustain operatons in Iraq. This cost is a form of economic warfare they have imposed on us, much as the Vietnamese did. The canard that it was a lack of American will in Vietnam that led to our withdrawal ignores the possible economic reasons we retreated, just as the vapid "Stay the course" rhetoric ignores the economic consequences of our "burn rate" in Iraq.

We must develop a method not just to fight harder with less casualties, but cheaper.

Patrick said at November 22, 2004 11:29 PM:

Fighting the "locals" in thick cover has been a problem for everyone from the Romans in Germany to the British in New Zealand. One strategy has been successful time and time again: Hire the local enemy of your enemy to do the fighting for you. They have the local advantages of terrain and language knowledge, but you can combine this with the enourmous resources of the major power so that they can beat the guys who aren't on your side.

In most cases, whether hunting aboriginals in the deserts of Australia or the Russians taking the steppe from the Tatars, it always came down to logistics. The tribes that were backed by the "civilization" were always supplied with food and weapons. The "bad guys" had to keep stopping to try to gather food and live their traditional lifestyles. Because one side could keep going, and the other couldn't, the ones without major backers always ended up starved and exhausted into submission.

So what I've saying is: More local troops, even if they are mercenaries.

Invisible Scientist said at November 23, 2004 1:01 AM:

The problem with finding local mercenaries in Iraq, is that there is a shortage of them.
The local Iraqi army did not fight significantly on behalf of the US. Bribing them to fight
is not working well in this case, because they have a strong religious indoctrination.
Of course, hiring the Kurds against Saddam loyalists will work, but only in those regions that
are close to Kurdistan. Most Kurds won't be interested in policing the South of Iraq, since this
is not their region. So perhaps some kind of partitioning might work, since if you arm and organize the Kurds
sufficiently, the enemies of the Kurds will not approach that region.

Sempre Fi said at November 23, 2004 8:56 PM:

You need to understand the difference between the Marines and the Army. The Marines are a lean mean fighting machine and don't let anyone tell you different. The Marines, they are trained to "adapt, improvise and overcome whatever obstacle there is." and they don't need capital equipment to get the job done. The first 8 months of the engagment in Iraq was a General Powell and Army show and they got the butts kicked just like in Nam. The Army way is to amass 300,000 troops, build coalition and then try to overpower the enemy with "Shock & Aw". Now we are seeing the way his engagement should have been fought using the model that Rumsfield and the DoD used in Afghanistan. The most effective way to fight this engagment is with the Marines, Seals, Rangers and Special Forces. With us going into Iraq we have done a couple of things, one the mad man is gone and Saudi Arabia has been put on notice to clean up there relationship with Al Qaeda or you will next. Saudi Arabia's ecomony is in the toilet and they need $30.00 a barrel of oil to keep them a float. I suggest that there is secret war going on for control of the middle east and the US has all of the cards.

Pico said at November 24, 2004 2:52 PM:

It is time for a lesson from Samuel Huntington:

In the emerging world of ethnic conflict and civilizational clash, Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous. That it is false has been the central thesis of this book, a thesis well summed up by Michael Howard: the "common Western assumption that cultural diversity is a historical curiosity being rapidly eroded by the growth of a common, western-oriented, Anglophone world-culture, shaping our basic values . . . is simply not true." A reader not by now convinced of the wisdom of Sir Michael's remark exists in a world far removed from that described in this book.

The belief that non-Western peoples should adopt Western values, institutions, and culture is immoral because of what would be necessary to bring it about. The almost-universal reach of European power in the late nineteenth century and the global dominance of the United States in the late twentieth century spread much of Western civilization across the world. European globalism, however, is no more. American hegemony is receding if only because it is no longer needed to protect the United States against a Cold War-style Soviet military threat. Culture, as we have argued, follows power. If non-Western societies are once again to be shaped by Western culture, it will happen only as a result of the expansion, deployment, and impact of Western power. Imperialism is the necessary logical consequence of universalism. In addition, as a maturing civilization, the West no longer has the economic or demographic dynamism required to impose its will on other societies and any effort to do so is also contrary to the Western values of self-determination and democracy. As Asian and Muslim civilizations begin more and more to assert the universal relevance of their cultures, Westerners will come to appreciate more and more the connection between universalism and imperialism.

Western universalism is dangerous to the world because it could lead to a major intercivilizational war between core states and it is dangerous to the West because it could lead to defeat of the West. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Westerners see their civilization in position of unparalleled dominance, while at the same time weaker Asian, Muslim, and other societies are beginning to gain strength. Hence they could be led to apply the familiar and powerful logic of Brutus:

Our legions are brim-full, our cause is ripe.
The enemy increaseth every day;
We at the height, are ready to decline.
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

This logic, however, produced Brutus's defeat at Philippi, and the prudent course for the West is not to attempt to stop the shift in power but to learn to navigate the shallows, endure the miseries, moderate its ventures, and safeguard its culture.

All civilizations go though similar processes of emergence, rise, and decline. The West differs from other civilizations not in the way it has developed but in the distinctive character of its values and institutions. These include most notably its Christianity, pluralism, individualism, and rule of law, which made it possible for the West to invent modernity, expand throughout the world, and become the envy of other societies. In their ensemble these characteristics are peculiar to the West. Europe, as Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., has said, is "the source—the unique source" of the "ideas of individual liberty, political democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and cultural freedom. These are European ideas, not Asian, nor African, nor Middle Eastern ideas, except by adoption." They make Western civilization unique, and Western civilization is valuable not because it is universal but because it is unique. The principal responsibility of Western leaders, consequently, is not to attempt to reshape other civilizations in the image of the West, which is beyond their declining power, but to preserve, protect, and renew the unique qualities of Western civilization. Because it is the most powerful Western country, that responsibility falls overwhelmingly on the United States of America.

To preserve Western civilization in the face of declining Western power, it is in the interest of the United States and European countries:

to achieve greater political, economic, and military integration and to coordinate their policies so as to preclude states from other civilizations exploiting differences among them;

to incorporate into the European Union and NATO the Western states of Central Europe that is, the Visegrad countries, the Baltic republics, Slovenia, and Croatia;

to encourage the "Westernization" of Latin America and, as far as possible, the close alignment of Latin American countries with the West;

to restrain the development of the conventional and unconventional military power of Islamic and Sinic countries;

to slow the drift of Japan away from the West and toward accommodation with China;

to accept Russia as the core state of Orthodoxy and a major regional power with legitimate interests in the security of its southern borders;

to maintain Western technological and military superiority over other civilizations;

and, most important, to recognize that Western intervention in the affairs of other civilizations is probably the single most dangerous source of instability and potential global conflict in a multicivilizational world.

In the aftermath of the Cold War the United States became consumed with massive debates over the proper course of American foreign policy. In this era, however, the United States can neither dominate nor escape the world. Neither internationalism nor isolationism, neither multilateralism nor unilateralism, will best serve its interests. Those will best be advanced by eschewing these opposing extremes and instead adopting an Atlanticist policy of close cooperation with its European partners to protect and advance the interests and values of the unique civilization they share.

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