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Paul Craddick

Steve,

Good post.

I'm heartened that you framed the matter with the expression "culpably incompetent," for it points to a distinction that has been conflated by some of the luminaries to which you referred: a decision ajudged, ex post facto, to have been mistaken vs. a decision that a rational-competent planner would have known, ex ante, was bound to lead to failure. Sullivan in particular seems to have little appreciation - in this context - for culpable vs. blameless mistakes (or mistakes in light of which blame is attenuated owing to the inherent unknowns, chaos, etc. attendant on all warfare). That some military authorities believed, ex ante, that more troops would be needed doesn't of itself demonstrate that it wasn't reasonable to take a contrary view.

I am yet to be persuaded that sheer numbers would have insured a smoother occupation, to date. Consider some of the outstanding challenges - for critics, failures - that we have seen: (1) Looting - soldiers who were on the scene of looting have stated that their presence per se wasn't sufficient to deter the action; responding violently to the looters - at the extreme, shooting them - would have been a more reliable deterrent, but would it have been justified and/or worth it? (2) Towns becoming terrorist/insurgent redoubts - clearly we have the sheer man- and firepower to wrest the cities from the thugs, but a complex political calculus (with interim Iraqi political players) has seemingly driven policy until the recent past. (3) Seal the borders - hard to take this one seriously; ought implies can: surely no military is equipped to "guarantee" that (how about some help from the Syrians and Iranians?!).

Here's a thread which you may find of interest, on the question of planning:

http://justoneminute.typepad.com/main/2004/10/the_ny_times_on.html#comments

Aaron

That's an interesting theory, but I have not heard from any sources, including friends in the U.S. armed forces, which would back up the thesis that it would have been difficult, let alone impractical or infeasible, to invade with a larger force.

I have also heard assertions quite to the contrary of "soldiers who were on the scene of looting have stated that their presence per se wasn't sufficient to deter the action" - I heard that looters retreated from the presence of soldiers, until they realized that the soldiers were at most going to observe their actions. Nobody looted the oil ministry - when people thought soldiers would shoot, they stayed away.

The difficulty of taking cities is hardly a secret - urban warfare has long been dreaded by militaries, and wasn't Hussein quoted before the war as saying something to the effect of "Let our streets be our jungles; let our buildings be our swamps"? I haven't heard any critics of the war suggest that "more troops" would have changed that, save perhaps for the suggestion that if we hadn't let the country plunge into chaos, looting, and street crime we might have more popular support in the cities.

Who says we could have sealed the borders? Perhaps that notion is being advanced by the Bush Administration, with its complaint that Syria and Iran are "letting" foreign combatants get through their borders. And it seems to be a fair retort that, if Syria and Iran could ostensibly "seal the borders" we could have as well. But while the notion of foreign fighters flooding into Iraq makes for nifty propaganda, haven't the commanders in the field been pretty uniform in suggesting that they have a relatively insignificant role in combat?

ajay

I am not a logistics specialist, but I do know quite a bit about the air cargo business. So, for what it's worth:

Posit that Handy is correct: that the USAF airlift fleet is too small to sustain a much larger effort, and that there is not enough private-sector capacity to fill the gap. Answer? Expand the USAF fleet.

The current price of a used Boeing 747-400 freighter is about $70 million (depending on how old it is). Operating costs around $6,000 an hour. Say, one US to Iraq rotation every day with a payload of 100 tons. It's a 6,000 mile flight. Which means that an upfront investment of $70 million buys you 600,000 ton miles per day for a running cost of $60,000. (Halve that capacity if you assume they are coming back empty; add 50% to the running costs to include maintenance, crew pay, administration etc).
So $70 million up front plus $90,000 a day gives 0.3 MTM/D.
For $7 billion you can have a fleet of 100 jumbo jets painted grey, flying 5,000 tons of supplies in to Baghdad every day, for $9 million a day running costs - or 30 MTM/D .

Now, I don't know how much airlift an Army division needs per day. (Anyone?) But I do know that USAF planned on a war in Korea needing 5,000 tons per day for the first 30 days; and that Desert Storm got roughly 3,600 tons per day in January 1991. So what this experiment shows is that with a relatively modest investment you can build a cargo fleet big enough to support two entire armoured corps - half a million men - in 1991: far more additional troops than anyone is suggesting. Now, obviously there are not 100 747-400Fs on the market at the moment. And buying them new would cost more. As would buying passenger versions and converting them. And it would have taken time to recruit 747 crewmen into the air force (or to train USAF pilots to fly the 747); and the administration would take time; and you might have to stage them outside Iraq and shuttle the cargo in to Baghdad in C-17s for safety and operational reasons.

All this may be true. But the central point of this quick and dirty calculation is that a massive expansion of the USAF transport fleet (Air Mobility Command, or AMC) with COTS aircraft would have been affordable, and, I submit, extremely feasible in the eighteen months between 9/11 - when it became obvious that military action would be happening somewhere, and when war in Iraq started to become popular in the White House - and March 2003. It would have been very affordable by comparison with the overall cost of the Iraq war. And I would expect that USAF should have been able to handle such a rapid expansion. (How fast did they grow in the 1940s? How fast do modern airlines grow now? I would not think much of an airline of any size that could not absorb, say, two new aircraft a month, and USAF AMC is huge by airline standards.)

The decision to expand USAF AMC was not taken, because (as is well documented) the administration decided that a small, light force was all that would be needed. Had they made the decision to use a larger force - and the decision to invade Iraq was made, at the latest, in early 2002 - AMC could have been expanded by a huge amount by the outbreak of war, and the expansion could have continued after the start of the war.

So saying that "AMC is too small to support more troops" does not excuse the administration - it condemns them still further.

Aaron

There was talk about expanding the cargo fleet - a controvercial lease proposal with Boeing for a fleet of C-17's - with some related shenanigans.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A64968-2004Oct1.html

Steve K

Thanks very much - exactly the sort of comments I was hoping for. This is mainly a response to Ajay.
It all sounds right, though I'm least convinced about the timing issues. 18 months is not a long time in public-sector bureaucracy: the money would probably have to be voted by Congress and would then take months to come through the system. I wonder if the logistical strain might actually have been part of the reason for using a relatively small force? But that's pure speculation. I don't want to get into defending the indefensible: I'm on record as favouring Bush's re-election (I'm basically anti-anti-Bush rather than pro) which could mean I'm judging them too favourably. On the other hand, the difficulty of doing anything in government can never be underestimated. On balance, I'm fairly convinced that the AMC could have been significantly expanded - if not by March 2003, then by now anyway - sufficiently to support at least an extra brigade or two of civil-affairs troops, which would have been, I believe, available, and could have made a substantial difference in Baghdad. This of course assumes that the Iraqi airports could handle a bigger logistic throughput.
But as Aaron points out, willingness to shoot looters might have been as important. I remember hearing on the BBC at the time that British troops shot a few in Basra after which we stopped hearing about it, so I think there's evidence it would have worked, though the media would have spun it heavily.
I'm an agnostic on border-sealing, though I don't think Aaron's point about the relative absence of foreign jihadis in combat is all that strong: my take is that the foreigners are financiers, trainers, ideologists, planners, propagandists etc, using local Sunni Iraqis as cannon fodder. More information might come out when Fallujah is taken.

Aaron

If the actual issue is the actions of foreigners outside of Iraq, then you're essentially taking the issue of sealing the borders off the table. Which is fine - but then, doesn't that make the Bush Administration's talk about Iran and Syria allowing insurgents into Iraq misleading propaganda? Why do they find the war, and their botched post-war efforts, so hard to defend on the facts?

You don't actually have to be willing to shoot looters to stop them from looting - they just have to think you are willing to shoot them. I don't recall that any Iraqis were shot outside the oil ministry, as they were confident that they would have been shot.

ajay

I think Aaron has misread Steve K's point: when he says "the foreigners are financiers, trainers, ideologists, planners, propagandists etc, using local Sunni Iraqis as cannon fodder" I think he means that the foreigners are in Iraq, but the bulk of the insurgents, including most of the people doing the actual fighting, are local. I would sort of agree - there are foreign fighters, but the majority of the insurgents are local.
But, seriously, forget about sealing the borders. Can't be done. The Syrian and Iranian borders (and the Turkish border, though that's less of an issue) are very long and very porous; and the provinces near them rely on cross-border trade. Anyway, you can't seal borders against a small number of determined foreigners getting through with light weapons. The way you win is by winning hearts and minds and getting law and order in place in the country, so that if any foreign insurgents turn up you can catch them. We didn't win in Borneo by sealing the Indo-Malaysian jungle border - we won by winning in the country, and that meant that any infiltrators across the border were picked up very quickly.

Avoid being sidetracked by the issue of shooting at looters - but more troops would have brought civil order back faster, and could have prevented the towns becoming "terrorist/insurgent redoubts" in the first place. After all, a redoubt is basically any Sunni town that we have left unpatrolled for too long because we didn't have the manpower.

One contributing reason why the USAF is starved of transport is probably that combat arms generals (especially fighter pilots) run the AF and have far more political clout than trash-haulers. True in Europe too, which is why we now have the Eurofighter, which is basically useless except in air to air and why we don't have A400M, and barely have C-17, C-130 and C27.

Aaron

Perhaps you are correct, ajay. But I don't see it as much of a comeback to the fact that U.S. military commanders in the field see no evidence for the Bush Administration's claims of a flood of foreign fighters (not leaders, financiers, etc.) pouring over the borders. That is, it is not a valid defense of one position, unsupported by evidence, to present a second that also unsupported by evidence. It would be valid to note that there are foreign operatives, planners and financiers who are more than willing to aid Iraqi insurgents from outside of the nation - that seems to be pretty well documented, so I prefer to think that was Steve K's point.

One of the issues with transport comes with the Bush/Rumsfeld vision of a "light" military that can be quickly moved around the world by aircraft. That's much less of an issue when your military is dependent on, say, the M1/A1 Abrams battle tank as opposed to armored Humvees, and the armament must be brought in by cargo ship. (And, despite Iraq's ostensibly limited capacity for offloading, wasn't that pretty much how it was done for Gulf War I?)

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