The Washington Times
Sunday, November 29, 2009

By Douglas Macgregor
Naval Institute Press, $29.95, 280 pages, illus.

In “Warrior’s Rage,” retired Col. Douglas Macgregor gives us two books. One is a graphic account of the obliteration of an Iraqi Republican Guard brigade by the 2nd Squadron of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment during the Gulf War. Since the author filled the number two slot in the squadron, and was instrumental in how it trained and the tactics it used, and since he believed in leading from the front in his own combat tank, he probably witnessed more of the conflict than anyone, and thus is an ideal narrator.

His second theme is a blistering critique of the colonels and generals who led the Army and who, he believes, frittered away the monumental victory the company grade officers and enlisted men tried to give them. Both accounts are graphic and passionate and show the author’s deep concern for the future of the U.S. Army.

When the signal for the ground war in Kuwait was given, the 2nd Squadron (the Cougars) was more than ready. The troops had trained relentlessly in the desert, were sick of desert sand in their coffee, underwear and bedding, tired of the general dullness and boredom of their surroundings and, at the risk of being politically incorrect, could be described as eager for combat. They knew that only through offensive action could the war be brought to an end and they could finally leave the desert and return home.

(Corrected paragraph:) Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s strategy, crafted by a special team of planners brought in from the Pentagon was fairly simple. The Marines would attack along the coast hitting the heavily fortified Iraqi Army positions. It was thought the Republican Guard would then stream south to reinforce the troops under attack. At that point, the VII Corps under Lt. Gen. Frederick “Freddie” Franks on the left would hook round to come in on their flank and crush the Republican Guard.

The planners felt the Iraqi fortifications were too strong and complex for the Marines to make much headway and simply wanted them to fix the Iraqis in their position. When this was explained to Paul Wolfowitz of the Department of Defense, he remarked the Marines didn’t fight that way; but that remark, like others that fell outside conventional thinking, was ignored.

Although the Marines took no part in planning the general strategy they did form their own opinions. Early in the war, the Iraqis launched a full mechanized division attack, led by one of their most capable generals, against the Saudi town of Khafji. Their armor was torn to shreds by our Air Force once they left their fortified positions, and although they captured the town and held it briefly it was a ruinous experience for them.

The Marines, who had been the only Americans opposing them, came to the conclusion that it was a hollow army with miserable morale. When the order finally came for the offensive to begin the Marines took 2½ hours to send the Iraqis reeling back out of their elaborate fortifications north to Iraq. Nor did the Republican Guard, which had been acting as a kind of floating reserve in the rear, follow the script. Rather than rushing in to rescue their defeated comrades, they too pivoted north and joined the exodus from Kuwait.

The suddenness of this victory brought about a flurry of orders from Coalition Headquarters. They instructed VII Corps to begin its offensive early and attack, attack, attack. The fear was that the planned gigantic left hook would hit nothing but empty air while the Republican Guard sat safely in the interior of Iraq.

Accordingly, the VII Corps began its attack early, but Lt. Gen. Franks, who had trained for years with the expectation of facing a numerically superior Russian army, moved cautiously. He wanted to guard his flanks against possible ripostes and keep casualties as low as possible. He therefore moved with deliberate speed, stopped frequently to ensure all units were properly aligned and kept the leading elements in rein.

For the author and his colleagues, this was frustrating in the extreme. They could find no enemy elements in front of them, and the Air Force had absolute control of the air. Any counterattack by imaginary or nonimaginary forces could not possibly succeed. But only after repeated outbursts from Gen. Schwarzkopf, who was not shy in expressing himself, did the pace pick up.

After two days the 2nd Squadron, which was leading the advance finally made contact with the Republican Guard. The conflict that ensued was overwhelmingly in favor of the Americans. One squadron (cavalry speak for a battalion) wiped out an entire mechanized brigade. The entire battle cost the Americans one fatality while they managed to kill hundreds and captured even more.

The Russian-built T72 tank was mechanically reliable but inferior to the American Abrams in the guns it used and in its range finders. More important, however, the American crews were better trained, better schooled, better led and infinitely more capable, making the results of the battle logical if somewhat unbelievable. What is truly unbelievable, however, is the faith the American leadership had in the fighting abilities of the Republican Guard, which prevented them from finishing it off.

True, some journalist malcontents, such as Peter Arnett, esteemed the Republican Guard, but who else? Were the Israelis ever asked for a briefing on the strengths and weaknesses of Arab armies, a subject they were certainly familiar with? Did the Army pay any attention at all to the battle of Khafji? Was even one of the experts imported from the Pentagon to plan the offensive familiar with Middle East armies?

The author feels that the abundance of errors in thinking lies primarily in what he calls the corporate culture of the Army. The way to get promoted, as in any bureaucracy, is not to make mistakes. The way to avoid mistakes is not to do anything. And before long you are on the promotion list.

Col. Macgregor has written other books on how to improve the Army. Presumably he will continue to do so. He may not always be right, but he is worth listening to.

Sol Schindler is a retired Foreign Service Officer who writes on international affairs.

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