The View From Olympus: The Fall of Baghdad

ISIS is now in the process of taking Baghdad. Our pathetic excuse for military intelligence does not recognize that fact, because it does not understand how light cavalry operates. ISIS cannot take Baghdad by assault, so U.S. analysts think Baghdad cannot fall. It can, and at present it is on the way to doing so.

ISIS is encircling Baghdad with light, fast-moving forces just as American Indians, who were also irregular light cavalry, encircled a wagon train. The Indians shot in arrows. ISIS is shooting in mortar shells, rockets, and the poor man’s Predators, suicide bombers. ISIS’s object is to get the Shiite forces defending the city to come out into the open countryside, where light cavalry can and will cut them to ribbons. They do not have to come out very far; ISIS is now eight miles from the Baghdad airport.

Punishing Baghdad with bombardment may or may not get the Shiites to make that mistake. So I expect ISIS to undertake other operations to compel them to do so. A thrust at Karbala or even Najaf is likely. ISIS is already south of Baghdad. To those who think Najaf is too far, I would point out that irregular light cavalry warfare advances and retreats in vast sweeps. It is not about taking and holding ground. It is about destroying the enemy’s forces. The elements of the coalition that is ISIS that are holding ground and providing local government are Baathist. They know how to do those things. The Islamic puritans provide the light cavalry. Both are necessary to ISIS’s success: they are the cheng and the chi.

As ISIS encircles Baghdad, it will try to cut off the city’s supplies. Light cavalry cannot undertake a mortar siege, but they can raid supply lines. Shiite forces detailed to guard those lines will find themselves in the positions of the Turkish infantry facing Lawrence of Arabia’s light cavalry. You may recall that did not end well.

What about America’s overestimated air power? ISIS is countering that in a number of ways, some obvious, some quite creative. As I predicted, it has learned the standard countermeasures quickly: dispersion, camouflage, movement at night and in bad weather. I think it is also using the stuff we mistakenly think of as “combat power”: tanks, artillery pieces, APCs, etc. (we leave out maneuver and velocity) as decoys. ISIS may have come up with the best decoy of all, in the form of two or three jet fighters (or rumors thereof, which work almost as well). Every U.S. flyboy will fixate on them, hoping to be able to claim a kill. The cat will go for the catnip rather than the mouse.

I think ISIS may also be decoying us on the operational level with the siege of Kobani. That siege makes little sense except as a deception. As an operatioal Schwerpunkt, it is a dead end, although it works to paralyze the Turks on the mental level of war by pushing them into bed with the Kurds, whom they loath. That isn’t enough of a benefit to justify what even a small siege costs ISIS. But if, as I suspect, ISIS’s real operational and strategic Schwerpunkt is Baghdad, then the price ISIS is paying in Kobani is easily worth it. All last week air strikes intended for Iraq were often diverted to Kobani. Air defenses come in many varieties, not just missiles and guns.

When will Baghdad fall? Probably within a few months or not at all. Light cavalry cannot sustain a status quo. Its power is in its dynamism. If a situation stabilizes, it must alter its objective or fail. However, once the fall of Baghdad begins, it will culminate very fast. The tipoff we have reached that point will be when the Shiite infantry leaves Baghdad to engage ISIS in the open. It will be slaughtered, because with forces so intermixed, only our A-10s will be able to operate effectively. You know, that airplane the Air Force hates and wants to scrap.

If you are an American or other Christian in Baghdad when the infantry marches out to fight the cavalry on the plain, get on the next flight out. There won’t  be any more. favicon

11 thoughts on “The View From Olympus: The Fall of Baghdad”

  1. If ISIS has been using Kobane as a strategic diversion, they will be repeating the tactic of the PAVN and VC, who used the siege of Khe Sanh to distract the attention of the US and South Vietnam away from the real targets, which were Hue City and Saigon. It worked back then and it seems to be working now. Why don’t we ever learn?

  2. Let’s hope they built a 100 kiloton nuke into the foundation of the Emerald City in Baghdad.

  3. The “Indians circling the wagon train” is a pure Hollywood invention – the closest actual event was the Wagon Box Fight. The Plains Indians simply did not have the cultural background for protracted, organized combat. The Little Big Horn was an accidental collision than a planned battle. The same day, Benteen and Reno had no real problem winning battles at the same odds that Custer faced – but in prepared defensive positions with carbines readied for long-range fire.

    One Armored Cavalry Regiment in Humvees would obliterate all ISIS field forces – but would lack the manpower to dig them out of the towns and cities.

  4. You should write a book about how the Apache didn’t know jack squat about light cavalry and light infantry tactics. Especially about how Geronimo, who, according to you, couldn’t organize for combat, yet somehow assembled 4,000 warriors to ambush Custer. Him and Victorio. Both losers! Didn’t know anything about warfare.

    And if you knew anything about our military. . .if over 150K soldiers could not defeat a bunch of farmers and shop owners, what makes you think the a few thousand could? Our military does not know how to fight 4GW. My gosh, our military doens’t even know how to live in tents any more. Gotta have contractors go in and build pre-fabs with floors.

    ISIS would not fight a pitched battle. You should really study more. I suggest you start with Mao on Guerrilla warfare.

  5. The “Apache” ( the correct word is ‘Dineh’), like all horse nomads, knew quite a bit about raiding – which was of absolutely no use when the U.S. Infantry showed up in the winter. There is NO movie about that, so the activities that made up 50% of the effort in the Indian Wars are quite invisible to you.

    The Little Big Horn was the largest concentration of Indians in History (,2500 combatants) – bigger than Fallen Timbers (1,600), Tippecanoe (1,200) or Horseshoe Bend (600). The average Plains Indian warband was about 120 braves (only 20% armed with rifles)

    The understrength US forces had a busy time chasing down Indian warbands in the western wastelands, to be sure. However those campaigns ended with total defeat for the Indians. BTW, you are aware that neither Genonimo nor Errol Flynn were actually present at the Greasy Grass(a.k.a Little Big Horn)

    “And if you knew anything about our military. .” In 27 years of playing Army, I picked up a few tidbits of information. BTW, war movies a a lousy source of info, except for ‘Fury’, which is closer to reality than you might think.

    “if over 150K soldiers could not defeat a bunch of farmers and shop owners, what makes you think the a few thousand could?” US forces decisively defeated the insurgency in Iraq, killing over 50,000 local insurgents and foreign fighters. Then we were ordered to go home and a group from Syria moved in a year later. I did say that “digging the bugs out of their holes” would require more than a Armored Cavalry Regiment, bur this time we could actually build a real Iraqi Army to do that.

    Mao’s self-serving narratives on guerrilla warfare are very interesting. They rank right up therewith Caesar’s ‘Gallic Wars’ as superb examples of highly effective propaganda. You probably think Mao conquered China with bands of guerrilla fighters (including lots of pretty girls with big red banners).
    1) Mao converted his troops to regular light infantry divisions as fast as he could get his hands on Russian arms (by 1945 he was about done)
    2) The famed Long March moved his forces out of areas contested heavily by the Japanese – leaving them to fall upon Chang Kai -shek’s forces instead – brilliant.
    3) He put 90%of his efforts into building a real army to take over China AFTER WWII would end.

    The secret of winning at 4GW is – like COIN – is NOT TO PLAY. Systematic operations to kill key leaders are particularly effective because 4GW requires a pool of talent, usually only very small one is available. Phoenix Program, anyone?

    You should study real military affairs instead of old war movies and warmed-over propaganda.

  6. I stand corrected. I got Sitting Bull mixed up with Geronimo and his tribe. The source of my 4,000 number, I assure you, was not a movie. It’s what I was taught elsewhere. Mea Culpa.

    Whether we stayed in Iraq or not is irrelevant, we lost when we invaded. We won tactically everywhere, but lost strategically, and morally. We could have racked up one million kills and it would not have mattered. In the end, we were ordered to go home because the Iraqis kicked us out. Bush was forced to sign a deal to leave. Oh, but we tried so hard to stay. Somehow we still think killing enough people = win.

    We cannot build an Iraqi army even if we tried for 10 more years. Their loyalty is to their family, tribe, and their sect first, not their govt. It’s all Vichy and Vichy don’t surf. You cannot put rebar into clay and call it an army. Doesn’t matter who we send or train. We do not know how to fight and win that kind of war because we only know attrition warfare–EKIA > X = Win (and no one knows what “X” is). Might explain why ISIS rolled into Mosul so easily–we trained them.

    Mao inspired people. And no, I know he did not conquer China with guerrilla forces. He actually used giraffes. Ahem….He knew when to fight, and not to fight. He won at the moral level. And propaganda or not, he won. What we say about that is irrelevant.

    Systematic operations to kill key leaders does not work, especially against a non-Napoleonic based organizations. It’s whack a mole. We’ve done it for years. Nigeria tried it with Boko Haram. That worked out brilliantly. We’ve always killed number ones and twos. You have to do more than to kill the man, you have to kill the idea, and destroy the group’s will, and power base. And that means not killing thousands of civilians whose surviving family members now hate you. Only when an enemy looks like us, and fights like us, do we have a clue as to what we are doing. We clap our hands like seals.

    And BTW, there are plenty of good war movies out there. Never studied them, though.

  7. To anyone interested, I offer a lesson in checking what you were taught in times past. I made the error of citing a number as to the number of Indians at Little Bighorn.

    In the process of checking the history, I learned that the “Indians circling the wagon train” is not myth, but probably fact. I stumbled upon this book. I have not read the book, but the review is telling. But what jumped out the most was the PC that has infested the modern narrative that is “Whites were bad, and there’s no way the Indians were bad.” Learn something new every day.

  8. “The Heart of Everything That Is” is a book I learned a lot about from. Book about the Sioux and about chief Red Cloud. About the cruelty and the genuine savagery that were just traditional to how the Indians fought wars. About how the federal government sometimes really did try to uphold the treaties it signed with the Indians, but the frontier settlers couldn’t give a damn about what piece of paper the Washington bureaucrats had supposedly signed.

    And about how damn hard it was for the Indians to actually besiege a fortified target.

    The Plains Indians were warriors, not soldiers. That had its advantages when it came to guerrilla raiding but major disadvantages when it came to protracted siege or fighting an evenly matched battle.

    The Indians had courage but they had no discipline. No formalized chain of command, no institutionalized obedience. An Indian war chief led by force of personality alone, commanding respect from his reputation as a great warrior. The braves followed his lead because they expected to win the greatest glory for themselves by following the greatest warrior. Not because they were drilled into obeying orders. An Indian chief most of the time did not have the authority to punish those who didn’t follow his command. He’d be seen as a tyrant if he did, and it would trigger a feud with the clan of whoever he’d punished.

    Besieging a frontier fort is not glamorous or glorious for the besieiging army. The commander who ended up taking the fort, sure, it was for him in the end. But for everyone else who has to camp around the fort for days, for weeks, God forbid months, getting cold, getting sick, getting bored, not getting to sleep with his wife: it is not a glorious task.

    It took a truly awe-inspiring personality like Red Cloud, like Geronimo, like Crazy Horse to keep an undisciplined force on the field under those circumstances, and even then it was a daily struggle. And when the braves’ patience ran out, they’d ride off, or pointlessly charge at the walls and get themselves gunned down. Thus further demoralizing the rest of the force until the entire army went to pieces or the commander just decided to take them home (to his own shame and loss of face, which is why most Indian commanders wouldn’t even try to besiege a fort for more than a night or three in the first place).

    Unless, of course, they were helped out by some hot-headed, moronic white officer, most often a cavalry officer, who got sick of waiting around inside the walls and decided to charge off with his own little column to go strike back at the enemy. In which case the Indians would inevitably surround and slaughter them.

    There’s the formula for all the Indians’ greatest victories against the Federal army: some hotheaded idiot cavalry colonel charges his little column into the heart of Indian country, and gets baited into the hills or the woods where he finds himself surrounded by an Indian warband outnumbering his own 5 or 10 to 1.

  9. Baghdad still seems unfallen. But I think Lind’s hyping of IS capacity is a useful corrective to the War Nerd’s claims that they will soon disappear in a puff of smoke. The truth seems somewhere in between.

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