Learning fast in Fallujah

Ralph Peters:

IT all comes down to the grunt. Our military assault on Fallujah employed spectacular military technologies and innovative teamwork between services, thorough planning and overwhelming force. But the Infantry squad still decides who wins or loses.

Setting aside the greater issues of defeating terrorism and promoting a free Iraq, the Second Battle of Fallujah has been remarkable on a purely military level. Beyond the sophistication of our weaponry and even the valor of the American soldier, the fighting affirmed that our armed forces are very good at learning while at war.

The German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel supposedly said of American G.I.s that he'd never seen troops so green, but had never encountered troops who learned so fast. Well, today's U.S. soldiers and Marines don't go into war half-trained as they had to do in World War II — we now have the best-prepared forces in the world — but they still learn quickly on the battlefield.

Doctrine has rarely been an American strength. We've won our battles and wars through pragmatism, casting aside what didn't work and improving the methods that did. Instead of the inflexibility that outsiders attribute to our military, our armed forces are brilliant improvisers, ingenious at coping with war's surprises.

IN Fallujah, cooperation between the services — the Marines, Army and Air Force — took a major step forward, with Army heavy metal supporting the Marines, while Air Force fighters flew holding patterns overhead, waiting to deliver precision strikes in support of ground operations.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were used to an unprecedented degree, increasing our battlefield surveillance and targeting capability dramatically — some UAVs can even attack the enemy positions they locate. Robotics have begun to play a role in down-and-dirty combat in the streets.

Enhanced communications and battlefield-awareness technologies reduced friendly-fire incidents while allowing commanders a clearer picture of the battle than any leader has had since the days when the warlord stood on a hill and watched the slaughter unfold before his eyes.

But it still comes down to the young Americans who signed up for the Infantry.

URBAN warfare is formidably difficult and dangerous. The utility of our wonder-technologies plummets when we have to fight inside wrecked industrial plants or in the labyrinths of ancient cities. Past a point, the intelligence systems can no longer see. The troops at the tip of the spear engage enemies at short range in abruptly chaotic circumstances. Who lives or dies is decided with rifles, grenades and automatic weapons.


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