WASHINGTON, April 5 (UPI) -- On Saturday, an armored task force from the 3rd Infantry Division started south of Baghdad, pushed through the city and ended its journey at Baghdad International Airport, west of the capital. In the raid, the task force is believed to have killed about 1,000 Iraqi defenders. Apparently, most of those killed were members of the Special Republican Guard. American losses were one killed and six wounded.
The results of this raid should not be taken as proof that the capture of Baghdad will be easy. It is, however, a strong indication that it won't be as bloody as many analysts had feared.
There has been a lot of hysterical talk about how difficult and bloody the coming battle will be. One former Army War College professor has said that he believes it would take 100,000 additional American troops to clear Baghdad. Some analysts believe that the Iraqi Army will have the advantage in the fight for Baghdad. In fact, American troops would have the advantage. They are better trained, better equipped and better led than their opposite numbers. That has been demonstrated in the few fights that have occurred in built-up areas during this war. Our forces have inflicted significant numbers of casualties in these fights and have suffered relatively few. Our troops would not have as much of an advantage as they did in the countryside, but they would have an advantage.
In fact, thanks largely to Saddam Hussein, we won't have to leave our most potent weapons outside the city. Baghdad is not a city of crowded slums and narrow roads. It is a fairly open city, and it has fairly wide roads. Many are long and straight. One of the main reasons for the city's design is that Saddam Hussein wanted to be able to effectively deploy armor in the city to suppress uprisings. Instead, Baghdad's layout will allow Abrams tanks to operate effectively and take some long-range shots. In addition to being good for our tanks, the wide, straight boulevards will enable Apache attack helicopters to enter the fray and pick off Iraqi armored vehicles.
There will be Iraqi armored vehicles. It was reported that during Saturday's 3rd ID armored raid, the call went out for the 8th and 15th brigades of the Republican Guard to take up positions in the center of the city. Both of these brigades belong to the Hammurabi Armored Division. The 8th is a tank unit. The 15th is a mechanized infantry unit. It is unclear at present what happened to the division's other (17th) tank brigade. Units of three other Republican Guard heavy units have also been spotted in Baghdad.
Incidentally, many analysts have suggested that Army light forces, like the 82nd or 101st Airborne divisions, should do the bulk of the fighting in Baghdad. Usually, urban warfare calls for light forces to play a starring role. In this case, however, due to the opportunities offered by Baghdad's layout and the presence of a significant number of Iraqi armored vehicles, it would be advisable to have heavy units do most of the clearing. The light units could move in behind them to occupy the cleared areas and keep Iraqi forces from reoccupying them after the heavy units had moved through.
It has also been said that the Iraqis would have a significant "home field" advantage in Baghdad. Not so. Most of the units presently in the city, and almost all of the Republican Guard heavy units there, are normally stationed elsewhere. These units will be defending places they have never been before. In terms of knowing the terrain, we probably have the advantage. Once upon a time, American military planners had only maps to work with. Now, our attack planers will have the advantage of incredibly detailed satellite imagery. Our combat units will have the advantage of Predator drones circling overhead, providing real-time information about the defenses in front of them.
In short, even if the Iraqi defenders fight fanatically, things won't be as bad as most people think. In the past few days, the American public has been frightened by nightmare scenarios and discussions of city fighting in the abstract. So, perhaps this would be a good opportunity to give readers an idea of what city fighting in Baghdad would actually look like.
An Army tank or mechanized company has three platoons of either Abrams tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Marine tank companies also use the Abrams, but their infantry companies use the Light Armored Vehicle, or LAV. The LAV has basically the same armament as a Bradley, but it is wheeled instead of tracked.
For combat, armored and mechanized companies swap platoons to create mixed "teams." A tank-heavy team has two platoons of four tanks each and one platoon of infantry in four armored fighting vehicles. An infantry-heavy team has one platoon of tanks and two platoons of infantry in armored fighting vehicles. For this illustration, I will use an Army infantry-heavy team to demonstrate how streets would be cleared.
A team would probably be responsible for two streets, and would split into two forces. Each would have two tanks and a platoon of four Bradleys. The street clearing would take place slowly and carefully. It could take hours to clear just a few streets.
On each street, an Abrams tank would lead, to provide the firepower to deal with serious threats, like tanks or armored fighting vehicles, that might pop up. It would also act as an armored shield for the four more lightly armored Bradleys following behind.
Because the Bradley's rapid-fire 25mm chain gun can elevate higher than the Abrams' tank gun, the Bradley is able to provide cover for the tank by scanning for and engaging enemy infantrymen with anti-tank weapons in the upper floors of buildings. The Bradleys would also support the infantrymen clearing the buildings on either side of the street.
All of the platoon's infantrymen would be dismounted. Half the platoon would clear the buildings on the left side of the street. Half would clear the buildings on the right. The infantrymen will all wearing Kevlar helmets and flak jackets. These items will not stop heavy machine-gun bullets, but they will stop assault rifle bullets or grenade fragments.
The other Abrams would bring up the rear. This provides rear security. It also allows the force to maintain its formation if it has to turn around and fight its way back: a tank, followed by four Bradleys, then another tank.
Our urban warfare tactics are tried and true. They work. So, the fighting will not be as bloody as many people think. Still, clearing Baghdad will not be easy by any means. Overconfidence should be guarded against. "I think this whole thing is at the culminating point," said one senior general a few days ago at the Pentagon "[But] once we smash the Medina and Baghdad divisions, it's game over, and I think Baghdad will fall." That kind of enthusiasm should be avoided. Urban warfare is not rocket science, but it is a lot like jungle fighting in that it demands care and focus and tends to punish those who take their enemies lightly.
(Thomas Houlahan is the director of the Military Assessment Program of the William R. Nelson Institute at James Madison University. A veteran of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division and the XVIII Airborne Corps staff, he is the author of "Gulf War: The Complete History," Schrenker Military Publishing, 1999)