Archive for the Desert Storm Category

The tactical experience in Desert Storm, Leon Pennetta to Afghanistan…

Posted in Afghanistan War, Desert Storm on July 10, 2011 by maccaulay

…though it has been twenty years since the conflict, Desert Storm still echoes through our recent history due to the Iraq War. One enduring myth that will probably outlive the veterans of that war is that the Iraqi Army was without any tactical or operational savvy whatsoever.

One engagement which shows the immense doctrinal and equipment advantages the US had even when the Iraqis DID make good tactical decisions is the Battle of 73 Easting.

On February 26th, 1991, elements of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment were advancing across the desert along pre-established directional “lines in the sand”. Upon reaching Easting line 70 (known in parlance as 70 Easting), the Bradleys and Abrams of Eagle Troop under the command of Captain H.R. McMaster engaged dismounted Iraqi infantry dug in around a series of buildings.

The American armor engaged the infantry and passed through them after decisively defeating them in a quick engagement, and continued east. The group of Iraqis they had engaged was in actuality one of the security screens for the Tawakalna Division.

It is here that we stop to answer an important question: why was the Tawakalna there? Obviously the Iraqi Army was not just a series of pop up targets to be collected and shot at by the US. Contrary to popular belief, there WAS a larger operational plan.

The Coalition plan was to attack with the mechanized VII Corps (1st Infantry Division, 1st Armored Division, 3rd Infantry Division, 1st UK Armoured Division, 2nd ACR) around the north flank of the Iraq forces in Kuwait, locking them off from retreat and trapping them between their own mechanized forces in the north and the advancing troops of the Marine and Arab Corps in the south.

Once this became obvious to the Iraqi General Staff, four Republian Guard and one mechanized Army divisions were sent from southern Iraq to create a north-south defensive line from Basra down into northern Kuwait in order to deny the Iraqi flank to the Coalition. This was a sound operational move, and one that in effect managed to keep the Republican Guard intact by aligning it against the VII Corps as opposed to the south of it.

The mechanized Army division, in the south of the line, was the Tawakalna Division. And it was that unit’s lines that the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment had just moved into. Once past the security cordon, the 2nd ACR pushed into the Tawakalna’s main body: US doctrine states to attack on the move, charging in and using the confusion of movement to aid in causing fear in the enemy.

The Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles  advanced towards the main body of the Tawalkana Division, but before they could close they hit an anti-tank minefield. Captain McMaster’s decision was to move through the minefield at full speed, choosing momentum over tactical precision. It turned out to be the correct choice.

Over twenty T-72s were already destroyed by the time the Abrams made their way past the minefields and into the main lines of the Iraqis. The T-72s were dug into revetments: only their turrets were visible to the Americans, but their training and inclination to aim at the mass of a target resulted in most shots going straight through the berm in front of the tank before finally impacting the target.

The M1A1 Abrams tanks moved farther into the Iraqi positions, finally reaching the command and control section of the division where they proceeded to shoot up the mobile reserve which was still waiting to deploy.

What does 73 Easting tell us about US and Iraqi warfighting? It tells us that even when the Iraqis did everything right, US doctrine and training still outclassed them definitively:

The Iraqis laid out pickets: the Americans managed to advance through them using a simple attack.

The Iraqis next laid down an anti-tank mine field: the 2nd ACR bypassed that using speed and forcefulness of movement, as is directed in their doctrine.

The Iraqis THEN had a mobile reserve waiting to counter any attack, but the breakthrough from the minefield by the 2nd ACR was so fast that the Iraqi armor wasn’t even out of it’s revetments by the time the Abrams were in among them.

Simply put: the Iraqis did everything right, and they still lost. That is because American doctrine was designed to take advantage of those holes in Soviet doctrine that the Iraqis were using. We had the right tools for the job, and used them in the right way.


In his first trip out of the US as Secretary of Defense, former CIA chief Leon Pennetta made a whirlwind trip to Afganistan yesterday to meet with David Petraeus. Surely that must’ve been an interesting meeting: Petraeus is due to take Pennetta’s old slot at the CIA.

As for who will take the Central Command head post after Petraeus leaves, only time will tell. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wishes there were a few more like him.