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Wag the Tail, Frag the Dog

by RICHARD RHAMES


"There’s an old saw in the military that goes, ‘Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics.’ And when it comes down to the essential elements of the Iraq war, the fight is about logistics."

Robert Bryce

Starting in the year 1096, the theocracies of Europe began invading and killing "Moslems." Their repeated and repeatedly repulsed efforts are called The Crusades. My old (1959) encyclopedia notes the term was taken from the Portuguese, "cruzado, marked with the cross." The entry continues, "[T]he military expeditions… were sent out by the Christian peoples of the West from the end of the eleventh till the latter half of the 13th century for the conquest of Palestine."

The harvests were bad in Europe. The peasants were hungry and their prospects grim. Heavily armored and armed bands of warriors roamed the countryside and were always looking for blood-sport and booty. Shipping this lot off to Mesopotamia/Palestine for plunder, genocide and territorial acquisition became inevitable. As today, the invaded were characterized as "uncivilized" and subhuman. Thus were mud-hut dwelling illiterates sent against cultures practiced in the arts, literature, mathematics, and astronomy.

Ultimately, the 1096 Crusade and successors went poorly for the would-be conquerers. If food was scarce back home in Mudville, it was often only a dream in this distant and hostile land. The invaders usually started out with armored and mounted "Knights"(40 pounds of chain-mail, unventilated helmets, plus heavy sword and shield) leading the way, followed by pack animals, livestock, and peasant expendables. But the "logistical tail" to resupply the Christian soldiers was wanting. As time went on, they became a sick and desperate legion. Historian Robert Finucane reports the reactions of a "First Crusader" as food ran out and the animals were sacrificed: "He could see horseless knights suddenly demoted to the foot-weary ranks, or even perched on the backs of lumbering oxen. In place of their defunct pack-animals, crusaders loaded their goods….onto goats, rams, dogs, even sows…." Soon, these beasts too were lost.

Hunger set in, and by 1098, "Like Old Testament locusts, the Christians picked the surrounding countryside clean. They were soon reduced to meals of bean seeds, weeds, thistles which pricked the tongue, dead horses, asses, camels, dogs and rats." The poorest made "a kind of soup" from boiled animal skins to which they added bits of grain teased out of animal dung.

Finucane continues, "Extreme weather, thirst and exhaustion naturally made crusaders susceptible to a variety of diseases, like dysentery." Yes, the first foreign legion had a bad and collective case of "the squirts." The endless retreats to "the privy" (as Finucare delicately describes the condition) led many knights to cut slits in their armor and cut away their lower clothing to hasten the process.

This brown-stained crew made quite an impression on the locals. The Europeans were opposed in principle to bathing, thinking it most unhealthful. Factor in the heat and the diarrhea residue and the stench they carried with them is even today, the stuff of Arab legend.

The present crusaders are much better supplied logistically. The privatized mess-halls are well stocked. There’s always a Taco Bell or other saturated fat purveyor handy. There’s AC in a country where (thanks to US bombs and the Clinton embargo) most Mesopotamians can’t even power a fan.

And, as in any good crusade, there’s armor. But, there apparently isn’t enough. The most famously armored vehicle deployed in Iraq is the M1A1 Abrams tank. This machine, featured so prominently in recruitment videos hurtling though desert terrain, has a gas turbine engine rated at a "combat average" of 3 gallons per mile (GPM)—not miles per gallon (MPG). But now comes word that other armored vehicles are in the works which threaten to challenge the M1 for fuel hoggery. Called MRAPs (mine-resistant ambush protected) vehicles, these new carbon emitters are a predictable response to the agile and tenacious Iraqi resistance. The US, you may remember, was very concerned about protecting the Ministry of Oil in 2003. it was somewhat less concerned about museums, schools, and …well…ammo dumps. Thus, the US Defense Department (sic) estimates there are currently 7 million tons of large caliber ammunition at-large in Iraq. Some of that store has been fashioned into IEDs (improvised explosive devices) over the years. As Robert Bryce recently reported in the Washington Spectator, these devices are responsible for an increasing number of US casualties. "From January through early August of this year, just over 52 percent of all fatalities among US soldiers in Iraq were due to IED attacks." Since the occupation began the IED death toll is 1,460.

Occupation forces have tried electronic jamming ($1.4 billion in 2006 alone) and "up-armoring" the 22,000 Humvees currently there. Basically, it hasn’t worked. The locals simply adapt with bigger and now, EFPs (explosively formed projectiles) or "super IEDs."

More armor is the response. Bryce notes that, "Over the next four years,… [the plan is] to spend about $20 billion on a fleet of 23,000…" heavier MRAPs. The cost for the first 1,520 ordered came to $5.3 billion, or $3.5 million each. To get them overseas quickly they are being flown there at a cost of $135,000 per vehicle.

They will replace the Humvees (12,000 pounds/ 8 MPG). "The base model MRAP, known as the RG-31, or Cougar, weighs 38,000 pounds and may get 4 MPG, or less…. [T]he RG-33, weigh[s] 52,000 pounds. The largest MRAP,…[the] Buffalo, weighs 80,000 pounds, or 40 tons."

Iraq’s occupation is currently powered by 2.000 trucks each day freighting food, water, furniture, and fuel from Kuwait. This long "logistical tail" (including more than 5,500 fuel tankers) offer abundant targets for the resistance and their IEDs. The fuel requirements for the MRAPs alone fatten the logistical tail, create a "target-rich environment" and perhaps doom this recent crusade: Armored invaders a long way from home and likely to carry out a lot less than they carried in.

RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine whose place is just north of the Kennebunkport town line. When the swaggering cod-piece king is in town one dreams of Paris. He can be reached at: rrhames@xpressamerica.net

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