Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Billmon does some math

Billmon is looking at the comparative casualty rates between the Israeli Defense Forces and the Hezbollah in South Lebanon. The report of casualties is what U.S. Army General U.S. Grant used to call "the Butcher's Bill." It is the daily report evey military commander reads, and the one he always wants to avoid. In this case, it has a lot to do with who wins and who loses militarily in South Lebanon.

The IDF is on the attack against a dug-in and well prepared defending force, and is still apparently killing two Hezbollah for every killed Israeli. The Israelis are quite casualty-averse, while the Shia Hezbollah are attracted to the idea of death in battle. A good part of this is demographic. Israelis find it a lot harder to replace deald and injured soldiers than the Hezbollah does. Politically this puts the Israelis in a rather bad position. The Butcher's Bill is the first thing everyone will look at when determining who won and who lost in combat in South Lebanon. Largely this is because everyone is aware that whatever territory in Lebanon the Israelis take militarily now they will give back later.

Modern conventional war gives the advantage to a well-dug-in and prepared defense force. That's what made WW I in France such a very bloody war. It becomes a war of attrition in which the attacker loses many more troops than the defender does.

That's why the tank was invented. Unlike Infantry, tanks could survive against machine guns and travel over barbed wire, so in an attack they could break through the infantry trench lines and get into the enemy rear. The infantry forces were then lost unless they retreated. Anti-tank weapons and anti-tank mines have made such attacks much bloodier for the attackers, and the Hezbollah has plenty of those weapons. The result is that no direct attack on prepared, trained and supplied infantry is a low-casualty operation. The Butcher's Bill has gone up on this kind of operation again.

In Korea the North Koreans had taken all of South Korea except the port of Pusan at the southern tip of the penninsula and seemed likely to conquer all of Korea. The American and ROK defense of Pusan was extremely bloody, until General MacArthur made an end run with an amphibious attack through the port of Inchon on the west central coast of Korea.

By taking Inchon and moving across central Korea to the west the Americans and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces cut the supply lines supporting the North Korean armies in the South. This quickly stopped their supply of food, ammunition and fuel. The North Korean army quickly started its retreat and never recovered. The Chinese had to cross the Yalu and counterattack in December of 1950 to recover.

The Israelis have to be looking at "an Inchon." They can't go to the west and circle Hezbollah without going through Syria, bringing the Syrians into the war against them. I have no idea how likely an amphibious attack from the mediterrenean is, either geologically, demographically or politically. Nor do I know how likely and reasonable an air assault to some location north of the main Hezbollah lines is. [The two are not exclusive, either.]

Unlike Korea where the North Koreans were an attacking army which had no time to set up prepared positions and supply depots, the Hezbollah has had six years to lay in large supplies of food and ammunition. Cutting the supply lines will not automatically cause them to retreat as the North Koreans were forced to do in 1950. But it would set up the conditions for what is effectively a siege. The IDF could quit attacking in high casualty battles and wait for the Hezbollah to start running out of food and ammunition. When they do, their choice would be to attack into Israeli prepared positions or sit still and starve. Neither is a high casualty operation for the IDF. The Israeli Butcher's Bill, which seems to be the key political marker to winning and losing for the Israelis, would be much lower.

I have no idea what the political repercussions of these operations might be, other than being reasonably certain that circling the Hezbollah through Syria on the East is likely to drag Syria into the war against Israel. Nor do I know if the Israelis could logistically handle either an amphibious attack into Lebanon or an air assault into Lebanon, or the necessary resupply of the attacking troops. But such an effort would be a lower casualty route to appearing to win against Hezbollah in South Lebanon.

Billmon is quite negative on the likely favorable outcome for the Israelis if they continue the current attacks against the dug-in and prepared Hezbollah. This is true IF the battle continues as a war of attrition. My suggestions are that it be made a war of movement. Should that occur, then the political outcome is a lot more favorable to the Israelis.

Anyway, that's my opinion of the current situation. Of course, what I would prefer is a situation in which the Butcher's Bill is no casualties on either side. This war is a frigging waste on both sides.

Addendum Aug 09, 2006
What I have describes above assumes that Hezbollah has taken on the characteristics of a conventional army to a large extent. From what I have read, this seems to be the case. That's why the Israelis are suffering such high casualties as they attack.

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