Monday, December 12, 2011

Millennium Challenge War Game: Did the US military know that the Iraq War was going to fail?

Leading up to the war in Iraq, the majority citizens believed that the US government was telling the truth and that Iraq did have WMDs and was a threat to global security. However, a large segment of the Western population resisted the war and on its eve organized massive anti war protests, the largest among them being in Europe. Yet the push to war still occurred and the "Coalition of the Willing" invaded Iraq. After the invasion, when the curtain was finally pulled away to reveal the lies and deceit that led to the invasion, the media focused solely on the fact that the Bush administration had deceived the nation and the world.

However, what it is a little known fact is that before the United States invaded Iraq, the US military launched a war game simulating the invasion of Iraq in which US forces were beaten. Yet, once it was seen that the US was losing, the games were quickly canceled. Thus this leads one to ask the question: Could the US military have known that the Iraq war was going to fail?

In 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, the US military decided to test its preparedness and its new military doctrine of Rapid Dominance by setting up a war game entitled Millennium Challenge which was part computer-based simulation and part reality. In it the US military (known as Blue Team) would face off against a force playing as Iraq (known as Red Team). The mock Iraqi force was headed by retired Marine Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper who was a well-respected soldier due to his examination of the war in Vietnam and his determination "to help get to the bottom of what went wrong [in Vietnam] and why and how it should be fixed." During this war game, when the US military sent warships and Marine amphibious warfare ships into the Persian Gulf, Van decided to attack the US naval force by using small boats that had been outfitted with ship-to-ship missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, pack "small boats and small propeller aircraft with explosives for one mass wave of suicide attacks against the [US] fleet," and shut down all radio traffic and instead use motorcycle messengers to communicate. The sneak attack of small boats "overwhelmed the Navy's much-vaunted defenses based on its Aegis cruisers and their radar controlled Gatling guns" and left thousands of Marines and sailors dead. 

Once this battle ended, the referees stopped the game, which was normal when a victory occurred so early. Yet, once the game started up again, to Van Riper's surprise, the war games were changed as to allow for a US victory. Van Riper was forced to turn on his anti-aircraft radar and allow it to be destroyed and was told that his forces would not be allowed to fire on any US aircraft that was bringing US troops ashore.Upon learning this, Van Riper withdrew from the game, arguing that it was being scripted.

The Pentagon never stated why the war game was changed. However, they did classify Van Riper's 21 page report "'criticizing the results and conduct of the rest of the exercise, along with the report of another DOD observer."

In a 2004 interview with PBS's Nova, Van Riper stated that while he was angry that $250 million had essentially been wasted on the war game, he was "even more angry that an idea that has never been truly validated, that never really went through the crucible of a real experiment, [was] being exported to our operational forces to use." This is without a doubt true as due to Pentagon brass intervening in the war games led to an untrue assessment of the Rapid Dominance theory. More importantly, however, it showed that the US military was as delusional as the government in regards to the war. They had the same mentality as Vice President Cheney when he stated that US troops would be greeted as liberators, the mentality that the situation would work out and that the US was unbeatable. 

The fact that the Pentagon refused to think out of the box and rather than attempting to deal with a more unconventional situation instead decided to script the war game suggests that the brass may have known that the Iraq war was going to be worse than they thought and that the military was not prepared to deal with the situation that would ensue in post-war Iraq when the occupation began: an insurgency that utilized unconventional tactics to spectacular effect.

This refusal by the Pentagon to not deal within the realm of reality may very well put US troops in danger in the future as the push for war with Iran increases. 

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