Saturday, December 18, 2004


The Iraq airlift has begun

In late July I began a series on Iraqi hostage-taking and killing of truckers. At that point the press was completely ignoring it. The trucker kidnappings increased, eventually the media took notice, and I went on to other topics. The press finally grasped the effect on the supply lines, but they never really drew out the implications.

It seemed to me inevitable that an airlift would have to begin sooner or later if the insurrection couldn't be suppressed. And it has. It apparently began in earnest in November and is now going full force.

According to Eric Schmitt of the NY Times,

Dozens of air force C-130 and C-17 transports, as well as contracted commercial aircraft, are now ferrying about 450 tons of cargo a day, including spare parts, food, water, medical supplies and other matériel that normally moves by truck or trailers, a 30 percent increase in the past month.

Even trucks are sometimes shipped in by air.

In just the past month, the increased air operations have kept more than 400 trucks and about 1,050 drivers with military escorts off the most dangerous roads in Iraq, an air force spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Caldwell, said on Tuesday.

American military convoys have been suffering about 100 deaths and wounds a month.

Flying cargo is more expensive and less efficient than hauling supplies over land, but the air force's decision reflects the judgment of air and ground commanders that the insurgency will continue to pose a lethal threat to American supply lines, and that extraordinary steps must be taken to ensure the safe flow of cargo and to reduce casualties. [emphasis added]

The Washington Post first broke the story on the 12th, relegating it to page A28. Bradley Graham wrote

The Air Force initiative reflects the judgment of top military authorities that the threat to the convoys is not likely to diminish in the foreseeable future and that the best way to ensure safe delivery is to avoid ground transportation.

According to officers here, plans being drawn up for review by Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the commander of all U.S. forces in the region, call for an even greater increase in supplies delivered by airlift -- up to about 600 tons a day. Such a rise could put a serious strain on the existing air fleet, officers said.

"I would kid you if I said I'm not worried about sustainment," Buchanan said in an interview. "I can surge, but I have to develop a system that I can sustain this with because we don't know how long this is going to go on."

Asked if that meant more airplanes may be needed, Buchanan replied, "Potentially."

Ramsay said he could envision using aircraft to lift as much as 1,600 tons into and around Iraq daily. But even that, he added, would amount to only a small fraction of the shipments now pouring into the country. The vast majority of the tonnage, he said, is water and fuel, which are too bulky to haul by air.

To address the water issue, senior U.S. logistics officers are looking at options that include buying bottled water from the Iraqis or constructing bottling plants in Iraq. [emphasis added]

We may glean a further clue as to how bad the situation really is from the conclusion of the Times article

[Air Force chief of staff John] Jumper also said that he would not rule out the possibility of airdrops or landing on roadways, if needed.

And, of course, when you're losing your ass, cost is no object—

He acknowledged that the new operations would add fuel costs and other expenses to the $4.4 billion monthly price tag of the Iraq operation. But, he said, "I'm totally disinterested in the cost. It will be paid for. We'll do what it takes."

This airlift is a very objective measure of the success of the insurgency and of the control that the U.S. has over the country.

The situation is dire. Someone in the administration will need to be sacrificed—and soon—to the gods of war. I have always thought that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld would look his best on a sacrificial altar, though it's anybody's guess whether they'll find a heart.

As with all such rituals, the sacrifice will have no effect in altering the outcome of the war. If the U.S. continues, further sacrifice will eventually be needed—and demanded. After Rumsfeld, who?

Previous posts
Will kidnappings alter the Iraqi employment situation? (updated)
Where's the ice cream truck?

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