The Administration has announced it will send B-52 bombers to Iraq to begin supporting the coalition fight against ISIS. Previously, B-1 bombers were accomplishing this role, but the Air Force thinks B-52s can accomplish the mission as well.
However, while they can do a lot of damage from long distance, they are still merely a supporting arm and can’t take the place of the age-old infantryman, artillery and tanks. You have to have someone to ensure ground is taken, targets are hit and strategic and tactical nodes are neutralized. Aircraft certainly can fight a war, but they can’t win it.
In Vietnam, B-52 strikes were known as “Arc Lights”. Bombs were dumped into an area and the two targeting specialists responsible for hitting something were named “Hope” and “Pray”. In my first tour, in the central highlands, my rifle company and I did bomb damage assessments by physically climbing in and out of deep holes in the jungle. We never identified anything that could be identified as a military target. We saw no tunnel complexes, troop concentrations, or destroyed camps or vehicle convoys. We sure saw a lot of twisted jungle blowdown and torn-up ground.
I must admit that 500 pound bombs are not just a means of blowing large foxholes in the ground. They are also a great psychological weapon. We were required to stay at least five kilometers away from the target area. That was primarily because there was an uncertain-ness about where the payload would land. The only thing we were sure of was that they WOULD hit the ground…somewhere.
That being said, however, when they did hit the ground, it was a psychological event of major proportions. The ground literally trembled and shook, even from several kilometers away. Exploding bombs were deep, gut-wrenching, visceral experiences. These, coupled with the rocking of the planet, indicated that something very bad was happening. To anyone caught within the target area, I imagine burst eardrums, mental activity gone haywire and an automatic fetal position if they survived the explosions. I have read stories of the horrendous shelling in World War I, with men in the trenches having permanent damage, physically unable to walk, talk or hear. A B-52 strike has that effect as well.
One can hope (that word again) that with new ammunition and a clearer countryside, targets worthy of massive bomb strikes will be able to be identified, and hit. The smart bombs in Desert Storm did a great job on bridges, headquarters and specific buildings.
But – while you can tell from drone coverage, or someone with a good pair of binoculars, what a bomb did to buildings or terrain, you still need the on-ground guy’s report to determine if there are still people in holes or cellars. These need to be dug out and guess who gets that job? Yep, your favorite ground pounder.
The question is, of course, the reliability of those Iraqi troops. Will the Iraqi ground forces, as currently supported by the U.S., be able to further the advance into Mosul or other ISIS strongholds, without additional troops? We, the US, currently have a few Special Forces types on the ground training (or trying to train) the Iraqis, but sometimes that doesn’t take too well. I guess we are going to find out.
I know our allies on the ground are glad the B-52s are enroute. It’s a great weapon system. But it needs ground troops to make it effective. Are there enough of them to complete the equation? The big question of the day in the war in Iraq is whether or not to send additional US troops BACK to Iraq, after Obama declared victory and pulled most of them out two years ago. The use of B-52s is a good step in the right direction, but big bomb strikes simply cannot dig the ISIS fighters out of their holes in urban areas like the city of Mosul, which is one of their current headquarters. Bombs kill cities, but not necessarily all of the enemy.
The big question of the day in the war in Iraq is whether or not to send additional US troops BACK to Iraq, after Obama declared victory and pulled most of them out two years ago. The use of B-52s is a good step in the right direction, but big bomb strikes simply cannot dig the ISIS fighters out of their holes in urban areas like the city of Mosul, which is one of their current headquarters. Bombs kill cities, but not necessarily all of the enemy.
Small, mobile groups of ISIS fighters are more difficult to target, so a B-52 bomb strike is not always efficient. They do well on fixed installations or large masses of enemy.