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The War Nerd April 17, 2003
Lynch Mobs and Apaches
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 2 of 3
What happened after that was classic American military initiative: the generals on the ground took over and did it the right way, the way it should've been done in the first place. If you read military history, you know one of the constants for American armies is a rough start followed by a really impressive learning curve. Just compare the First and Second Bull Run, or Pusan and Inchon. That shaky first week had one positive effect: Rumsfeld finally took his hands off the steering wheel and let the experts do it their way. Instead of trying to do a Wehrmacht-style blitzkrieg, they did it the way American armies do best: poured a rain of fire down on the territory they wanted to occupy and then sent the armor in. And it worked, like it always does. They did a great goddamn job of it. No army on the planet could've done it one tenth that well.

The question is, who gets the credit. I say it should go to the guys in uniform, from the generals to privates. But not to Rumsfeld and not to Bush. Because, and this really makes me sick, while the troops were putting their lives on the line in Iraq, Rumsfeld and Bush were trying to cut veterans' benefits. Can you believe that? And another thing that really shocked me and made me hate these guys: I don't know if you read the eXile lead article last issue about how all Bush's men dodged the draft, but I did. It was disgusting. Guys like Cheney and Bush, they try to come off all patriotic, but look at what they actually do when their country calls. Unlike most of you I voted Republican in 2000. Duh-what was I going to do, vote for Gore? But the more I find out about Bush and his people I'm starting to think we must all be suckers to trust these spoiled assholes.

Well, enough of that crap. Let's get back to the good stuff, and have a look at one of the most important weapons to get a try-out in the war: the AH-64 (Apache) attack helicopter. This war was supposed to be the big combat debut for the Apache. It had some sorties in the '91 war, but this time it had a starring role. And as far as I can tell, it bombed (so to speak). It was a major disappointment, like a first-round draft pick who can't hit. A flying Brian Bosworth.

Plan A-Rumsfeld's plan-used the AH-64 in place of heavy armor. That's one reason why the 4th Division didn't leave base until after the war started: Rumsfeld wanted to see if a few squadrons of Apaches could serve in place of that armor. It was all in line with Rumsfeld's whole "cheap, light and fast" plan. You can move helicopters a lot faster than M1's and Bradleys. But that's the problem: because the choppers are so much lighter and more mobile than tanks, they're also a lot easier to knock out.

You may remember that in the first week, a big force of AH-64s was tasked to take out an Iraqi armored column -- and came back with its tail between its legs -- all except one that didn't come back at all. That one was shot down, supposedly by an old raghead farmer. Now, I'm not ignorant enough to believe a farmer with an old rifle can bring down an AH-64. But somebody did. There it was, an AH-64 sitting in a field, looking intact but with raghead peasants dancing around it.

So what did bring it down? Well, the Iraqi Army was built on Soviet hardware. And if there's one thing Soviet armored formations took seriously it was anti-aircraft defense. They designed their whole armored formations around the US threat, and it was always basic Soviet doctrine that the Americans' air power was their strength.

The basic '70s-era AA weapon Saddam bought from Russia was the ZSU-23 (4). This is a classic Soviet design: no fun to drive unless you were a midget (Soviet tankers had to be 5'5" or less) but tough and easy to use. Basically, it's a tank chassis fitted with a turret featuring a four-barreled 23mm rapid-fire AA cannon linked up to a primitive but effective radar. These units have a real interesting history. In the Lebanese Civil Wars back in the '70s, the ZSU turned out to be the weapon of choice for urban warfare. With those four-barrel automatic cannon, they could lay down hundreds of rounds in the time it took an T-55 MBT to aim and fire a single round. And in that kind of war, you don't need a giant cannon like the MBT has. Say you're a Lebanese Phalangist commander-Bashir Gemayel, God rest his bloodthirsty soul, say--and you've got a pesky Shiite sniper firing down into your nice quiet Maronite neighborhood park from the 17th floor of what used to be the Beirut Hilton. You want him dead; you want to splatter the whole 17th floor with shrapnel ASAP. Turns out the best way to do it was order up a ZSU-23 (4) and have it hose down the floor. The 23mm ammunition was plenty big enough to blast through any walls but small enough to use like machine-gun bullets.

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.

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Save The eXile: The War Nerd Calls Mayday
The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

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