Tuesday, January 17, 2006


I wrote earlier that I think any aerial campaign against Iran (with special forces, too, involved) would last weeks and would have to be much more than just attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. Since such a long campaign would give Iran a chance to respond with their own military, we'd need to hit any elements of their military plus command and control assets that could counter-attack.

Caerdroia notes another military option for dealing with Iran:

But, who says that's what our objectives have to be? We have sufficient troops to occupy the southwestern oil fields and terminals, to ensure the oil keeps flowing, and to occupy Iranian territory at key points like the Straits of Hormuz. We have sufficient forces to strike Iranian nuclear, security, military, government, and key infrastructure sites (like power plants) effectively indefinitely, and can ruin Iran, both in their nuclear program and their military and their civilian infrastructure. If this does not bring about regime change by revolution, it at least moves the security threat several years, or more, down the road.

This is something to think about. I tend to think of military actions in terms of pursuing total victory by marching on the enemy capital. I looked at an invasion scenario over a year ago. This general outline would work to support a military revolt, too, as I preferred.

But we did win in the Persian Gulf in 1987-1988, in Bosnia in 1995, and in Kosovo in 1999 with limited military objectives. Even though our military operations were insufficient to win alone, other factors contributed to make our limited operations successful.

So could we do this? Occupy southwest Iran to control the oil fields and the Gulf to control the export routes?

We'd need to control territory west of the Zagros mountains from Dezful (this controls access to the north and would block Iranian reinforcements coming south from the Tehran region) at the northern end of a box mesuring 100 miles west to east and 150 miles north to south.

Plus we'd need to capture Kharg Island and the Hormuz islands plus smaller island and oil platform bases. This is almost an inversion of the outlined invasion scenario that actually avoided invading Khuzestan to focus on taking Tehran and blocking troops in Khuzestan from heading north by taking Dezful.

The Marines in about division strength could handle the islands and possibly some points on the mainland in the Hormuz region. Some years ago I read that our planned digitized heavy division was designed to hold a 120-mile by 80-mile box. So assuming three brigades per division for this footprint, we'd need 5 brigades to hold the territory in southwest Iran and defend it against Iranian regular forces. Add several more to hold lines of communication and crucial assets like the Ahvaz airbase and the Abadan-Khorramshahr region on the border. Call it 8 brigades at minimum. Perhaps the British would contribute one brigade making our commitment seven Army brigades--with at least 4 heavy brigades--and three Marine regimental combat teams.

Note that we'd have to hit Revolutionary Guard forces (Pasdaran) at Dezful but the rest of the southwest region has regular army units. If we can get the regulars to defect, we'd be in business.

The attitude of the Iranian army is the key, I think. If we want to choke off Iranian revenue and gasoline imports, we could just grab Kharg and the other Gulf islands. But to keep the oil fields intact, we'd need to invade Khuzestan in the southwest. And to keep this from being an ugly fight, we'd need to establish a Free Iran in controlled territory with Iranians in charge and trying to rally support in the rest of Iran. With Iranian military units on our side, we'd have a real base for laying siege to the mullah regime.

The siege would not beat Iran on its own. Like the 1987-88, 1995, and 1999 operations, where we needed outside events to make our military actions bring success, we'd need additional factors to bring success--in this case a building popular revolt emboldened by a free government in a liberated zone and energized by hardship caused by a blockade.

The question is how long it would take to break the regime. If our operations in Iraq truly scale down to 100,000 troops by the end of 2006, we might simply be shifting an existing commitment of 17 brigades in Iraq to one of 10 in Iran and 7 in Iraq. With added brigades in our active Army we could maintain this level as long as recruiting holds (and our public's and government's will to endure).

If the security situation in Iraq continued to improve allowing Iraqis to take over completely the combat tasks of counter-insurgency (and perhaps that would happen faster with Iran otherwise occupied and not in a good position to support Iraqi terrorists), we might look forward to further reductions in Iraq, making our Iran commitment part of a smaller overall war commitment that we can afford to continue. We might essentially be putting off our assumed 2006 deployment relief based on drawing down in Iraq (without hitting Iran) to 2007 or later based on a drawdown in Iraq and a partial commitment of those forces to a limited operation in Iran.

Sanctions won't work. Iran has oil and unless the sanctions break Iranian will or prompt a revolt in the short run, eventually the sanctions would spring leaks. A blockade that we enforce might work over time, but is an act of war by itself. And consider that in history, blockades often had elements ashore to support the naval blockade. So a limited blockade that holds Iran's islands or a more thorough siege that adds Khuzestan to what we take would not be any more war-like legally speaking than a simple blockade from at sea.

And heck, this could be done along with the aerial campaign to destroy the nuke facilities.

Still, such a siege would not be decisive alone. And we'd have to really worry that this could escalate from an assumed limited war in Khuzestan. After all, a limited war is exactly what Saddam hoped for when he invaded Iran's Khuzestan in 1980.

Would we be able to gain that extra factor of regime change that builds on the effects of the liberated zone to bring final victory?

I admit I am uneasy with a limited military campaign since it is not decisive alone and requires more perhaps outside of our control to make it work. And it could spiral out of control and escalate, stressing our military if Iran manages to resist. Yet as an alternative or supplement to an aerial attack or immediate regime change if that is not possible, this should at least be explored.

Unless we decide we can live with an Iranian nuclear arsenal under the control of the mullahs. We can't be that blind, can we?