Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Luck of War

Military campaigns typically hinge on planning, coordination and training. But an occasional lucky break never hurts, particularly when that event provides insights into the enemy's force disposition and tactics.

Most Civil War buffs know the story of Robert E. Lee's battle plans at Antietam. The Confederate commander distributed the document to his staff, just before the bloody 1862 engagement in Maryland. Unfortunately, one of Lee's subordinates carelessly wrapped his copy around a pair of cigars, then lost his stogies.

You know what happened next. The plan was discovered by a Union solider, who passed it to the Commander of the Army of the Potomac, General George McClellan. "Now I have the means to whip Bobby Lee," McClellan reportedly observed. Unfortunately for the Union, McClellan's excessive caution almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The Union general achieved a tactical draw with the Confederates and the ire of President Lincoln, who fired McClellan after the battle.

Almost 150 years later, the Israeli Army has gained a similar stroke of good fortune in Gaza. David Eshel of Aviation Week's defense blog details the discovery--and its results:

During their cordon and search operation in the Gaza village of al-Atatra in the northern Gaza Strip, Israeli paratroopers captured a suspected Hamas fighter, who emerged from his subterranean hideout and and ran into a para patrol coming in battle order around the corner. When searched, the troopers were surprised to find a detailed map prepared by Hamas commanders, pointing out precise locations of the IEDs, sniper positions and bunkers all over the village. Added to the plan were precise directions as to how Hamas troops should engage the enemy. The map was translated on the scene and has already assisted the troops in their complex and highly dangerous urban combat.

The map was displayed officially today by a senior IDF intelligence officer, Brig Gen Yuval Halamish, who explained to reporters that Hamas had divided the neighborhood into a number of areas distinguished by landmarks such as mosques, gas stations, and fuel depots. "You can see that the neighborhood was divided into three areas of fighting, according to color, and inside the terrorists spread out a number of posts, planted explosive devices, and posted sharpshooters," the general said.

An IDF spokeman also outlined a new tactic, part of a trap for Israeli soldiers. He showed a picture of a doll outside a Palestinian home. The spokesman said the doll was designed to lure troops into an ambush, and a planned kidnapping attempt.

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