Guardian: Wake-up call

A report on the Millenium Challenge, a war game played by US forces earlier this summer. Guess who won?

Even when playing an evil dictator, the marine veteran clearly takes winning very seriously. He reckoned Blue would try to launch a surprise strike, in line with the administration’s new pre-emptive doctrine, “so I decided I would attack first.”

Van Riper had at his disposal a computer-generated flotilla of small boats and planes, many of them civilian, which he kept buzzing around the virtual Persian Gulf in circles as the game was about to get under way.

As the US fleet entered the Gulf, Van Riper gave a signal – not in a radio transmission that might have been intercepted, but in a coded message broadcast from the minarets of mosques at the call to prayer. The seemingly harmless pleasure craft and propeller planes suddenly turned deadly, ramming into Blue boats and airfields along the Gulf in scores of al-Qaida-style suicide attacks.

Meanwhile, Chinese Silkworm-type cruise missiles fired from some of the small boats sank the US fleet’s only aircraft carrier and two marine helicopter carriers. The tactics were reminiscent of the al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole in Yemen two years ago, but the Blue fleet did not seem prepared. Sixteen ships were sunk altogether, along with thousands of marines. If it had really happened, it would have been the worst naval disaster since Pearl Harbor.

Nicholas Kristof comments in Friday’s New York Times on the Millennium Challenge 2002 war game.

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