Chris Pearl’s head rolled. A general who loses 20% of his rolling equipment and suffers 50% casualties on the first day of the war is not a competent leader. He had to go.
He was replaced with Omar Sayed, one of Aimo Koivun’s Ph.D. students. Omar’s thesis explored the leadership structure, techniques and technologies of the Sudanese during the Mahdist Revolt of the 1880s and 1890s.
It was a choice that did not bode well for the Buffer-Zone. Sayed was not the typical PC, political-hack. He could mouth the words well enough to stay out of trouble but that is not why Koivun pushed to get him into that position.
The invading forces pulled back to the extent that their mobility allowed.
Tory and Dot alternated reconnaissance flights over the next two days. Other than the movement of casualties, nothing was moving.
Some saw that as a very positive development. Other, more pessimistic thinkers, believed otherwise.
“If they are calling off the invasion, then why are so many vehicles still parked in Howell?” Gimp challenged.
Rick Salazar shrugged. “They have to park them somewhere. Why not Howell?”
Wilder, who was familiar with logistics, raised the point “It seems odd that they would have so many empty flatbed trucks as part of the invasion. According to the reports, half of the second wave consisted of trucks dead-heading west.”
“I can only think of one reason why they would do that but it hardly bears thinking” Wilder said.
“Oh, yeah? What is that?” Rick asked.
“What if Ann Arbor is living hand-to-mouth for food and supplies. What if the Ann Arbor forces were going to strip the countryside bare as they went. What if they shipped every kernel of corn, every potato back to Ann Arbor as they went?” Wilder asked.
That gave the war council pause. Benicio’s spies reported that Ann Arbor lived high-on-the-hog, that there was no evidence of hunger or starvation.
“Stripping the countryside of food would certainly make it hard for partisens to mount an active resistance” Gimp ventured.
Chernovsky spoke up. “I don’t think that is the reason. Spackle said that the invaders didn’t expect any significant resistance. Why would they have measures in place to squelch resistance when they didn’t expect any. I vote for Ann Arbor running out of food but too proud to make any adjustments.”
The men and women pondered the inconsistency Chernovsky had pointed out.
Rick asked “Is there anything else that would be so important that they would have those trucks stacked at the front of the invasion.
Gimp said “Not that many trucks. Not that far forward. I cannot think of anything they would want to remove, besides food, that couldn’t wait weeks or months before shipping.
Rick voiced the obvious conclusion. “So if they are desperate for food and they didn’t move their trucks then they will be back. Not only will they attack again, but the attack will be through the Buffer-Zone.”
Chernovsky and Gimp both nodded in agreement.
General Sayed’s command began with probes of the Buffer-Zone defenses.
Instead of throwing a major force up I-96, he sent a small contingent and had them mortar the defense with harrassing fire around-the-clock.
Sayed relied heavily on drone footage to watch the defenses during the barrages.
That is how he figured out the counter-volleys were not coming from the troops immediately in front of him.
Additional drone coverage determined that the majority of the counter-battery, which appeared to fall short, was actually coming from mortar crews 1800 meters to the southwest of where the rounds were landing. So much for the Ann Arbor military estimates of a 1000 yard maximum range for the Buffer-Zone mortars.
Sayed looked at a map and determined there were ten “suitable” east-west roads that crossed the West Branch and one north-south road that crossed it by virtue of the river’s meandering.
Sayed sent probes to investigate each crossing. Drones took detailed footage of the defenses. Humans walked the terrain and took pictures of the bridge abutments to assess their suitability for temporary, transportable bridging.
Ann Arbor was down to nine of the ladder/bridge trucks. He was not in a position to spend them cheaply.
The attack began like the others.
Vehicles staged out of the marshalling area in Howell. What was unusual was that there were new classes of vehicles.
Tory and Shelly, being farm-girls, had no difficulty identifying the four-wheel-drive, articulated tractors or the off-road vehicles. The flatbeds were hauling hay-wagons.
It did not take a genius to figure out that those vehicles were capable of traveling up the soggy median that had defeated the trucks with their 110psi road tires.
Shelly sent the information back in coded bursts. Tory concentrated on flying the plane.
The harrassing fire from the small contingent that was already invested in positions on I-96 went into continuous fire.
The Buffer-Zone forces a mile south of I-96 started their counter-battery with the intention of gulling the attackers into range.
Then an unexpected the barrage of invader mortar fire came directly from the east. None of them survived. Damn those drones.
One of the short-comings of the Buffer-Zone communication plan became apparent. Nobody had thought to develop protocols when the other party went off-line.
The push up I-96 was the feign but it showed every indication of being successful.