The New York Times March 16, 2003
U.S. Plan Sees G.I.'s Invading As More Arrive
By Michael R. Gordon with Eric Schmitt
The American-led coalition that is preparing to topple Saddam Hussein's government is planning for a complex invasion of Iraq to begin even as allied troops are still arriving in the region, senior commanders say.
With three dozen ships carrying heavy tanks and equipment for the Army's Fourth Infantry Division waiting off the coast of Turkey because of a political standoff, the military is scrambling to put together a backup plan for the northern front of a war with Iraq.
In Kuwait, only a portion of the 101st Airborne Division's forces -- equipped with Apache gunships and Black Hawk troop carriers -- is ready to be sent into combat. If the invasion begins next week, the 101st would take part, but the division's major combat punch would come soon after.
Three powerful armored units -- the First Cavalry Division, the First Armored Division and the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment -- are still in the United States or Europe and will not be in the Persian Gulf region until mid to late April, intended as a postwar stabilization force.
"We recognized from the very beginning that we're going to be fighting and building up combat power at about the same time," said Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, the V Corps commander who would lead the Army's attack.
But there are military experts -- including experienced commanders -- who are worried by this plan, which has come to be called a "rolling start" to the impending war.
Assuming that no peaceful resolution is found to the confrontation with Iraq, the concept of the rolling start gives the coalition's commanders the option of starting at any time. Meanwhile, as diplomacy delays military action, the coalition can continue to assemble an ever more threatening force.
Nevertheless, its adoption marks a sharp departure from the doctrine articulated by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
During the Persian Gulf war of 1991, under his leadership, the military took six months to assemble an overwhelming force, which only stormed into Kuwait after a huge troop and logistical buildup was completed and allied warplanes carried out a 39-day bombardment of Iraq and its army of occupation.
The staggered arrival stems partly from the limited capacity of Kuwait's ports, but it also appears to reflect Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's view that large, heavy ground forces are not always needed. This time, the United States military is trying to get more firepower from fewer troops, supported with a heavy air campaign. The Iraqi Army is also much smaller and less capable than it was 12 years ago.
If the American-led operation turns out to be as short and decisive as the Pentagon hopes, it will be less a result of brawn and more a matter of improved weaponry, closer cooperation among the American military services, a more effective combination of intelligence, surveillance and air power, and propaganda efforts to persuade many Iraqi soldiers not to fight. All those things bolster the commanders' confidence in the rolling start, they say.
"When I look at the enemy, when I look at the terrain over which he's arrayed, I think we have adequate forces to do the job," General Wallace said. "There seems to me to be perhaps a more coherent joint fight this time with the air, naval and certainly a very pronounced Marine presence."
Some former American commanders from the 1991 conflict, however, say the United States would be in a better position and could keep risks to its troops to a minimum if it had more forces on hand.
"The key to success is rapid victory on the ground, and bringing stability as quickly as you can," a former senior officer who commanded land forces during the gulf war said. "Based on what I know about the forces in the region, or flowing in, I am concerned they don't have enough to give high assurance they can do this quickly. It's strange for most of us. If we did it so well last time, using the Powell doctrine, why would you do anything less than that now? Why take that risk?"
More than 225,000 American troops are in the gulf region, with more than 130,000 Americans in Kuwait alone. About 25,000 British ground troops are also here. About 1,000 Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps strike and support planes are poised to attack from five aircraft carriers and land bases in the region. The Pentagon's war plan calls for unleashing 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles in the first 48 hours of a short air campaign, to be followed quickly by ground operations.
For military professionals, however, readiness is not a black-and-white issue. The question is not whether American and British forces could attack on short notice and defeat the Iraqi military if ordered to do so. Rather, the issue is how swift such a campaign would be, what risks it would entail and whether it would be more effective with more forces.
The commanders know their mission is daunting. American forces plan to advance all the way to Baghdad to overthrow Mr. Hussein and install a new government, a more challenging job than ejecting Iraqi invaders from Kuwait 12 years ago. They plan to hunt down suspected caches of chemical and biological weapons. They need to be able to handle tens of thousands of Iraqi prisoners. They need to guard long supply routes from Kuwait. They need to provide food and relief assistance to millions of Iraqis, who will become the responsibility of United States and British forces during the advance. Even with more effective weapons and more synchronized operations, the military's many tasks put demands on the troops.
"You need enough forces to fight the war itself, and sustain it," said Gen. Richard I. Neal, a retired Marine officer who served as Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf's deputy operations director in the gulf war. "But then you have to deal with displaced persons and enemy prisoners of war."
Demands like that, he said, are "force eaters" that reduce an army's combat power.
Gen. Ronald H. Griffith, who commanded the First Armored Division in the gulf war, voiced similar concerns. "War planners need to take into account the impact of large numbers of surrendering Iraqi soldiers," he said. "We faced this problem in 1991 and it impacted our rate of movement. Disarming the Iraqi soldiers, providing them with essentials such as food and water, and establishing minimal custody will require a level of force commitment."
More Marching Than Usual
The command center for the largest ground force in the attack is at Camp Commando. This is not an Army headquarters. It is the headquarters for Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, who commands the First Marine Expeditionary Force.
With about 50,000 marines in Kuwait, and some 15,000 more in the region, General Conway commands a formidable force. Aside from his marines in Kuwait, he commands about 25,000 British troops here. During the gulf war, the British Army fought under the command of the United States Army, but this time they are under Marine Corps command.
Taken together, marines and the British forces outnumber American army troops in the theater.
Allied commanders talk about their missions in only general terms. But it is clear that the Marine Corps is planning to advance to Baghdad, a thrust of more than 300 miles. In December 2001, thousands of marines were flown to Afghanistan by helicopter, 400 miles from their ships off the coast of Pakistan. The advance on Baghdad would be the longest Marine land attack since 1805, when Lt. Presley O'Bannon marched 600 miles across the desert in seven weeks from Alexandria, Egypt, to Derna, Tripoli, during the war with the Barbary pirates.
But going to Baghdad would be an ambitious operation for a service that has traditionally focused on storming the beaches.
"It is a long way from the sea, no question about that," General Conway said.
General Conway's force includes marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., as well as Task Force Tarawa, a special force of 6,200 marines that was assembled from troops at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The Marines also have the Third Air Wing, one of the largest in history. It includes more than 50 FA-18's, more than 50 AV-8B Harrier jets and more than 50 Cobra attack helicopters. The wing is capable of conducting more than 300 attack missions a day.
Much of the Marine equipment arrived on 11 huge military cargo ships that steamed to Kuwait from the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and the Mediterranean and were unloaded in just 16 days.
But the Marines do not have the logistics for deep thrusts into enemy territory. Nor do they have the Army's armored punch. The Marine force has about 120 M1-A1 tanks, about 130 fewer than the Army's Third Infantry Division.
So the Marines are working with other forces. To shore up logistics for a push toward Baghdad, the Marines have turned to the Army, which is supplying transportation units with 5,000-gallon fuel trucks.
The Marines are also able to supplement their firepower by drawing on Army units equipped with the multiple-launch rocket system, a devastating system that disperse thousands of bomblets to destroy vehicles and kill enemy troops. The British will also buttress the Marine attack.
The British force under the Marine command includes the First Armored Division, a hybrid unit that includes Britain's Seventh Armored Brigade, the 16th Air Assault Brigade and the Third Commando unit. The British had planned to invade from Turkey, but changed their plans and sent their units to Kuwait after sensing that the Turks were hesitant to allow a northern front. The 116 Challenger-2 tanks the British are still bringing in will roughly double the Marines' armor.
Some of the British armor is still getting ready. Maj. Gen. Robin Brims, the head of the British land force, said all of the armor should be ready sometime next week. Still, top Marine commanders say the allied force has enough force on hand for its mission and is ready to go.
"Our force is cocked and ready," said Gen. Michael W. Hagee, the commandant of the Marine Corps.
Adding the Pieces To a Chess Game
At Camp Virginia in Kuwait, an aide to General Wallace compared the rolling start to beginning a chess game without all the pieces on the table, then adding a knight or two after a few moves. In this case, the knights are forces from the 101st Airborne Division, which are just arriving and getting ready for combat.
Some of General Wallace's forces are poised to strike. The Third Infantry Division has been training in Kuwait for months and is ready to attack. The division is the heir to the 24th Mechanized Division, which swept into the Euphrates River Valley during the 1991 war. It has about 250 tanks and a formidable array of other weapons.
To propel the division to Baghdad and beyond, the Army has run fuel pipelines from Kuwaiti refineries to a helicopter airfield in the desert. The pipelines also link to a fuel depot near the crossing point into Iraq.
As the division drives forward, so will the fuel. The Army has more than 220 5,000-gallon fuel trucks and expects to have more than 300 in another week. To keep track of the location of fuel convoys as they drive forward, some fuel trucks will be outfitted with satellite tracking devices.
"That will give us the reach to push the Third Infantry Division as far as they can go," said Brig. Gen. Charles W. Fletcher, Jr., who is commanding logistics for the V Corps. "We can move a division to Baghdad with what we've got now."
The Army forces plan to bring water purification equipment with them so that they can use water from the Euphrates and other rivers, lakes and canals in Iraq.
General Wallace also has the 11th Aviation Regiment, which has a fleet of AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.
But his most powerful helicopter division is still arriving: the 101st Airborne, which also played a key role in the 1991 gulf war, is still getting ready. Two of the five ships carrying the 101st's equipment have unloaded their cargo, including all 72 of the division's Apaches, despite delays caused by high winds in Kuwait last week. Those and other helicopters have been reassembled and flown to northern Kuwait. Although most of the Apaches are ready, trucks and other equipment needed to field complete combat brigade teams are still arriving.
Some of the division is prepared to attack as early as next week. Together with the 11th Aviation Regiment, that gives the V Corps at least 130 AH-64 helicopters ready to fly, along with Black Hawks to carry infantry. But most of the division's helicopters, artillery and infantry are not expected to be ready until the following week. If an attack occurs next week some units from the 101st would take part while the remaining units would rush to join in before the battle for Baghdad begins.
The difficulties in deploying Army forces in Kuwait might have been eased if the United States had had access to ports in northern Saudi Arabia. American supply ships could have unloaded equipment there and had it driven north. As it turned out, however, all of the military equipment had to flow through Kuwait's port and airfield.
"We got only a single seaport of embarkation and a single airport of embarkation," General Wallace said. "We have had to make adjustments in the way we fight the fight."
Asked what forces V Corps had in reserve, General Wallace said his reserve was the forces that were still on their way.
A brigade of the 82nd Airborne is stationed at Camp Champion in Kuwait. It is not commanded by V Corps, however. It is controlled by Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, the land war commander, and is presumed to have a special mission suitable for its speed, mobility and other light infantry skills.
In the north, the Fourth Infantry Division's equipment is on ships being held up in the eastern Mediterranean -- at a cost to the Pentagon of $1.5 million a day -- as the Bush administration tries to win Turkish consent to mount an attack. The division's role was to attack from the north, pinning down the Iraqi forces there and establishing an American presence that would dissuade the Turks and Kurds from fighting. If the Turks agree to its deployment, it will probably not arrive in time for an invasion, but could play a role in keeping peace in the north.
The Pentagon has also alerted the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Italy, which is similar to, but smaller than, the 82nd Airborne, for possible deployment, probably to northern Iraq. Senior officers say the new troops arriving every day give them more flexibility.
"As forces flow," Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the allied air commander, said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in Saudi Arabia, "options present themselves that weren't there a week ago."
GRAPHIC: Photos: DRILLING FOR WAR -- Soldiers in the British First Battalion Parachute Regiment practiced driving all-terrain vehicles in Kuwait. The American-led coalition may invade Iraq even before all allied troops arrive. (Pool Photo by Chris Ison)(pg. 1); Officers from the Second Battalion, Eighth Marines, in northern Kuwait received a briefing on Thursday about their initial mission in the event of a strike against Iraq. (Agence France-Presse)(pg. 12)
Chart/Map: "Ready to Begin a 'Rolling Start"'
American military forces poised to attack Iraq now number more than 225,000, with another 90,000 on the way, and about 25,000 British troops are also in the region. There are about 1,000 Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps combat and support aircraft in the area. Senior American and British commanders have said they could begin an invasion of Iraq even as more combat units continue to arrive in the region, an approach they call a "rolling start."
Map of Iraq and surrounding areas highlighting major bases of the Air Force, Navy and Army.
Most Recent Developments
About 60,000 troops were ordered to deploy: 26,000 from the First Armored Division, at Fort Riley, Kan., and in Germany; 24,000 from the First Cavalry Division, at Fort Hood, Tex.; and 10,000 from the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment, at Fort Polk, La.
The aircraft carrier Nimitz sailed from San Diego on March 3. It will be the sixth U.S. aircraft carrier in the region when it arrives in April.
The 1,800-strong 173rd Airborne Brigade at Caserme Ederle, Italy, has been alerted to deploy.
B-2 stealth bombers were sent from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. More B-1 heavy bombers were also sent.
14 B-52 heavy bombers recently arrived in Britain.
About 10,000 troops from the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, at Fort Carson, Colo., were ordered to deploy.
The Army's Fourth Infantry Division troops are still in the U.S., but more than three dozen ships carrying its equipment are in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Main Forces in Kuwait
About 130,000 Americans, including:
About 21,000 troops of the Army's Third Infantry Division
More than 21,000 troops of the Army's 101st Airborne Division.
About 64,000 marines, including the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
5,000 troops of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Headquarters elements of the Army's V Corps.
Also about 25,000 British troops, including the First Armored Division.
A few thousand Special Operations troops.
The Main Equipment for a Ground Attack
(Drawings not to scale)
AH-64 APACHE -- Attack helicopter
UH-60 BLACK HAWK -- Troop helicopter
M1A1 ABRAMS -- Main battle tank
M2A3 BRADLEY -- Fighting vehicle
AV-8B HARRIER -- Fighter jet
AH-1W SUPER COBRA -- Attack helicopter
F/A-18 HORNET -- Fighter/bomber
M1A1 ABRAMS -- Main battle tank
(Sources: Military officials; Globalsecurity.org; Center for Defense Information)(pg. 12)
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