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Chicago Tribune March 18, 2003

U.S. plans quick knockout

Air, ground assault would aim to discourage resistance

By Douglas Holt and Stephen J. Hedges, Tribune staff reporters.

U.S. military leaders are fine-tuning a plan for a sweeping assault against Iraq likely to be executed in three phases.

A massive air campaign would begin the war, followed by a ground charge by U.S. and British troops. If Iraqi forces collapse into Baghdad and take up defenses, a siege of the capital would ensue.

Pentagon officials and their commanders in the field express confidence that an awesome display of firepower and destruction will shock many Iraqi forces into quick submission. But the war promises to be an ambitious and complex undertaking, and challenges await.

The military planners on Monday received news of a potential boost from unexpected quarters. Turkey, which had been all but written off as a staging ground for a northern invasion, announced that it would reconsider its refusal to allow U.S. and British planes to fly bombing raids over its territory or move troops and supplies from its air bases.

Compared to the 1991 Persian Gulf war, which began in early-morning hours and included more than 40 days of bombing, the air campaign this time could end in a few days.

In the darkness over Iraq, U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine and British Royal Air Force fighters and bombers are expected to unleash an astounding bombing campaign on select Iraqi military and government targets.

Military officials say 3,000 bombs may be dropped in the first 48 hours. About 80 percent of the bombs dropped on Iraq will be "smart" bombs guided by highly accurate GPS or laser guidance systems.

The smart weapons--including highly accurate, all-weather GPS-guided munitions--are expected to hit most of their targets the first time. The strikes will seek to take out radar installations and anti-aircraft artillery. And they will seek to cut the Iraqi military's head from its body, bombing such targets as fiber-optic lines, relays and other communication facilities.

The bombs can be dropped from altitudes expected to keep U.S. and British planes out of harm's way.

"There will be air attacks from all directions at large volume," said Tom Donnelly, a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, who was in a group that received a closed-door briefing at the Pentagon last week. "If you're an Iraqi you won't know what's happening."

In advance of the air strikes, U.S. and British warplanes ostensibly enforcing the "no-fly" zones in northern and southern Iraq have stepped up air strikes against Iraqi radar installations and, more recently, Iraqi surface-to-surface missiles.

But allied planes still face advanced Iraqi anti-aircraft systems connected by buried fiber optic cables that are hard to find and destroy. Another potential pitfall is errant bombs and the civilian casualties they could cause.

As the heaviest of the initial air strikes dissipate, U.S. ground troops are expected to move quickly into Iraq, converging from the south, west and north on Baghdad, Iraq's capital and the center of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's security and military establishment.

Most of the invasion force -- more than 150,000 troops -- is deployed in Kuwait. That number represents just a third of the troops that deployed to the region for the 1991 Persian Gulf war, but strategists say smaller numbers with more advanced weapons will make today's force more nimble, and far more deadly.

Indeed, of the troops now in the gulf, no more than a third will be warriors pressing into the face of Iraqi forces.

The rest will work within the long, snaking logistics lifeline that will pour ammunition, fuel, water, spare parts, medicine and other supplies to the fighting troops as they advance.

The advance from the south must take into account the terrain south of Basra, a natural marshland that Hussein once drained but that still holds stretches of water. But any invading force could be slowed by blown bridges and breached dams that could flood the path ahead.

Much of the allied advance is expected to wheel west, leaving strategically important Basra for U.S. and British Marines to seize and hold. Several Iraqi regular army divisions are posted near Basra.

The primary ground forces now in Kuwait for the invasion include the 101st Airborne Division, the 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Marines Expeditionary Force.

Elements of other command and advance staff, such as the 82nd Airborne and the 5th Corps, which is based in Germany, are also in Kuwait.

The bulk of the U.S. armor in the war -- about 850 M1 Abrams tanks and more than 400 Bradley Fighting Vehicles -- will drive north from Kuwait, according to Globalsecurity.org, a Washington military think tank.

CIA sought Kurdish help

For months, Special Operations troops and CIA operatives have prepared the way for war in furtive missions inside Iraq. In the north, American intelligence agents have sought to organize Kurdish guerrillas who could act as scouts for American-led forces.

Elsewhere, they have tried to identify and locate key targets such as Scud missiles that military planners fear Hussein could lob into Israel in an attempt to widen the conflict.

Analysts say a speedy advance will be key to blocking the use of chemical or biological weapons, preventing Iraqi troops from setting fire to oil rigs, preventing Hussein from getting away and forestalling ethnic strife and score-settling, especially in the volatile north.

And even as a new war with Iraq approaches, what will happen in the northern part of the country remained an open question. Two weeks ago, the Turkish parliament denied the U.S. permission to base up to 62,000 soldiers there who were to complement a far heavier thrust from Kuwait in the south.

In response, military planners last week moved to form contingency plans to allow U.S. troops to establish a fighting front in northern Iraq without use of Turkey's land routes or airspace. But on Monday, the Turkish government said that it would consider giving the U.S. use of its bases and airspace.

Turkey to discuss resolution

The Turkish Cabinet will discuss a resolution Tuesday ahead of a likely parliamentary vote, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener said.

No timetable was provided for when the government would resubmit a motion to parliament. But the vote appeared to be likely this week.

Permission from Ankara to allow U.S. forces would be welcomed in Washington, but it would leave military planners with just a few days to move a sizeable U.S. force into southeastern Turkey and eventually Iraq.

It probably would come too late for the 4th Infantry Division, heavily armored troops whose equipment has been stranded aboard ships in the Mediterranean Sea for weeks. It could take that division 12 to 15 days for those forces to get into position.

But military analysts said that even at this late hour, Turkey still could offer U.S. forces significant aid by opening up its skies to U.S. warplanes and missiles.

"It potentially could still be important in terms of air power," said Anthony Cordesman, a security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

If Turkey completes an about-face in policy, the U.S. might be able to move 200 or so more aircraft and up to 80 helicopters into Turkish air bases.

"That would give us major strike capability that would really reinforce U.S. air power in the gulf," Cordesman said.

Those aircraft could ferry in troops as well as equipment, hastening the ability of U.S. ground troops to stabilize Iraq's volatile Kurdish zone, which has a long-standing history of clashes with Turkey, and then push south toward Baghdad.

Though opposition of such an advance is expected, especially at Tikrit, where Hussein's Special Republican Guard has been deployed, U.S. military officials know the most challenging stage of the war could come at the end, when they reach Baghdad.

The Pentagon's own Doctrine For Joint Urban Operations, compiled last fall with Baghdad in mind, notes that, "Nearly all operations in urban areas, including predominantly air operations, take significantly longer than originally expected."

Baghdad's nearly 5 million residents are spread out over an area that includes a dense, busy downtown area and a sprawl of suburbs.

Isolated raids planned

The precise locations of Hussein's Republican Guard units are now known, though military analysts say several divisions have been positioned on the northeast and southwestern approaches to the city.

But rather than take the city sector by sector, though, U.S. forces will conduct isolated raids on key targets -- command individuals, important bunkers, and strongholds of resistance, aiming to leave as much of Baghdad untouched as the level of fighting will allow. That won't be easy. In urban fighting, warfare experts note, cities are usually destroyed before they are conquered.

MILITARY STRATEGY.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO GRAPHICS 2PHOTO (color): Soldiers walk through a dress rehearsal for war Monday in the Kuwaiti desert, south of the Iraqi border, where most of the invasion force is deployed. Tribune photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo.; GRAPHIC: U.S., allied troops bracket Iraq; Sources: Associated Press, GlobalSecurity.org Center for Defense Information, Naval Open Source Intelligence, U.S. Department of Defense, USGS, news reports.; Chicago Tribune/David Constantine, Larry Rowe, Phil Geib and Keith Claxton.; - See microfilm for complete graphic.; GRAPHIC: How an Iraq attack might unfold; - See microfilm for complete graphic.


Copyright 2003, Chicago Tribune Company