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Attacking Iraq - Rapid Decisive Operations

By mid-2002, problems with the two operational concepts the US had been considering to oust Saddam Hussein led some military planners to focus on a new option that was a middle ground between a small-scale campaign employing air strikes and local-opposition forces and an overwhelming invasion of troops. What is required is a concept of operations that is both rapid and decisive -- rapid, unlike OPLAN 1003, and decisive, unlike the Downing Plan. This would combine air power with a force of between 50,000 and 75,000 ground troops. The US could deploy such a force in Kuwait in about two weeks, with troops flown into the region and married up with prepositioned equipment stored in countries such as Qatar and Kuwait, and on the Indian Ocean Island of Diego Garcia. They would be supported by as many as five aircraft carriers.

The new plan - nicknamed the "inside out" or "Baghdad first" - was characterized as a reversal of the 1991 Gulf War strategy, involving a striked at the heart of Saddam's regime and then attacking outwards. Such an "inside-out" assault on Iraq would aim at crippling Saddam's command by striking Baghdad first. Such a strike could be launched quickly, with as much surprise as remains possible, reportedly requiring around 70,000 US troops and at the most involve 100,000 troops. The concept of operations is to conduct what used to be called a coup de main, with a rapid seizure of key installations in Baghdad and elsewhere, involving focused airs trikes combined with a rapid advance of ground forces from Kuwait to Baghdad. According to some reports, the operation would probably include intense air attacks, followed by a combined airborne and ground assault on strategic targets. Some reports suggested that this would involve attacking Baghdad and a few key bases and arms depots by airborne assault alone, but this later reports appear to reflect a mis-understanding of the initial reports.

In mid-November 2002 it was reported that the US war plan for Iraq called for 60,000 to 80,000 ground troops to launch an invasion. The ground assault would reportedly come after 10 days of intensive air strikes to take down air defenses, command and communication centers, and troop concentrations. As many as 250,000 soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors will be deployed to the region, but many of the ground troops will be held back at bases in Turkey, Kuwait and Qatar as reserve forces in case the initial invasion met unexpected resistance.

This plan, unlike the 1991 conflict which focused primarily on military assets and troops, would emphasize decapitating the Iraqi regime by targeting Saddam's institutional power base, including presidential palaces, military and security police facilities and bases. Particular attention would be given to Hussein's hometown of Tikrit while targets such as bridges and other infrastructure targets would be avoided. Most Iraqi troops would be exempted from attack provided they did not put up any resistance or demonstrate any attempt to impede US operations; thus leaving open the door for these troops possible defection. Some Iraqi units located in the no-fly zones and with a potential for defection have reportedly escaped bombing.

Under this concept of operations, the air campaign element would be significantly more intense than prior air campaigns previously conducted thus far. Hundreds of systems ranging from bombers, cruise missiles and fighter aircraft would be involved in a massive display of firepower focused initially on antiaircraft systems and any potential chemical or biological weapons delivery systems.

One option reportedly being circulated within US Air Force circles would involve using 16 B-2 stealth bombers on the very first night of the campaign to conduct surgical strikes against deeply buried and hardened target such as bunkers housing communications facilities or weapons. This would amount to using almost the entire fleet of operational B-2 bombers; something not even done during the air campaigns over Kosovo and Afghan. Each aircraft would deliver 16 earth-burrowing high-explosive 2,000-pound bombs. The plan reportedly calls for the aircraft to fly from both their home base at Whiteman AFB, Missouri, and from the British isle of Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Simultaneously, Navy ships and B-52s would also launch cruise missiles against presidential palaces and intelligence facilities.

One major concern associated with the air campaign centers around how to proceed with neutralizing Iraqi chemical and biological weapons. The possibility that Israel might retaliate to an Iraq Scud attack, raising the prospect of escalation to the whole of the Middle East region is one additional reason behind this focus.

Bombing shallow bunkers housing chemical or biological weapons could adversely release these agents into the open where they could cause great harm accross the region. Reconnaissance assets such as the Predator and the Global Hawk UAVs would be tasked with helping to monitor sites suspected of housing Weapons of Mass Destruction.

As of mid-September 2002, a consensus appeared to be emgerging favoring destroying the means of delivery (missiles and unmanned aircraft) while leaving untouched the actual weapons until after the main objective of regime change has been achieved. It is hoped that through the use of increased reconnaissance and surveillance assets as well as other means, that the US military will fare better at tracking down Scud launchers this time around than it did during the 1991 Gulf War. WMDs stored in deeply buried bunkers, on the other hand, would be neutralized using deep-penetrating incendiary bombs able to create sustained high temperatures to neutralize both biological and chemical weapons.

Estimates of the duration of the air campaign prior to the ground campaign being launched range from a day or two to more conservative estimates of 10 days to two weeks.

The ground campaign would start in Kuwait, but avoid getting boggd down in southeastern Iraq, in the spongy marshland between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Instead, the main force would advance towards Baghdad through the desert which covers western Iraq and much of the south.

As of mid-2002, the United States had one brigade set of equipment in Kuwait, another in Qatar, and two afloat on ships at Diego Garcia. This equipment is sufficient for one full heavy division [three brigades] plus a fourth heavy brigade. It was announced in mid-2001 that two additional brigade sets are to be withdrawn from Europe, though it was not clear when this would happen, or where they would be re-deployed to. For various reasons, it would be sensible to deploy these two brigade sets to Kuwait, and this could have already happened without drawing attention to this fact. This equipment may have been deployed to Camp Arifjan, the new facility that it now replacing Camp Doha in Kuwait.

As of mid-2002, CENTCOM CINC, US Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks had already briefed President Bush on a range of possibilities and options though officials stressed that no decision had yet been made.

By the end of August 2002, the US had moved equipment, which had been stored in Qatar and Europe, to Kuwait. The US had enough equipment in Kuwait -- three brigade sets -- to support about 15-25,000 troops in Kuwait. It would take only a few days to bring in the soldiers to man the tanks, artillery pieces and armored personnel carriers now in place. ["Bush Faces Complex Gauntlet On The Path To War With Iraq" By David S. Cloud and Greg Jaffe, Wall Street Journal September 5, 2002 Pg. 1]

The Marine Corps has equipment for one Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Diego Garcia, allocated to CENTCOM, as well as two other brigades afloat in the Mediterranean and Pacific. These other two brigades could be allocated to CENTCOM if required.

All of the afloat pre-positioned equipment could be brought ashore at Kuwait within two weeks of a decision to deploy [given sailing times from Saipan in the Pacific]. And given the normal movement of these ships, it is quite possible that this deployment would not be noticed until the ships started unloading in Kuwait. Only a few days are required between the time each ship docks and the time the equipment is drawn by troops and is combat ready.

Approximately 250 aircraft sorties would be required to deploy the 17,000 Marines and Sailors associated with the Marine Expeditionary Brigade. A similar number of sorties would be required to deploy troops and equipment associated with the 101st Airborned Division, and a few hundred more could deploy the troops of the 3rd Mechanized Infantry Division. Presumably the two military airbases and one civilian airport in Kuwait could handle these hundreds of sorties in about a week's time.

Thus, a week or ten days after it became evident that the United States was mounting a major deployment to Kuwait, there would be upwards of 50,000 US troops on the ground. Based on the rate of advance achieved during Desert Storm, approximately one week would be required for this force to advance to Baghdad.

Any CENTCOM operation would likely be centered on at least three diviions (2 heavy divisions of 16,000 troops each and one lighter Marine division to tie down Iraqi forces and be held in reserve). The 1st Cavalry Division (Ft. Hood, TX), the 3rd Infantry Division (Ft. Stewart, GA) and the 101st Airborne Division (Ft. Campbell, KY) are likely to play a significant role in the ground campaign. A fourth Army division, such as the 4th Infantry Division, would also be tasked in reserve with reinforcing the ground effort should the need arise while parts of the 101st Airborne Division with some Special Forces units might possibly operate in northern Iraq from bases in Germany and Turkey.

Another option would involve assembling the bulk of the attacking force far from the theater of operations such as in Europe or Turkey and then have them deploy quickly into Iraq once the attack beigns. Yet one more option would involve moving troops about as stealthily as possible to Saudi Arabia where its state-controlled media and large number of airports would play a pivotal role. It is believed in Pentagon circles that Jordan would allow low-profile Special Operations missions against Iraqi missiles to be staged from within its borders.

An attack from Turkey would not resemble the assault from the south. The irregular hills and 8,000 foot peaks of the Zagros mountain range would make an attack using armored forces improbable. Only one railway and three major roads could be used to cross the mountains. Rather, what is more likely to occur is that Special Forces would be inserted via Turkey. They would arrive by helicopter near Kirkuk which is the site of an Iraqi airbase and major oil fields, refinery and petrochemical plant. Forces would also be inserted near an air base at Mosul.

Iraqi resitance would be comprised of regular army, two fighter squadrons of Iraq's I and V Corps and by the Republican Guard's Northern Corps located at Mosul.

Once the airfields are taken and secured US cargo aircraft would begin to arrive, off-loading armored personnel carriers and other equipment. Additional ground reinforcements would also arrive including helicopters such as Apaches and Black Hawks. The operations would be expected to last only a few days.

The biggest uncertainty with any invasion plan revolves around the issue of how Iraqi troops and the civilian population would respond to any US military offensive. If the Iraqis decide to resist and retreat into major urban zones, the conflict could drag on and fighting get bogged down. Optimistic assessments paint the picture of the military turning against Saddam, though this assessment is not backed up by historical precedents. Moreover, US troops are unlikely to rely too much on local support as operations in Afghanistan have shown how unreliable local forces can be in both the planning and conduct of any operation.

Resistance is likely to be encountered in cities, particularly Baghdad. Elite Iraqi units, especially the Special Republican Guard reportedly trained for urban fighting, are likely to put fierce resistance in such an urban terrain where U.S. military advantages, such as airpower and aerial reconnaissance, are far less effective.

A civilian population welcoming of an invasion would provide support, intelligence and avoid costly and time-consuming urban fighting. Large-scale opposition to US troops would however turn the operation into a worst-case scenario.

According to some reports, rumors have circulated to the effect that new secret weapons might be used during the course of operations, including some designed to scramble the electronics of computer and communication systems using directed energy.

It is estimated that an attack could be launched 45 to 60 days after the order is given by the US President, with the war taking as little as a week or as much as two or three months.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:25:09 Zulu