Wednesday, April 02, 2003
Despite technology, Iraq war will be decided on ground
WASHINGTON (AP) - Never mind the enormous U.S. advantage of satellite-guided missiles and smart bombs, the overpowering command of Iraqi skies.
The battle in Iraq is becoming a shooting war on the ground, a bloody grind of street fights, ambushes and unpleasant surprises.
As American forces near the gates of Baghdad, the war is complicated by the fact that thousands of the troops slated for fighting are still on ships, weeks away.
Others remain in the United States awaiting deployment orders.
U.S. officials on Tuesday defended their timetable and force size.
"It's time to be patient. ... We don't need to hyperventilate,'' Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.
"This war is well begun, but it has only begun. And while more tough fighting very likely will lie ahead, the outcome is assured.''
Much of that tough fighting is likely to be up close. Coalition forces may have to pay a high price in casualties to overthrow Saddam Hussein, commanders suggest.
The number of coalition troops killed in the war so far stands at about 75, but this could quickly mushroom in Baghdad, especially in street-by-street fighting.
The administration's decision to invade Iraq without the full participation of an Army division that was expected to enter via Turkey has intensified a debate among military analysts over the size of the ground force.
Critics suggest it fails the overwhelming-force test of the "Powell doctrine,'' formulated by Colin Powell - now the secretary of state - during the first Gulf War when he was an Army general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
That doctrine holds that war must have clear objectives and be waged with overwhelming, or at least decisive, force.
There are roughly 100,000 American and British troops now inside Iraq, part of a coalition force numbering about 300,000 through the region.
By contrast, the first President George Bush sent 540,000 U.S. troops to reverse Saddam's occupation of Kuwait - a less ambitious mission than ending his regime.
A suggestion by military critics that allied forces are too light and small for the job "is not good for our troops and it's not accurate,'' Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, complained Tuesday.
But there's no doubt that the war has become more complex than generally anticipated when it opened on March 19 with selected air strikes aimed at Iraqi leaders.
Allies have encountered fiercer resistance from Iraqi fighters than expected, and fewer surrenders.
Iraqi Shiites in the south haven't rallied to the U.S. cause, as many war planners had predicted.
Protecting a supply line nearly 483 kilometers (300 miles) long from guerrilla attacks has diverted troops and equipment.
Rain and sandstorms slowed the advance.
Equipment for the Texas-based 4th Infantry, a core component of the overall Iraq invasion force, floated for weeks off the Turkish coast until being diverted by the Pentagon to Kuwait - a 10-day trip.
The administration failed to persuade Turkey's Parliament to allow U.S. forces to open a northern front from their territory.
"We could be on the battlefield in a matter of weeks,'' Brig. Gen. Stephen Speakes, an assistant division commander for 4th Infantry Division, said Tuesday.
But that appears to make it unlikely the division would be ready for the start of a looming battle for Baghdad.
Other military units slated to join the fray remain in the United States waiting for orders and transportation.
Some military analysts hold that beginning the war without the 4th Division and other units in place undercuts the Powell doctrine. Disagreeing is Powell himself.
"Who says it is not being implemented?'' he asked.
"There's a clear political objective: disarm that country of its weapons of mass destruction. You have to do that by removal of the regime. You use decisive force to do it.''
"I can assure you that's what those generals and admirals are over there doing. I know it; I trained them,'' Powell told reporters ahead of a diplomatic trip to Belgium and Turkey.
Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East and military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it's true that more troops are needed and that the failure to use Turkey as a base was a setback.
But he also suggested that allied forces have made striking advances, and that it's better to have them where they are, ringing Baghdad, than waiting in Kuwait for reinforcements.
"The real question is whether American and British forces can snatch victory from the jaws of military analysts,'' Cordesman said. - AP
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