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Analysis of Wednesday's Military Campaign - 2003-03-27


VOA’s military expert, Dr. David McIntyre, with the ANSER Institute of Homeland Security discusses today’s military operations with David Borgida on the VOA-TV program “NewsLine.”

MR. BORGIDA:
Joining us now, our military analyst, Dr. David McIntyre, with the ANSER Institute in the Washington area and a retired Army colonel.

Dr. McIntyre, let's go straight to that horrible weather situation that we've talked with both of our correspondents about, and tell us how the U.S.-led coalition troops moved forward or didn't move forward, or just moved slowly along the way.

DR. MCINTYRE:
Well, it has had two effects on us. One is that it does slow the movement forward. It makes it much harder for relief supplies to move forward, since they don't always have the same precision guidance information that the front-line troops would have. The second thing it does is it lets enemy forces move in amongst you. And that's apparently what happened last night, is that the Iraqis took the cover of the sandstorm and tried to move in amongst the U.S. troops. Now, when that happened, the U.S. troops had night-vision equipment and other equipment that allowed them to see those troops and they took them under fire. And as a result, the reports we're getting say [there were] about 150 Iraqi casualties, with no U.S. casualties. Which is good from a tactical standpoint but it still slows the advance and prevented us from moving any further during the night.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's keep us moving a little further, because we've got a lot to talk about here in our segment. There is the continuing bombing of Baghdad as the troops on the ground move toward Baghdad. There was a target that was hit last night, yesterday, the Iraqi State Television station. What is the significance of that?

DR. MCINTYRE:
That is important, because Iraqi State Television, remember, this is not a free station, this is broadcast by the government itself, and it was apparently being used to send command-and-control information, to maintain morale of the Iraqi troops. And so I think the U.S. forces held off as long as they could. No one wants to be charged with shooting a member of the press. I'm sure you'll agree with that. But, clearly, this particular station was being used for military advantage, and so the coalition forces decided at this point they would take it out.

MR. BORGIDA:
Well, they obviously decided, for the first few days of the operation, to leave it up. They probably could have taken it out at any time.

DR. MCINTYRE:
Right.

MR. BORGIDA:
What is the dynamic? They left it up so that they could find something out for themselves?

DR. MCINTYRE:
Certainly, that's true. First, you listen to them and hear their version of things. That's important. And then, secondly, there is a public relations point of view, I mean, public affairs. No one, as I said, wants to be taking the press under fire. In this case, I think what you'll see is that the Iraqi Television, being a state institution, has several backup systems. So, I suspect that it will come back up with mobile transmitters, and then it will come back up again, and eventually will run through the number of state transmitters that it has and eventually it will go off the air.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's move on to the tactical situation. If we could have our first map, so that you can look at some of the attacks perhaps in the south and show us what's going on on the map.

DR. MCINTYRE:
Let's kind of refresh what's happened briefly. First, the U.K. forces, you'll remember, were the ones that moved and took the port area right around south of Basra, while U.S. marines moved north of Basra and surrounded it, then continued to move into the center. The 3rd Infantry Division has moved along the southern edge of the Euphrates River and crossed the river and moved along the northern edge of the Euphrates River. The fights last night appeared to take place right in this area in here.

MR. BORGIDA:
And I think those were the areas largely where our correspondents were and were describing what was going on for us just a moment ago.

DR. MCINTYRE:
And what we are hearing is that there are troops on the move now, Iraqi troops, on the move to the south, out of Baghdad, and also Iraqi troops on the move somewhere down around Basra. And exactly where is hard to define. And of course, we have also had a number of strikes to the north and south of Baghdad today, and some up in the mountain areas. Those would be special operations units that are going after, wherever possible, and looking for the weapons of mass destruction.

MR. BORGIDA:
There is some video that we're looking at of some of the bombing there. Why, Dr. McIntyre, as you referred a moment ago, are these Iraqi troops heading out and seemingly moving to confront the U.S.-led coalition?

DR. MCINTYRE:
Well, it's hard to tell exactly what they have in mind, but it appears that they're taking advantage of the weather. You remember, we had a big debate on whether it made sense to continue delaying inspections, delaying the inspections, as the weather got worse. And a lot of people asked, what difference does the weather make, couldn't we go just when it's hot? Well, it's not a matter of just heat. This may not be the last of these sandstorms. As winter turns over to summer, it makes it very difficult not just on the people but on the equipment, on the helicopters, on the tanks. So, we're finding it's a real disadvantage for the U.S. technical force at this time.

MR. BORGIDA:
The force itself is the subject of my next question, because it has been the subject of considerable conversation here in official Washington. In fact, the Pentagon was put in the position just yesterday of having to defend the numbers of troops. There are those who say lean and mean is not big enough, that it's too lean. What are your thoughts?

DR. MCINTYRE:
It may very well be. It may be that we don't have enough troops on the ground. Over the last 15 years, the United States has made a conscious effort to substitute technology for people. We try to get better, higher-quality equipment and reduce the number of people actually involved. So, that means that the force on the ground this time will perhaps have fewer individuals. And that means you don't have as many people to guard bridges and things that you leave behind as you move forward.

Secondly, I think there was a real effort made to minimize the force actually used in Iraq, to send a message to the Iraqi people that we were trying to use the minimum force required in order to get the job done. If that force turns out not to be enough, that's why you have reserve forces. There are other forces following along behind these on the ground. It will take a few days; they will catch up and they will move forward.

MR. BORGIDA:
I would be negligent, Dr. McIntyre, if I didn't ask you about Iraqi tactics. The use of a hospital, for example, and other kinds of tactics, human shields, et cetera. What are your thoughts about that as it relates to the history of military endeavors?

DR. MCINTYRE:
This is a really important point. There are rules by which all military forces fight. It isn't just a matter of killing the other person. There are rules by which you conduct yourself. And if not, you endanger yourself, other soldiers and civilians. For example, you don't contaminate medical supplies.

The Fedayeen, in particular, appear to be violating all of those rules, dressing as civilians, pretending to surrender, using U.S. uniforms, going to hospitals as cover. That has a really terrible impact primarily on the civilians, because it means the U.S. forces will be forced no longer to trust the civilians that they're trying to liberate. It will make it very difficult for them to treat humanely all the people that they're actually trying to come to help out.

MR. BORGIDA:
And it will make, I would imagine, the U.S. troops and British troops more aggressive as they confront civilians.

DR. MCINTYRE:
That will be the case. So, there is a delicate balance that's taking place right at the cutting edge, right at the knife edge of this fight. Just imagine, you have 50 meters, 50 yards, of visibility, in the dust. You're a young soldier. Out of the dust comes someone dressed in civilian clothes. What do you do? And the decision you make determines your life and the life of that person.

Until now, we could say, if it's a civilian, hold your fire. Now that the Fedayeen are dressing as civilians, it makes it very tough for that young soldier to make that decision.

MR. BORGIDA:
Thanks for your thoughts, Dr. David McIntyre of the ANSER Institute here in Washington and a retired U.S. Army colonel. Thanks, Dr. McIntyre.

DR. MCINTYRE:
Glad to be with you.

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