Accessibility links

Breaking News

Pentagon War Planners Ready for Iraq Conflict - 2003-03-15

War planners at the Pentagon say they are ready to launch a massive attack, if President Bush decides to use force to disarm Iraq. Military analysts expect a conflict would be very different from the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Pentagon officials say a U.S.-led force invading Iraq will have more than enough firepower to overwhelm Baghdad's military, which they say has deteriorated significantly since the Gulf War 12 years ago. They say the battle will pit 21st century weaponry against aging firepower left over from the Cold War.

U.S. and British forces currently massed on the Iraqi border are armed with missiles and bombs guided with satellites and lasers, while Iraq's military will have to rely on decades-old tanks, mortars, bazookas and machine guns, the officials say.

In the first two days of any conflict, as many as 3,000 Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision bombs are expected to be launched against Iraqi military targets. More than 250,000 mostly U.S. and British soldiers are in the region to face an Iraqi army that is widely reported to be demoralized, poorly trained and inadequately equipped.

Anthony Cordesman is a military analyst for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Cordesman says, unlike the Persian Gulf War in 1991, when weeks of air strikes preceded troop movements on the ground, the latest war plan calls for the synchronized use of air power, armor and infantry from the beginning of hostilities. "So, we are talking about a war with immense amounts of precision strikes at a wide variety of targets throughout Iraq, with the land campaign beginning at the same time, with the idea, at least, that rather than waiting a month to begin the land campaign this time, both the air and land campaign might be over in six days," he says.

One reason behind the massive show of arms is to convince the Iraqi military that there would be no advantage in using weapons of mass destruction, since defeat is inevitable.

Through leaflets, radio broadcasts and other psychological warfare, the Pentagon is repeatedly sending the message that anyone involved in the use of biological or chemical weapons will be treated as a war criminal after the conflict is over.

Anthony Cordesman says the risk of Saddam Hussein ordering the use of such weapons is higher now than during the war 12 years ago. "What happens if he uses weapons of mass destruction? Our calculations are that these capabilities today are still limited, that he does not have large amounts of weapons, that many of these systems are not highly lethal. All of the (U-S) forces we are talking about have already been immunized for smallpox and anthrax," he says. "Delivering chemical weapons requires large concentrations. But if you combine chemical weapons or biological weapons in a successful way, the calculation changes. The risks begin at the border. They go deep, and they can be used in urban warfare." Pentagon officials say, if President Bush orders an attack, armored ground units protected by air power will mount a swift drive toward Baghdad. U.S. military planners say it is a strategy designed to "shock and awe" the enemy. But the strategy also calls for trying to avoid conflict with Iraqi military units that are willing to surrender.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says the United States is already in contact with Iraqi officers. "They are being communicated with privately at the present time," he says. "They are being - will be communicated with in a more public way. They will receive instructions, so that they are, they can behave in a way that will be seen and understood as being non-threatening; they will be not be considered combatants, and they will be handled in a way that they are no longer part of the problem."

An unknown element facing war planners is what Saddam Hussein will do, should it become clear United Nations weapons inspections are about to end and an invasion is imminent.

They are braced for the possibility that Baghdad may attempt to strike first, when allied forces are massed together and most vulnerable. Military strategists have also considered that once an attack begins, Saddam Hussein may start a scorched-earth campaign to destroy Iraq's oil fields, bridges and anything else that will slow down advancing allied forces.