U.S. strike to drive out Iraqis a clear possibility, analysts say

September 16, 1990|By Charles W. Corddry | Charles W. Corddry,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Military action to drive the Iraqi army out of Kuwait must now be seen as a clear possibility, with the prospect of a short, violent conflict and heavy casualties.

That view comes from analysts who underscore the intransigence of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein, the uncompromising tone of President Bush's speech to Congress last Tuesday night and the chance for holes in the United Nations-imposed economic embargo against Iraq.

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of U.S. forces in and around Saudi Arabia, has made contingency plans for operations against Iraqi forces that could be quickly put into effect if the president so ordered, Pentagon officers point out.

Without commenting one way or another on war prospects, Maj. Gen. Richard E. Hawley, the U.S. Air Force's director of operations, said in an interview that his service had just about completed its deployments in the crisis area.

Air power, such as Iraqi forces have never experienced, would have a dominant role in any conflict.

"Yes," General Hawley said, "we have the capability to give [General Schwarzkopf] what he needs to do his job."

While the battle to achieve air supremacy would quickly spread a conflict well beyond Kuwait, ousting Iraqi forces from the country they seized Aug. 2 would have to be done, in the end, by highly mobile ground forces striking from all points, with close air and naval gunfire support.

If such a decision were made, said Eliot A. Cohen, professor of strategic studies at the Johns Hopkins Schoolof Advanced International Studies, "It would be a real war with serious casualties and would certainly spread into Iraq. It could be over in a few days."

Mr. Cohen said he was beginning to "take a grim view" of the situation, inclining "to think that there will be a conflict."

He based that position on the improbability of Mr. Hussein's backing down and on Mr. Bush's refusal to accept anything less than the goalshe has set forth.

In his speech, the president said he would continue reviewing "all options" with U.S. allies, "but let it be clear: We will not let this aggression stand."

Iraq, Mr. Bush said, "will not be permitted to annex Kuwait." That was neither a threat nor a boast, he said. "That's just the way it's going to be."

He took that stance shortly after his meeting in Helsinki, Finland,

with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, leading to speculation that he had outlined his options to the Soviet leader.

If it came to conflict, General Hawley said, the first goal must be to gain air superiority. Depending on whatever bounds political leaders might set, that would mean defeating the Iraqi air force in the air, knocking out anti-aircraft missile sites on the ground and destroying aircraft on their bases. It should be a

coalition, not just a U.S., action, he said.

Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor, now director of national security studies at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, said air superiority could be achieved "in relatively short order," giving ground forces freedom from enemy air strikes and the overwhelming advantage of air support.

General Trainor said Iraqi infantry had never experienced air attack. He said front-line forces probably would be blasted by B-52s, each carrying 20 tons of bombs, as well as by fighters, artillery and naval guns.

He said Iraq had deployed infantry forces along the Saudi border and had two infantry divisions on the Kuwaiti coast as well as a naval infantry brigade (marines) on Bubiyan Island as a precaution against amphibious attack.

Behind these formations, he said, were armored forces, ready to be moved swiftly to wherever battles might develop. This followed the pattern he had witnessed in Iraq during its war with Iran, he said. Further reinforcements were near Basra.

General Trainor looked for strikes against supply lines and command and control systems as preparation for engaging front-line forces.

The Iraqis could face Army armor and helicopter attack on their right flank, Marine assaults in the center along a main highway and/or Marine amphibious attack on the coast.

Just the threat of an amphibious attack, he said, could hold down the infantry on the coast and the naval brigade on the island.

Conflict could be "short and violent ... with heavy casualties on both sides, but no doubt about the outcome," General Trainor said.

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