Iraq theater expected to overshadow D-day invasion WAR IN THE GULF

January 17, 1991|By Charles W. Corddry | Charles W. Corddry,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- After the devastating opening air campaign against Iraq, the United States is prepared to attack on the ground with substantially more force than it launched against Hitler's Fortress Europe on D-day, June 6, 1944.

All the evidence shows as well that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces in Kuwait would be numerically larger and more concentrated than the 1944 Germans.

These facts indicate the immensity of the conflict now staring the world in the face in the Middle East.

It is the first time since the Normandy invasion 46 years ago in which the certainty of U.S. attack seemed clear, the time and places were secret and preparations for an offensive were globally advertised and discussed over many weeks.

Not even a censor's filter blurred the picture this time as it did when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's forces were preparing the cross-channel attack from England in 1944.

On that historic D-day, the United States landed 73,000 troops and the British and Canadians 83,000 on the Normandy coast of France. Of the total, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 23,500 were paratroops and the others went in by sea over the beaches.

The United States put ashore five Army combat divisions: the 1st, 29th, 4th, 82nd and 101st.

In and near Saudia Arabia today, the United States has the equivalent of twice as many divisions (Army and Marines) as it did when it landed in Normandy on the first day, more than it ever had deployed in the Korean War and about the same as its maximum in the Vietnam War.

Overall, as of yesterday, the Pentagon said Army and Marine troops in the gulf area totaled 320,000.

In the World War II case, there was of course a very rapid buildup on the continent to millions of Allied soldiers once Normandy had been taken.

The Bush administration has given no sign that it may enlarge the force in the gulf. It has deployed so large a part of the U.S. forces to the region that there is little slack.

Little U.S. and allied ground action -- other than commando operations inside enemy lines -- was expected before an air campaign of perhaps 2,000 individual flights a day lays waste to hundreds of Iraqi military targets. Powerful air blows would be struck against the Iraqi ground forces deployed in several defensive echelons in Kuwait and Iraq.

In a briefing for the House Armed Services Committee a month ago, the Center for Strategic and International Studies described Iraqi forces in the region as "formidable . . . 20 high-quality divisions organized into four corps."

These divisions defend a strongly fortified border between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, as well as Kuwait City and coastal positions, and are intended to channel attacking forces into "killing zones" covered by artillery and anti-tank weapons. Other, more powerful divisions are in reserve.

According to the briefing, U.S. and allied forces could attack over several avenues -- breaching fortifications after a giant air attack and rolling up enemy flanks, for example, or outflanking the fortifications in an envelopment that would strike at the powerful Iraqi reserve divisions. In the latter case, the attackers would then attack from the rear at the lightly defended fortification lines on the Saudi Arabian border.

For all the ground options, authorities argue, air power is crucial: to defeat the Iraqi air force and take out other threats such as missiles and chemical works, and then to support the ground campaign by attacking supply lines and working closely with advancing troops.

By the time of the historic D-day landing of ground forces in 1944, the air campaign was already being executed, as Eisenhower pointed out in his memoirs.

The air plan, he wrote in "Crusade in Europe," "called for the progressive wearing down of the Luftwaffe and the destruction of critical points in the rail and highway systems so as to isolate the coastal areas selected for assault."

On D-day itself, Eisenhower said, the air job would be "rendering general fighter-bomber support as the troops progressed inland."

It would be that way again in a conflict with Iraq.

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