U.S. officers see likelihood of 'long campaign'

January 20, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Sun Staff Correspondent

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- As stubborn Iraqi forces continue to resist a massive U.S.-led air assault, U.S. military commanders are talking more and more of a "long campaign" to drive them out of Kuwait.

The deliberate pace of the war reflects a strong desire to achieve key military objectives at the smallest possible cost in U.S. and civilian Iraqi lives, the U.S. commanders say.

But many of these same officers, who had been inclined to believe that an offensive against the heavily armed and well-entrenched Iraqis would not take long, acknowledge now that Iraq may not succumb quickly.

"I don't think there's any guarantee how long it will be, how short or how long," Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert Johnston told reporters yesterday.

"I would not put any limit on that. It will be as long as we need to satisfy the mission objectives [set] by the president," he said.

His caution echoed remarks by Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who emphasized the need to "dampen down some of the euphoria" even as he was announcing on Wednesday night that U.S. warplanes were scoring impressive hits against Iraq.

"We have just begun a campaign," General Powell warned the American public.

"It will run for some time."

This military view has run counter to those expressed by political leaders, including President Bush, who has promised not to wage a protracted war, as in Vietnam.

On Wednesday, the president said in his address, "I'm hopeful that this fighting will not go on for long and that casualties will be held to an absolute minimum."

Earlier this month, Vice President Dan Quayle told the troops that a war against Iraq would be "quick, massive and decisive."

Military experts not in the government have also made predictions of a short air war.

Several reports from the war zone indicated yesterday that U.S. pilots were still encountering intense fire from Iraqi anti-aircraft guns, even though Iraq was steadily losing its ability to fight back with missiles.

Despite round-the-clock missions by aircraft from the U.S.-led military coalition, Iraqi fighter jets continued to engage incoming bombers, while anti-aircraft fire intensified, Air Force Capt. Tom Mahoney told members of a media "pool."

Captain Mahoney, who flew repeated combat missions last week in an EF-111 electronic jamming plane, said Friday that the Iraqis are prepared for each wave of air attacks.

"The second night -- it was more intense. They were waiting for us," he said.

"The triple-A [anti-aircraft artillery] is getting really bad. But we should expect that."

His commanding officer, Lt. Col. Dennis Hardziej, remarked, "There's still a lot of war going on."

At a briefing at U.S. military headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, General Johnston cautioned against believing some media accounts that the Iraqi air force had been "decimated," saying that incidents of air-to-air combat were increasing.

Iraq has lost a total of 10 aircraft in dogfights with U.S. and allied fighter jets, but five enemy jets were downed in the last 24 hours alone, General Johnston said.

He also said that pilots were continuing an aggressive search-and-destroy mission against Iraq's elusive mobile missile launchers, but he could not say how many were left to threaten Israel and the multinational military force.

"This is going to be a long campaign, if need be," he warned later. "It's going to be done with great caution, very professionally and with the objective of minimizing our friendly casualties.

"We are prosecuting a very carefully planned, very detailed campaign . . . that we'll execute according to our schedule."

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