Arab forces need help with U.S.-style tactics WAR IN THE GULF

February 21, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Sun Staff Correspondent

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- Arab coalition forces will be using relatively unfamiliar U.S. battlefield tactics and relying heavily on help from U.S. advisers to mount a planned land thrust into Kuwait, according to allied military officers.

Although intensive training has been under way since November, the Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti armies, if not other Arab forces, apparently have not yet mastered the U.S. style of warfare, especially the use of coordinated air strikes to support advancing ground troops.

"The problem we're faced with is if they see an airplane, they think it must be the enemy, so they [want to] shoot it down," said Capt. David R. E. Halla, a U.S. Air Force liaison officer working with the Kuwaiti Liberation Brigade.

Other U.S. officers told pool reporters near the northern Saudi border this week that Saudi forces have also been trying to overcome a tendency to take a narrow view of the battlefield.

Arab forces traditionally are "very compartmentalized," a senior U.S. officer said. "They don't know what's going on in the next area," nor do they have any idea of the larger military picture.

By comparison, Western armies consider knowledge of the overall mission and the roles of other large units to be essential if low-level commanders are to exercise any creativity or flexibility in the heat of combat.

On Tuesday, a reporter saw a Saudi platoon commander looking for the very first time at a map of the area he was defending. The commander did not know his own position or the location of Iraqi forces or a nearby town until a U.S. adviser pointed them out on the map.

Later, the commander and another officer asked their adviser what they should do if they were attacked, said the reporter, David Fulghum of Aviation Week.

As allied units move into final position for a ground assault, Arab troops have found themselves arrayed close to U.S. Marine forces occupying a crescent of coastal land near the Kuwaiti border.

As the "Eastern Province Allied Coalition," troops from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar and other Arab countries will be assuming much of the fighting in Kuwait, U.S. Marine officers said recently.

Other Arab forces -- mainly Egyptian, Syrian and Saudi armored units that make up the "Northern Province Allied Coalition" -- are farther west, beyond positions assumed by two Marine divisions, Britain's 1st Armored Division, U.S. Army divisions and French troops.

Several U.S. officers said the Arab armies have been learning to accept "close air support," in which friendly aircraft fly overhead during a land battle to fire at enemy targets selected by ground commanders.

But Captain Halla said about the Kuwaitis, "We've had difficulty getting two units to accept the idea of aircraft flying above them."

A senior official added that the Arabs have not spent much time mastering ways to integrate artillery and close air support so that they "don't shell your own aircraft or cause artillery to be turned off" at a critical moment because friendly aircraft have blundered into the combat zone.

Once a ground offensive begins, U.S. Air Force and Army Special Forces advisers will provide access to U.S. artillery, long-range rockets and tactical and strategic air power, U.S. officers said.

Advisers will also coordinate efforts to observe the battlefield, direct aircraft to targets and advise Arab commanders, even though the Air Force trained a cadre of officers from each Arab country to help direct their first integrated land battles.

Capt. Jim Grier, an air liaison officer assigned to the Saudi 20th Mechanized Brigade, said he would advise the commander about the best ways to employ air support.

But that did not mean Saudi operations would be flawless, Captain Grier said.

"If I think he's making a poor decision, I'll tell him," he said of the Saudi brigade commander, "but it's his decision."

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