WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon substantially overestimated Iraqi troop strength during the Gulf War, insisting that the Iraqis had more than 500,000 troops in the theater while the true count may have been as low as 183,000 when the ground war began, according to a new congressional report on the war.
The House Armed Services Committee "lessons learned" study asserts that allied intelligence failed to discern that the 42 Iraqi divisions deployed in Kuwait and southern Iraq were severely undermanned at the beginning of the conflict and depleted by desertions, deaths and injuries during the intense 40-day aerial bombardment that preceded the ground attack.
The finding calls into question previous assessments of the allied ground assault that routed the Iraqi field army in 100 hours, a battle that has been depicted as a masterful display of superior American troops, technology, tactics and training.
"What it says is that at the time of the ground war, when the allied forces were roughly 700,000 people, the enemy could have been as low as 180,000 people, a very significant advantage," Democratic Rep. Les Aspin, chairman of the House panel, said at a press briefing yesterday. "The other thing was, of course, the air campaign produced an enormously demoralized 183,000 . . . You were fighting 183,000 very demoralized, disoriented, confused people who had faced hardships of lack of sleep, lack of food, because of the air campaign that had been going on for six weeks."
The report highlights a number of U.S. military strengths and weaknesses shown by the war, but cautions against drawing firm conclusions because it was a unique conflict in which all the advantages were held by the allied forces.
The 89-page study affirms that U.S. technology played a decisive role in ending the conflict early. It notes that new precision weaponry was so accurate that only one or two sorties were required to destroy a specific target such as a bridge or a missile battery, while in Vietnam as many as 300 bombing runs wereneeded to achieve the same result.
The report also concludes that U.S. forces -- both active and reserve -- were the best-trained and best-equipped in U.S. history.
But like a much longer Pentagon study on the war released earlier this month, the House report notes several serious deficiencies, among them late and inaccurate battlefield intelligence and poor communication between units and services that led to "friendly fire" casualties.