U.S. plan for Iraq: Hit hard, hit fast, protect civilians

Precision weapons, tanks, helicopter-borne troops would lead off attack

February 24, 2003|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - An American-led attack on Iraq would be a three-dimensional fight, a synchronized ballet of lethality conducted with lightning swiftness.

Precision-guided weapons launched by ships and planes would obliterate key sites in Baghdad. Helicopter-borne troops and commandos would seize airfields and weapons depots. Armored units would rumble through the country from north and south.

As the United States moves closer to war, military officials and defense analysts describe the fast-paced attack the Pentagon envisions as "ferocious" and "highly kinetic."

Some liken it to the invasion of Panama in 1989, when U.S. air and ground units swept in to capture the country's leader, Gen. Manuel Noriega.

The objective would be the decapitation of Saddam Hussein's government, a quick takedown of the leadership apparatus by destroying the ability to issue orders to senior commanders and special units that keep the regime in power.

"You want to paralyze the enemy all at once," says retired Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales Jr., a former commandant of the Army War College who wrote the official Army history of the Persian Gulf war.

The battle plan put together by military leaders headed by Army Gen. Tommy Franks incorporates air, land and sea forces, heavy firepower, precision weaponry and high-tech gadgetry, some in its infancy during the 1991 gulf war.

One weapon uses an electromagnetic pulse to fry the circuits of computers and military communications systems, particularly those in hard-to-bomb underground bunkers. A pulse bomb could be attached to a cruise missile; a more precise method calls for shooting the pulse in a beam from a military aircraft.

Pentagon officials are debating whether to use it, some worrying that a pulse weapon could damage the electronics of Iraqi civilians or U.S. forces.

On the ground

In all, the allied force is expected to number about 250,000, less than half the size of the contingent that drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991.

The main thrust of the ground attack would come from Kuwait in the south, officials say, with other troops approaching from the mountainous north, either from Turkey or the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, should Turkey balk at accepting U.S. forces.

American commandos would slip in from Jordan or Saudi Arabia, hunting for mobile Scud missiles that could be fired at Israel or creating small forward bases.

The U.S. force assembling in the region includes the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, the Army's most sophisticated heavy armored unit.

The battle plan calls for the division's tanks to sweep from the north along a route that might put them in contact with Hussein's elite Republican Guard near Mosul or Kirkuk. The armored force might also move south toward Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, about 100 miles from Baghdad, then drive on to the capital.

From the south would come the bulk of the U.S. force - the Army's 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Ga.; the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky.; and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton, Calif.

That force would be joined by British units, including Britain's 1st Armoured Division, and a smaller Australian contingent. The troops would surge north to take Basra and other cities on the road to the capital.

Helicopter-borne troops of the 101st might leapfrog ahead of armored units, seizing bases for their tank-killing Apache helicopters.

A brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., would take part. The 4,000 paratroopers could grab airfields or oil fields, or assist in the invasion from the north.

The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Carson, Colo., with helicopters and tanks, would provide reconnaissance and attack capability. During war games in Germany, the brigade practiced securing chemical or biological weapons depots and assisting refugees.

Several thousand members of the Iraqi opposition who fled Hussein's rule and settled in the United States, Europe and the Middle East would act as liaisons, translators and guides for allied troops.

Khidhir Hamza, a former official in Hussein's nuclear weapons program who defected in the 1990s to the United States, says the Iraqi opposition's main jobs would be to assist in finding chemical and biological facilities, calming civilians and urging Hussein's officers to give up.

`The Ali approach'

U.S. military officers expect many Iraqi army units, made up mostly of draftees, to surrender, and say some of the elite Republican Guard might also lay down their arms.

"I think a lot will happen real fast here," says retired Rear Adm. Stephen Baker, an analyst with the Center for Defense Information.

William Arkin, a former Army intelligence officer, calls it "the Muhammad Ali approach to war - there is dancing all over and striking from all directions."

But Arkin does not see allied troops roaring swiftly into Baghdad. Instead, he says, it will be a "modulated" campaign that allows time for the Iraqi people to overthrow Hussein.

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