Protection of resupply lines in Iraq troublesome

Some officers say forces lack enough tanks for job

War In Iraq

March 25, 2003|By Tom Bowman and Robert Little | Tom Bowman and Robert Little,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Some senior U.S. military officers both in Washington and in the Persian Gulf are troubled that U.S. forces in Iraq do not have enough tanks and other armored vehicles to complete the drive on Baghdad and protect the long supply lines that have been vulnerable to attacks by irregular Iraqi forces.

These officers, who are mostly in the Army and requested anonymity, complain that there is only one tank-heavy unit in Iraq - the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Ga. - and that some tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles might have to be pulled back from their approach to Baghdad to protect supply lines, perhaps delaying what has been a fast-paced campaign to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Officers fault Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for sending in light infantry forces, such as the 101st Airborne Division, and not more armored units with greater firepower.

One Pentagon official familiar with the discussion among top officers said, "There is concern we've got to get the right forces on the ground. There is growing concern about keeping this pace.

"We were supposed to have two more divisions on the ground, the 4th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division."

Added one Army officer, "The top guys are concerned the right guys didn't get there." Those who feel that way include senior officers now in the Persian Gulf, he said.

Help is weeks away

But it could be at least two weeks before the heavily armored 4th Infantry Division gets to Kuwait from the Mediterranean, and at least five weeks before the 1st Cavalry Division, with tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters, arrives there from Fort Hood, Texas, officials said.

The officers also say that a decision should have been made earlier by the Pentagon to send the 4th Infantry Division to Kuwait, rather than wait three weeks hoping the Turkish government would let it establish a northern base in Turkey.

Asked yesterday about concerns over the lack of armored forces, Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who is commanding the allied campaign, has other units that can do the job, including helicopter-borne Army troops, Marine units and British forces.

"I think he's doing pretty well with what he's got right now," McChrystal told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

`Right mix of forces'

Victoria Clarke, Rumsfeld's spokesman, said at the same briefing, "Most people with real information are saying we have the right mix of forces. We have a plan that allows it to adapt and to scale up and down as needed."

Meanwhile, Franks told reporters in Qatar that his plan is on schedule.

"Progress toward our objectives has been rapid and, in some cases, dramatic," he said.

But retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who commanded the 24th Mechanized Division in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, echoed the worry of the active-duty officers.

He said that, over the past several months, he has raised similar concerns with top Pentagon civilian officials about what he believed was an inadequate ground force set aside for the Iraqi war.

McCaffrey said the Pentagon should have at least doubled the number of armored divisions before starting the war.

"In my judgment there should have been a minimum of two heavy divisions and an [armored cavalry regiment] on the ground - that's how our doctrine reads," he said.

Long supply lines

With a supply line that stretches about 300 miles, McCaffrey said, armored cavalry regiments - with their helicopters, tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles - along with military police battalions, should be providing security for the convoys servicing the frontline troops.

The re-supply operation taking place behind the troops advancing toward Baghdad is one of the most complicated and critical components of the invasion, Pentagon officials say.

As soon as the first tanks breached the Iraqi border, a steady flow of fuel tankers, water trucks and other support vehicles followed them, racing back and forth to the front lines.

Sticking to the major highways, those support troops have established "forward logistics bases" roughly every 50 miles, stocked them with supplies, and even opened small maintenance facilities.

Each base is roughly 10 acres in size, ringed with concertina wire and staffed by 200 or more troops, Pentagon planners say.

The strategy for re-supplying troops headed for Baghdad calls for "leap-frogging" materials from base to base, following as closely behind the front lines as practicable.

Fuel pipeline

American engineers have also been laying a fuel pipeline from Kuwait, to shorten the distance that tanker trucks must travel to refill.

Tank divisions need to refuel every four to six hours, mostly because of the thirsty M1 Abrams tank, which requires roughly two gallons of fuel to drive a mile.

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