Iraq: Military Moves
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JIM LEHRER: And we go again now to our retired colonels: Former army Special Forces and Middle East intelligence officer Patrick Lang; Marine Corps urban warfare expert Gary Anderson; and Air Force operations planner Sam Gardiner.
Col. Gardiner, what do you make of what John Burns just told us? Were you shivering, as I was, listening to him?
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Well, yes. But the answer to the question of what I make of it, I think there are three things going on over Baghdad in the air war. The first one is we declared essentially that today we had freedom to operate over Baghdad, that the air defense system has been destroyed enough so that you no longer had to use only Stealth and Cruise missiles. So that’s the first thing that happened.
JIM LEHRER: John Burns seemed to confirm that by saying there’s no anti-aircraft fire, et cetera.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Right. Once that happened, you could then begin to use things like the B-52s, which my guess would be that’s what he’s seeing reflected — bigger weapons so that you will see now targets attacked….
JIM LEHRER: That’s the bigger explosions, the rumblings are B- 52s.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: That’s my guess at this point. The other part of this is, we’re also… you know, having done this for now for so many days, we’re down the priority list of targets that Cruise missiles can destroy. I mean, the high value, high return targets were done in the early days. Now after this many days, you’re down to where the marginal return…
JIM LEHRER: Like what? What kinds of things?
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: We’re down to barracks. If you see… they’re talking about hitting a Republican Guard barracks. Now, surely there’s nobody in the barracks. In fact we’ve heard that they’re out into neighborhoods, but we struck the barracks anyway. So that there’s not a high return on that, there is a value of disruption but not a real return of military value for hitting that target.
JIM LEHRER: Col. Lang, what did you think of what John Burns said and put it in an overview context if you wish?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, I was very interested in what he said about General Sultan.
JIM LEHRER: The defense minister.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Yes, who gave this briefing today. He’s briefed before. I’ve listened to his briefings both days. They are both professional and comprehensive. The previous briefing he gave was quite accurate as to what had been going on around Nasiriyah and Samawah.
I think Burns is right. I mean if this guy is a real soldier, if he’s running the defense, it may explain to some extent why things are going so coherently from the Iraqi side. In terms of the whole things that are going on generally, I would say that we are now in a kind of a holding pattern while people resupply, bring up their rear echelons and all available forces move forward.
But what we’re facing in the Baghdad area is this big red zone in which I would be willing to bet you that the forces of the Republican Guard…
JIM LEHRER: The red zone is a big circle around…
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: A big circle around Baghdad in which the defense is. I would be willing to bet you the guards are planning to break themselves down into company-size unit teams.
JIM LEHRER: Company size– how many troops?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: One hundred and fifty — maybe half a dozen tanks, something like that and dig themselves in, in places where there are a lot of buildings, which are ambiguous as to whether or not they’re civilian because the buildings are good protection and we’re going to be inhibited about shooting up these places that might be houses.
And clearly their intention is that we should have to fight our way through that whole zone and into the city where they’re planning a defense in depth. This is a serious business. I hope we’re really taking it as seriously as it deserves.
JIM LEHRER: Col. Anderson, this is your area of expertise, urban combat. When you heard what John Burns said about what the defense minister said about having to go house to house and whatever, what went through your mind, sir, in terms of what’s about to happen or could happen?
COL. GARY ANDERSON: There’s no doubt in my mind that that’s what they’ve been planning all along. They haven’t made any secret of that. Obviously, Hussein would like to turn this thing into a Stalingrad II type situation. The issue is, will the troops go along with it? I agree with Pat that — very professional briefing today, very clear layout of their plans and operations.
The problem is the execution. It’s like, you know, it’s like a good war college student that lays everything out on his maps and so forth and then somebody comes in and does something perhaps unexpected and throws him off his feet. I think that the real problem that they’re going to have is that you can see how spread out their defenses are. You’ve got a mobile offense coming at you. There’s sort of an axiom in mobile warfare that your reserve has to be strong enough to or fast enough to deal with the penetration that might occur. There you have two problems there.
JIM LEHRER: Excuse me. Meaning that you do your best to get through it to create a hole and then you have to get through the hole, right? Is that the deal?
COL. GARY ANDERSON: That’s correct. But once they’re through the hole, then you have to have some kind of a fire brigade to stop it if you’re on the defense. That defense is going to have to be fast enough to catch that hole. The other problem they have is because they’re so exposed from the air, if they start to move, they’re very, very vulnerable to attack by air. So it’s a challenging problem from their perspective.
JIM LEHRER: But what about from our perspective, what about from the offensive perspective? This is the one thing everybody said going in we wanted to avoid was house-to- house fighting anywhere much less in Baghdad. Now, what does that present for the offense?
COL. GARY ANDERSON: Well, I think the way that I’ve heard Gen. Wallace brief his campaign plan is he doesn’t intend to rush in and seize key nodes leaving his flanks open once he gets to the city itself.
JIM LEHRER: Key node? What’s a key node?
COL. GARY ANDERSON: Everything from water plants, power plants, control headquarters, if you find out where their headquarters are and so forth. But the Russians rushed in and managed to get themselves enveloped in Grozny. He’s going to try to be I think very careful to probe and find weak spots that he can exploit and not try to get caught in that situation.
JIM LEHRER: Col. Gardiner, does that kind of thing, for instance, The Washington Post had a front page story by Tom Ricks who is very plugged in, their Pentagon reporter for many years, who essentially said that now the military commanders are preparing for a much longer war than they had anticipated because of what may happen in Baghdad. And if you follow what Col. Anderson just said, not rush into it, et cetera, do you read it the same way?
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Well I, actually I talked to Tom a couple times during the day. I think what he’s sensing is the trend that we’ve talked about here for the last couple nights, which is the idea that it’s really two things: It’s the battle in the city that becomes a worrisome thing, but it’s also the amount of fire power that you have in the theater and the threats that we begin to experience on the line of communications and– and this is not to be trivialized– the maintenance problem and supply problem.
JIM LEHRER: For us you mean.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: For us. It’s just a matter that the dust and the distance have taken their toll. Tom said that the Marines, some of the units are running low on fuel — bad. You have got to have fuel to move ahead — and that some of the third infantry units are running low… running below their ten- day supply of munitions and food.
JIM LEHRER: Once it comes to battle in Baghdad, what use then is there for air power? What can air power do once it goes into that?
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: That’s a very interesting question because, you know, we talked about the “shock-and-awe” dimension of the strategic battle. That will be reduced to a smaller level in this fight, and that is that if you’re trying to defend against someone like the coalition who has both highly mobile forces that we were talking about and control of the air so that if you move, you die — so that all you’ve got… I mean, it’s the combination of the two and hopefully we can leverage it. And this is on the tactical level — not just on the strategic level. It’s very important to have that… the air that you can call in.
JIM LEHRER: But it would be very difficult to call in air strikes in the middle of Baghdad without risking the lives of a lot of innocent civilians. That’s the other side of it.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: What you can do, you can kill tanks, you can kill artillery, you can kill multiple rocket launchers — when it comes down to one or two soldiers, that’s the tough part.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of one or two soldiers, Col. Lang, finally, much was said going into this that was going to be a war unlike any other war in history. And yet the newspapers I read are full of photographs of marines and soldiers walking down muddy roads, people crouched behind tanks, you know, in firing positions. Those pictures could have been taken in World War II or Korea or Vietnam or anywhere else. What’s going on here?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, in the end, it comes to be true as I’m afraid I have suspected for a long time– and I know Sam has as well– that in the end when you’re fighting an enemy who turns out to be determined and you wish to seize objectives on the ground, in this case to achieve regime change, you have to focus on what you achieve on the ground, how much territory you seize. This means infantrymen, grunts, tanks, engineers, people like this. The pictures you’re going to see from now on are going to have a lot of that in it. Be very glad to have air support. Once the fighting starts, the inhibitions about a few Iraqis more or less are not going to hold very long.
JIM LEHRER: Col. Anderson, from a Marine grunt’s point of view it’s always the same, is it not? It doesn’t matter what war it is.
COL. GARY ANDERSON: I think the Marines are very comfortable with this kind of warfare. They’ve trained for it. I don’t say they like it. But this is what they do. And I think the real question, if Saddam wants to put his guys in front of our guys, it’s going to come down to cold steel. I’ll bet on my guys.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you all three very much.