MARGARET WARNER: And for more on how the war will unfold we get three perspectives. Retired Col. John Warden was air force deputy director for strategy doctrine and war fighting during the 1991 Gulf War and architect of that war's air campaign. Retired Army Col. W. Patrick Lang was a Special Forces officer, a defense attaché in the Middle East and, in the last Gulf War, chief Middle East analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency. And retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner teaches military operations and planning and is a long-time consultant to the Defense Department. Welcome to you all.
Col. Warden, beginning with you, let’s start right at the beginning – the air campaign. We’re told it’s going to be a lot more intense than the Gulf War, designed to inspire "shock and awe" in the Iraqis. What will it look like?
COL. JOHN WARDEN: Well, Margaret, I think that in essence what we're going to see is a very, very intense set of use of precision weapons that will compress the impact on the Iraqis probably by a factor of ten over what happened before -- and properly applied that that means that you will impose a strategic paralysis on Iraq and that will mean that the tactical units, whether they're ground or anything else, are going to be driven into a situation of tactical autonomy where they are dependent on their own resources and that they can be dealt with pretty easily, or preferably that the majority of them simply surrender and decide they don't want anything more to do with this.
MARGARET WARNER: How limiting will it be, the orders that have been given to avoid taking out things like the electrical grid or other major parts of the civilian infrastructure?
COL. JOHN WARDEN: Well, we didn't take very much of the civilian infrastructure out the last time. So we know how to do that. It's not a difficult thing to do. That's not a significant problem.
MARGARET WARNER: And then finally we're also told, in fact, the chief marine commander yesterday said quite publicly, I mean reporters were there, that ground operations would begin three or four days after the air war started, unlike the Gulf War where you had five weeks of bombing first. Why? Why this short time frame?
COL. JOHN WARDEN: Well, if we went back to the original Gulf War and looked at the number of sorties and the inaccuracy of the bombs that were just directed against the Iraqi army in Kuwait, and then we substituted today's force structure with today's precision weapons we probably would end up with something that would be a four- or five-day campaign. And we have a much smaller target base this time than the last time. So the answer for it being so much shorter really is the availability of the precision weapons that create an enormous impact on the Iraqis very quickly.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Col. Gardiner, let's go to the ground war. How will that unfold? We actually have a map that you helped us prepare here.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: I think, Margaret, sort of conceptually you can think of the ground war being in three parts. The first part will be the battle for Basra. Basra is sort of the port city in the South. This will probably be taken by U.S. Marines and after the city is taken, and hopefully with little resistance, the Brits will come in, occupy the city, and humanitarian supplies will begin flowing through there; that's the first part.
There will be the battle toward Baghdad, and this has two parts. Part one will be the Marines, which will be on the eastern road system. Not many ways you can get to Baghdad. The Army will take the system that goes up by the Euphrates River towards Baghdad.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And then what about in the North, where, of course, as we've been reporting for weeks now U.S. has failed to get permission from the Turks to let the U.S. bring in a heavy mechanized division from Turkey -- how will they... how will that unfold?
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Hard to say exactly. What you can say is this is probably the riskiest part of the plan. This is where we're putting troops in maybe the most danger. There are numbers of options. What we hear is the possibility of airlifting Army troops from the 82nd Airborne Division up into airfields.
MARGARET WARNER: That's that swoop we see from Kuwait sort of out to the desert there.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Yes, yes. And the idea there is... there are a couple military objectives that are very important. One of them is Kirkuk and the oil fields around there -- very important to get that early before they're destroyed. Interesting part of the early report we heard which is the agreement to put the Kurds under American forces. So that offers a new possibility.
MARGARET WARNER: What Jim just reported.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Yes, a new possibility for this operation. Now, there are some political difficulties but that's... anyway, this is a difficult operation.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. So, Col. Lang, one of the terms we've heard over and over is that this is going to be what's called a rolling start. Help us understand that concept. What does that mean and why is it being done?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, what they have in mind here is that, in fact, the ground force that is to be used in the main attack from the South, which Col. Gardiner was talking about, is being brought in two echelons. There's one echelon on the ground now, which is something like half of what it will be. The second echelon is still in ships on its way from Germany and the states.
MARGARET WARNER: So how big is the group now -- about ninety- to a hundred thousand -- or bigger?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: You're talking about three U.S. divisions basically in the South at present. That's about in terms of fighters -- that's about 55,000 -- something like that. And there's an equivalent group coming in. There's an Army Corps headquartered in Kuwait waiting to take command of them when they arrive. You have the 5th Corps with the present army force under command will advance into Iraq. These other forces will arrive. This other corps command will take over. They will follow 5th Corps into Iraq on a follow-on force -- the Marines, meanwhile, doing their own thing in the Tigris River Valley as Col. Gardiner said.
MARGARET WARNER: What are the challenges though of that long march if we go back to the southern map and the southern route that has to go all that -- what is it -- 350 miles all the way from Kuwait into Baghdad -- that's a lot of territory.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: It’s 500 kilometers, about 300 miles. I've driven it a couple times. And it's a long way across these desert roads, which run through a lot of towns and small cities which were built -- the roads were built through the cities. So that's why they're that way.
I think that presents something of a problem because the force is fairly small, and unless the commander of the Kiernan or one of these people is willing to accept the fact that airplanes are going to protect his line of communication and supply back to Kuwait, he's going to have to drop some forces off along the way. This somewhat reduces the force with which he will arrive in Basra until the follow-on comes on.
MARGARET WARNER: But Col. Gardiner, that's where that capitulation strategy comes in, right? They're hoping... as was explained in Michael Gordon's piece they don't have to leave large numbers of personnel guarding Iraqi prisoners all the way.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: That's the difficulty. That's what takes combat strength as you move forward if you have to peel off people to take care of prisoners of war. So the capitulation strategy is you let them take care of themselves.
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: I think there's more problem than that, in fact. How can you be absolutely sure that all these Iraqis and civilians in all these towns are going to be friendly; something is going to have to be done about that as well.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me bring Col. Warden back in here. Col. Warden, let's talk about the Iraqi defense. We could spend the whole 15 minutes just on that. Give us the basic... what is the basic Iraqi defense strategy as you understand it?
COL. JOHN WARDEN: Well, what we have heard in the last few days is that Saddam has pulled things back into the Baghdad area, both air defense as well as ground forces, and that strikes me as kind of a stupid thing to do in a modern era because it simply concentrates the targets very nicely to be destroyed from the air. Saddam has an extraordinarily difficult problem. He doesn't really have any good military options. This is a pure desperation thing, and his only prayer is that there is some cosmic event which leads us to decide we really don't want to do this, which seems a little bit unlikely at this point.
MARGARET WARNER: Both the gentlemen sitting here are shaking their heads.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Well, this first appeared in American thinking eight years ago. When Americans play Iraqis in war games, the idea of defending the cities always pops up as the way to do it. Make it a casualty event for the Americans. That's the way to defend against the Americans.
MARGARET WARNER: Meaning, in other words, they hope or think that they can pull the United States into urban warfare and inflicts such heavy casualties that we'd give up?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Iraq is like a lot of places in the third world. The only really important place is the capital – five and a half million people. They know we'll take the capital. They can plan to conduct the defense there. In tribute to the air power people, I must say that it's perfectly clear that once the war starts, the Iraqis are not going to be able to move anything anywhere without having it destroyed. The air force people are going to get them.
So they're going to do the best they can which is not good. They're going to take their best available option. They're going to dig in in Baghdad with air defense guns over them, if he can get them to fight and try to hurt us there.
MARGARET WARNER: And so, Colonel Warden, once the battle for Baghdad begins whether on the outskirts or in the city, if you have got U.S. forces all up there, does that eliminate a role for bombing at that point, an ongoing role?
COL. JOHN WARDEN: No, by no means. You know, one of the things that's fascinating when you look back over the last really long period of time, since the advent of air power that the number of civilian casualties have been highest in the places where that the air power played the least role -- where civilians really get hurt is when you get into situations where they get caught between two opposing ground forces.
So if we're genuinely serious about reducing Iraqi civilian casualties and damage, then the last thing in the world we want to do is to play some stupid game that Saddam Hussein has put together that tries to lure us into fighting house to house in Baghdad. I just can't believe any of our guys would do that.
MARGARET WARNER: How does the U.S. avoid being drawn in in Baghdad, Col. Gardiner, into urban combat? The specter of Mogadishu always looms large.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Margaret, there is no easy answer to that. When you get in close, when you fight in cities, despite the technology, it's not easy. It's not going to be without casualties.
MARGARET WARNER: And Col. Lang, let me shift to one other question. The Defense Department said publicly today that they think there's a high likelihood or high risk that the Iraqis would use chemical weapons. Do you agree with that? If so, where would U.S. Forces be most likely to encounter those?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, the Iraqis have been moving short range surface-to- surface missile systems into southern Iraq for the last several weeks. The warheads that go with these things are useless for anything except chemical weapons really. So I have to think there's some thought being given to shooting gas at our advancing forces, be it a useless provocative kind of thing for them to do. If they do that they might try it in the Baghdad area as well. But, you know, however dangerous this might be to the individual soldier, it is not going to stop in any way the U.S. advance to Baghdad, and we're going to capture the city.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: But -- and here's the problem -- it's the civilian casualties which is what we want to avoid. That's where the chemicals will cause problems and it will frighten the civilians to be on the road which is what we don't want.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Quick whip around to all of you -- Col. Warden, beginning with you. How long do you think this conflict will last?
COL. JOHN WARDEN: I would guess that the military... the serious military part of the thing will be over in less than two weeks.
MARGARET WARNER: Col. Lang?
COL. W. PATRICK LANG: If, in fact, a "do not succeed" in making a hedgehog defense of Baghdad, then I think it will be over in two weeks.
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Thirty to forty-five days, because the battle is not just the fight. It's taking care of the civilians, as occupiers we have to take care of the civilians.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And I’ll just ask you one final question. Do you think the American people should be prepared for greater both U.S. And Iraqi casualties than in the Gulf War?
COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Not U.S. casualties, but Iraqi casualties.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you all three.