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Advancing on Baghdad: Military Analysis

April 4, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: And to assess the latest military action, and what may lie ahead in the battle for Baghdad, we hear from two of our war-time regulars. Retired Army Col. W. Patrick Lang was a special forces officer and long time Middle East intelligence analyst. Former marine corps Lieutenant Colonel Dale Davis was an air defense and counterintelligence officer in the Middle East and north Africa. Joining them tonight is retired marine corps colonel Randy Gangle. He commanded a regiment during the first Gulf War, and is now executive director of the Marine Corps Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities. Welcome to you all.

Let’s start with the video of Saddam or was it Saddam. Pat Lang, what is your assessment and that of folks you know in the intelligence community about whether either or both of these videos was the real guy in real-time?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: I think the general impression is that it probably was the real guy. He may well still be injured and have not been functioning very well up until now. One of the things very noticeable about this character is that he has picked up a lot of weight, which is unusual. And it’s the same kind of image in various pictures we’ve seen lately. And Saddam is very careful about his training, he has a private trainer of course.

MARGARET WARNER: I didn’t know that.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: He is very fussy about that. So at the same time, to see him walking around in public like that in a public setting is an amazing thing. He hasn’t been seen in public in about three or four years. But my impression is that it is a sign of the desperation of the situation in which they feel they have to make some show of the fact that he is still alive and still in the game for the Arab world and Europe and places like that.

MARGARET WARNER: I noticed the video in the street that went on at some lends, the video panned around and you could see buildings. Could people who know Baghdad well look at that video and tell where it was shot?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: They’re of the general opinion it is out along the road to Jordan in a part of the city that is not terrifically populated there. Was a lot of smoke showing on the horizon as you observed earlier. The idea of Saddam kissing babies is quite an amazing thing. So it shows how hard up they are.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, Colonel Davis, that this would be effective in either rallying his troops or his party leadership or membership or public into thinking he as round for a while?

LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: I’m not sure how effective it will be. It certainly was done because of the nature of the regime. So much of the control the regime exerts on its people is based on the aura of Saddam himself, his personality. I’m certain that they believe that they were in a position now where they really had to demonstrate that he was still around and still in control. They felt like his presence today would somehow gel whatever resistance forces they have left and perhaps intimidate the population to prevent them from assisting the allied forces.

MARGARET WARNER: Or defecting. Colonel Gangle, at the airport which U.S. forces say they have seized, nonetheless the fighting is going on in some fashion. U.S. Forces are going to reinforce their forces overnight. Why more resistance there? What does it tell you?

COL. RANDOLPH GANGLE: Well, you know, we are getting very close to the city now. And they’ve announced from the outset that their intent was to retreat into the cities and fight. I think there is a certain amount of symbolism with the airport as well. It is an international character to it. So I think it is a combination of factors. We are getting into the city where they said they were going to defend and the symbolism of the airport.

MARGARET WARNER: Pat Lang, General Myers said today it was not yet appropriate… I don’t remember exactly his word… but for U.S. forces to use to it fly into. Is that because they would still be vulnerable?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Oh, yes. From the foot am today you can see from the fighting of the 37th cavalry on the place, the surrounding area is still contested and the possibility of shoulder fired SAM’s — surface-to-air missiles is still pretty high until they push the envelope out somewhat.

MARGARET WARNER: Colonel Davis, now add to this the complete today from the information minister that there was going to be an unconventional attack. He said it was not chemical or biological. And at least the reporters there seemed to infer that he meant sometime tonight. What… I mean we are talking about speculation here, but how might that fit into the defense of the airport?

LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: I’m not sure what they’re up to — more unconventional infantry guerrilla tactics. But this is coming from a man who declared there is no single U.S. soldier or marine on Iraqi territory or they’re not within hundreds of miles of Baghdad. So when we look at the source, we can assume that it has no credibility whatsoever. So I doubt that we’ll see anything bold and innovative. But we might.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, you know, I’m always impressed with the idea of counter attacks against the third infantry division with guys riding in dump trucks firing AK-47s at U.S. tanks. That’s an amazing thing. You can’t fault these people for lack of courage; for they sure lack in skill. That’s really their big problem. They just can’t make it against us.

MARGARET WARNER: In the battle for Baghdad proper, Colonel Gangle, you had a piece in the L.A. Times today that said that the allies have to be patient and shift their emphasis away from this premium on speed which has been the hallmark. Explain what you meant by that.

COL. RANDOLPH GANGLE: We are at a critical point. We are at a point now where the senior commanders are going to have to use their best judgment. This is what we call the operational art. They have to assess and determine is this enemy really teetering on the verge of collapsing? If he is, we may want to rush rapidly into the city. But if he’s not, and if we will see something like we’re seeing unfolding in Basra, then we need to slow down, collect ourselves and then slowly start to build the intelligence picture inside the city using the citizens themselves because that will be our most valuable asset, build the intelligence picture of who is the enemy and where he is and carefully and precisely go after them. That will do two things. One, it will eliminate the enemy and two, it will prevent a lot of collateral damage and non-combatant casualties.

MARGARET WARNER: So in other words, this is a scenario for avoiding kind of classic urban combat, the Blackhawk down scenario the officials have said they want to draw the U.S. into.

COL. RANDOLPH GANGLE: It will stilling urban combat because our forces will still have to go in and patrol understand and they will be at risk. The reason I also say patience is what we don’t want to do in my view is declare victory too soon and find out we have not rooted out all of these men, these thugs. And four months from now when we’re supposed to be at peace, we now find ourselves back into a low intensity conflict. That to me would be the worst scenario.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: But at the same time wars are fought for political reasons and the continuing existence of this government or regime is hurting us all over the Arab world. And the images they’re propagating are being pumped into everybody’s heads throughout the Islamic world and we can’t allow this to fester but so long. We’ll have to deal with it.

MARGARET WARNER: Colonel Davis, we have a map of Baghdad. And if this is the strategy, how do you… first of all, how do you array your forces around the city and then what are the features in Baghdad that will play into this?

LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: First of all, you obviously want to control the major avenues of ingress/egress — in and out of the city. You want to control those so that those forces in there do not escape and are not allowed to be reinforced. Then as Colonel Gangle said, it has to be a very deliberate and intensive intelligence-driven operation; to take our time and probe those areas by a variety of means and determine really where the important elements of the resistance forces are. Then we talk about key terrain; well key terrain in the city as we discussed last night is a bit different from key terrain in urban areas. We want to control the key bridges. That’s the only, really significant geographical piece of terrain in the city is the river and river crossings. Then we want to look at the elements of power — buildings that represent symbolic power and then infrastructure like energy production, water distribution, we want to be able to provide the services to the people to demonstrate that we have a benevolent intent.

MARGARET WARNER: Colonel Gangle, what is the sort of ethnic make-up in the different neighborhoods, again if we could look at the map and how that plays in? General Myers said yesterday for instance, when the Shiite areas he said we have to either hope they will be helpful or assume they will want to be helpful. Where are those areas and does that sound plausible to you?

COL. RANDOLPH GANGLE: Well, we do know in the eastern part of the city, ironically named Saddam city, I might add, there are about two million Shiites who live in that area. That may very well be where we might see our original or early thrust in trying to develop this intelligence picture. Now one of the things that worries me is that if Saddam or his regime intends to use chemical weapons of some type, that we would enter into the areas where the people are not supportive of Saddam, that he might use them and that would have a devastating effect not so much on our forces as we have the protective equipment, but the people who live there.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: One of the striking things about the information minister’s briefing today was the complete lack of connection to reality in his descriptions of the American situation. And I think Dale would agree with me that this is characteristic, in many ways, of the culture of this part of the world under stress – is that people tend to create a world of ideas and illusions and their desires of how things should be and then they go and live in that world. And when really placed under a lot of pressure, they have a very hard time coming out from that to make contact with what is really going on.

MARGARET WARNER: Yet the L.A. Times reporter, John Daniszewski, was just describing in the streets you have these, they look like irregular kinds of forces. I mean at some point, as Colonel Gangle said, U.S. forces have to engage them. You can’t just do this in an antiseptic way, can you?

LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: We will have to engage certain elements of the forces. I don’t know about old men with old rifles but the Special Republican Guard, the special security organization and certainly whatever is left of the Fedayeen Saddam, we are going to have to engage them because they’re so closely tied to the regime, their fate is tied to that regime. They know if the regime goes, they go.

MARGARET WARNER: Can that be done without incurring big civilian casualties or huge U.S. casualties?

LT. COL. DALE DAVIS: Well, it can be done once again if we let intelligence drive the operations and develop a good human intelligence network and allow the Iraqi civilians that wish for the regime to be eliminated to help us. The bad guys are in that building over there. We take our time. We probe. We take out those bad guys. We don’t rush into the center of the city with guns blazing.

COL. RANDOLPH GANGLE: The model is there. If you look at what the British forces are doing in Basra, that is the model. They’ve isolated the city. They’ve established control over the key nodes that was talked about earlier, the power and the water. And they’re carefully building rapport with the citizens to get this intelligence. Now the more we do that, and the more we spread it, I think it is an exponential thing at some point, it starts to snowball and build on itself and it can move rapidly but we must move carefully at first.

MARGARET WARNER: Just briefly — in the meantime at some point you also move in closer, do you not? You tighten the noose?

COL. RANDOLPH GANGLE: I think you’ll see a variety of tactics. You may see some units move in and establish what you could call a node or patrol base and say battalion size force and run smaller patrols out from that. There may be larger size patrols. There will be a variety of techniques. We do not want to establish a pattern that puts ourselves at risk but there will be a number of techniques used.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen, we have to leave it there. Thank you all three.