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Advancing on Baghdad

April 5, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: For more on today’s war developments and the battle for Baghdad, we turn to former special forces officer and Middle East intelligence analyst Retired Army Colonel W. Patrick Lang; 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; and military analyst John Pike, he’s the director of GlobalSecurity.org, a non- profit think tank in Washington that tracks national security issues.

And today we saw a detachment of United States forces head into Baghdad, do a little fighting, and head out. What was that all about, Pat Lang?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, I think they did what we thought they probably would do, they closed out to the southwest of Baghdad, the third infantry division, they sent in a battalion sized reconnaissance and force never intending to stay there — made a circuit through the city to see how much resistance there would be — and what they found was a lot of disorganized and fairly enthusiastic resistance and they made their way through without any trouble. I don’t know how they lost that one tank, but it was probably quite a surprise.

RAY SUAREZ: So by seeing what they do back, you learn something that you apply the next time?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: In military science what you want to do is fix the enemy in position and hold onto him and find out exactly where he is. You have to do that by maintaining contact with him. So go in and grab hold of him and feel out his position. They’re going to do this again two or three times to make sure — from different angles and things like that.

RAY SUAREZ: And then what happens?

COL. RANDOLPH GANGLE: Well, this is the pattern that has been set in Basra already. We punch in patrols into the city, kind of gauge what’s the feeling of the enemy, are they resisting or fading a way? This is all part of the intelligence gathering procedure, and also gauging whether or the enemy is ready to tip or not, have we reached a tipping point? I think that’s that’s the critical thing that senior commanders on the ground right now are trying to determine.

RAY SUAREZ: And, John Pike, there are press reports that the men who are going to at least in the initial days run Baghdad already have the city divided into segments, for management purposes. There’s, I guess, already a plan on how to run this city.

JOHN PIKE: Well, there would be to be a plan on how to run it because you don’t know when the regime is going to collapse, but you do know that there is going to be a moment at which organized resistance collapses. You do know that there is going to be a moment when American forces are going to be able to take over the presidential complex downtown, and that’s the point at which you are going to declare victory, and that’s the point at which I think you’re going to be seeing mass surrenders all across the country.

RAY SUAREZ: Where do military concerns and political ones meet up here in the way that you handle this, who you arrest, who you start looking for?

JOHN PIKE: Well, I think that we see the relationship between the military and the political and the video that we’ve seen of this initial probe into Baghdad, they went into Baghdad, but you’ll notice that there really aren’t big apartment buildings on either side of the road – that they were engaging in fire fights with Saddam Fedayeen, but they were doing so in an area where there was the least opportunity for the sort of civilian casualties that Iraq has… that Saddam is trying to provoke. Later on they’re going to have to go into more populated areas.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: They have to get — once the fighting dies down, because they tipped and fell over when the regime went away, they’re going to have to get these Iraqi ministries up and running again, so there’s a clear intersection here between the political needs of victory and the combat action which you have to be very careful that it doesn’t become so severe that you damage everything too much.

RAY SUAREZ: There is, Randy Gangle, said to be a loose cordon around the city. People are fleeing the city in large numbers, but you could guess that some of them are probably part of the apparatus that kept this government alive. Do you take a risk by letting them go in order to meet your near-term military objectives?

COL. RANDOLPH GANGLE: I think the intent will be, for right now, with the forces still trying to move onto the city, I think eventually once we get more forces in the area that cordon will tighten and we’ll start to screen those people going out to do exactly what you’ve identified, capture those guys so they don’t come back and bother us later.

RAY SUAREZ: And why a loose cordon now? Does it take too much manpower at the initial point to seal off a city?

COL. RANDOLPH GANGLE: Sure, it’s 298 square miles, I believe, the surface that it covers. We’ve only got advanced elements of two divisions in one Marine division and one Army division. There’s just not enough boots on the ground right now to do the job properly.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: And there’s — the clock is running on the overall big political situation. I had a conversation with a foreign minister of one of the surrounding countries in which he told me with great firmness that if you folks don’t get this over with in a month, we’re all in deep trouble politically and all our governments around here because people just won’t stand for this.

JOHN PIKE: And most of the neighborhoods of Baghdad are really not where that victory is going to be achieved. The victory is going to be achieved in the downtown presidential complex when American forces can go to the center of the city, move around freely and basically put the government on the run. That’s the point at which victory is achieved and you don’t have to bother the other 5 million people in the city in order to do that.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you’re seeing some resistance. The much promised total collapse apparently isn’t going to happen yet. Are there any advantages that these fighters have in the streets of their own city with the less technologically able weapons that they possess?

COL. RANDOLPH GANGLE: The advantage that they have is if they choose to defend they will be concealed inside buildings or whatever they can hide behind. We will have to maneuver in the open. And our history tells us, as does our experimentation with urban warfare, 70 percent of your casualties occur in the open– in the streets and in the open areas. So when we’re moving on those streets in the open, that’s when we’re at our greatest danger.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: There’s also the overall thing we know from our experience in military history that when contact is made, the party that’s up and moving is the party that takes most of the casualties. And they won’t be up and moving, so that’s an advantage they have.

RAY SUAREZ: There’s also said to be an underground bunker and tunnel network. How important is that to find, secure, collapse during these initial days?

COL. RANDOLPH GANGLE: Very important, because we have to control those in order to limit their ability to maneuver through those tunnels, pop up behind other people, that sort of thing, and obviously if they’re retreating into that, and I’m led to believe there are many hundreds of kilometers or at least there’s reports of hundreds of kilometers of underground networks under the city, that will be one of the most difficult paths to clear those tunnels out.

RAY SUAREZ: A ranking Air Force leader said today that the Air Force is still very much in the game and once American forces are on the streets of Baghdad, they will still be in the air, above those troops and dropping smaller munitions, switching to different ordinance.

JOHN PIKE: Well, actually what they’re talking about doing is going to an inert concrete filled bomb. They’ve been using those in the Northern Watch/Southern Watch air campaign for the last several years. Basically that’s designed to minimize your collateral damage because the bomb doesn’t explode, but if you drop five hundred or a thousand pounds of steel or concrete on an individual vehicle, that vehicle is not going to be a hazard, but you’re not generating the large amount of shrapnel that you would from an explosive bomb.

RAY SUAREZ: But it has to be dropped in an incredibly precise way, doesn’t it?

JOHN PIKE: Well, it’s a laser guided bomb, you’re going to have a guy on the ground with a laser designator, if he has one of these Fedayeen technicals that is the obstacle to the advance, he can put the laser designator on that one vehicle, an airplane at an altitude of 25,000 feet drops the bomb, that one vehicle is destroyed when it’s hit. But you don’t have the lethal shrapnel flying all over the neighborhood that can endanger civilians.

RAY SUAREZ: Today a drone flew a 12-hour mission over the city, and came back safely. What does that tell you?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, it tells me that it’s going to be very possible to maintain continual surveillance of these streets during the months the U.S. troops move en masse into the city to conduct this battle that we’re talking about. So you’ll have very good real-time intelligence of what’s going on right in the streets.

RAY SUAREZ: Is that kind of a surprise, though, that there wasn’t even small arms fire or any attempt to take this thing?

COL. RANDOLPH GANGLE: I was surprised — now there may have been attempts to take it down, we don’t know that. And it also would depend what altitude it was flying at. It may have been out of small arms range. So I’m not surprised that those UAV’s — unmanned aerial vehicles — are flying, and I think it’s a good thing.

Remember with caution, however, that the’’re limited; they can’t see inside the buildings, that’s where they’re primarily going to hide. But they will prevent them from maneuvering between their hiding places into the open while they’re up there.

JOHN PIKE: But one of the real questions I think people have had about the battle of Baghdad is what the role of air power is going to be. The best case scenario is that all of the American air forces, helicopters, drones that have been supporting the American advance thus far, are going to be able to operate over Baghdad.

The worst case scenario is that the classical Baghdad fireworks display, this enormous concentration of anti-aircraft artillery, would create a no-fly zone for American aircraft over Baghdad that you would not be able to get helicopters in there, that you would not be able to get gun ships in there and that that would scrape off a lot of the American technological advantage.

So I think one of the things that they’re trying to do is test how coordinated, how dense that anti-aircraft artillery network is, because it was certainly a continual problem in the Kosovo air war.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there a possibility that they’re just hanging back in order to draw these invading forces in?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: I think there’s a good possibility that, they’re every bit clever enough to do that and disciplined enough to do it. And that may well just give us this terrible disadvantage. But the thing I worry about the most that I’ve seen in the last day or so is the appearance of substantial numbers of foreign volunteers, fighting against the Marines. If that builds up, that’s a real problem.

RAY SUAREZ: And there’s no way to know how many there are?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: No, there isn’t.

RAY SUAREZ: There’s also now 45,000, said to be Mukhabarat and other security forces finally ready to make the last stand. That could be tough too.

COL. RANDOLPH GANGLE: Oh, absolutely. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of people that we need to clear out in the city doesn’t range somewhere in the 100,000 area when you take a look at the number of Republican Guards that could have moved back into the city and the Fedayeen and all the other members of the regime that have kept Saddam in place, all those thugs, rats, whatever you want to call them, they may be in Baghdad and if they choose to fight, it could be difficult.

RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thanks a lot for being here.