Buildup in the Gulf
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RAY SUAREZ: For more on what this increased military deployment means, we get three perspectives.
Retired Colonel John Warden was the air force’s deputy director for strategy, doctrine and war fighting during the last Gulf War. As such, he was an architect of that war’s air campaign.
Retired Colonel W. Patrick Lang was a special-forces officer, defense attaché to Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and during the last Gulf War was a Middle East analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
And Geoffrey Kemp was special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and South Asian Affairs on the National Security Council staff during the Reagan administration. He’s now with the Nixon Center, a Washington think tank.
And Patrick Lang, What does the signs and timing of the latest deployments tell you about the eventual U.S. strategy?
COL. PATRICK LANG: Well, over the last four or five months, Ray, there has been a discussion in the government as to what the nature of any possible future action to Iraq ought to be.
There is one school of thought felt that it should be heavy in air power and psychological operations. And that would probably yield a change of regime and an ability to remove weapons of mass destruction. Another group thought you ought to have a more balanced force and it would be necessary to occupy the country.
It seems to be clear from what’s going on now that the later group more had its way because the size force that’s being built up in the desert in Kuwait with the oncoming forces, which would not just be the third mechanized infantry division but larger ground force, will be in a position to overcome any possible resistance at the air power might not remove and occupy the whole country which is what will have to be done.
RAY SUAREZ: John Warden, do you agree with that analysis, that the infantry is winning out in this deployment?
COL. JOHN WARDEN: Well, I think this is one of these things where you really have got to work backwards from where you want it end up. If you want the war to end up with us occupying and ruling Iraq for a amount of time you need to have a fairly large ground force that can assume those occupation duties pretty quickly.
If regime change is in fact, is what you are really looking for from a political perspective then you probably can in fact, accomplish it with mostly with air power, special forces, psychological operations and those ground forces which simply be a backup to take care of anything that happened to go awry or if you had to change your plan at the last minute.
RAY SUAREZ: Geoffrey Kemp, what is this deployment tell you about the war that the U.S. intends to fight, wants to fight, if it comes to that?
GEOFFREY KEMP: It tells me at this point that a war is not inevitable but probably regime change is. But I don’t think you get really serious until you put a lot of ground forces into the region because that does mean we ultimately will be able, not only to inflict terrible damage on Iraq, but to occupy and thereby get rid of the regime.
I believe that what you may see happen is that as we intensify this buildup over the coming weeks you may see some movements in Baghdad. Because at some point the Iraqis around Saddam are going to realize that we are deadly serious and their necks are going to be on the line. Now, up to now, it’s been very, very unlike that any coup could be mounted against Saddam Hussein, he’s far too well protected. All I’m suggesting the probabilities of him either being removed by his people or perhaps even with pressure from the Arab countries goes up the more intense buildup and more ground force orientated that build up is.
RAY SUAREZ: So this signal of U.S. intentions creates possibilities in Baghdad that didn’t exist before then?
GEOFFREY KEMP: I think so and I do think the ground force element is critical because, well, I agree air power can do incredible things –particularly in this day and age — far more intense than the Gulf War, it’s the actual physical presence on the ground. We’re now building up capability to that must convince even the most hard bitten Iraqis that they cannot stop this invasion.
COL. PATRICK LANG: Ray, I absolutely agree with the idea of how effective air power will be in this war. But the fact of the matter is that an expectation that you can bombard people to the point which they will not only give up but change their government in the direction you want is really more of a hope than something that can really be predicted. Hope is not in fact, a course of action. You know, it is not a method.
If you’re going to be sure you’ll do this in such a way there is no longer a Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and you have the opportunity to search the whole country for weapons of mass destruction, you have to have muddy boots on the ground in the country because after all in the end we’re a species that lives on land, we and the Iraqis both occupy things on the ground and have to search through the places they inhabit in order to be sure.
RAY SUAREZ: But does this buildup of forces, both right on the Iraqi border and in the neighborhood, leave the United States with flexibility to respond to events if they don’t come out politically as Geoffrey suggests, if you need air as John Warden suggests, or are the American forces deployed in a way that leaves you open to whatever eventuality you need to press?
COL. PATRICK LANG: Yeah, it really does leave you that way because the air forces are dispersed throughout the area. There are a couple of Navy aircraft carrier battle groups moving through the area; strategic air is available both from Diego Garcia and in the states; these air forces can all be brought to bear.
But it takes a long time to position heavy mechanized forces that can rapidly occupy the country to bring them to a place where you can use them effectively. They have to be there at this time the president makes the decision or you’ll have a delay of months and months and months.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, John Warden, let’s talk a bit about time frame January 27 the expected date for a major report from Hans Blix and his U.N. Team. The United States if it wanted to move quickly after that report, is there enough time between today and then to get everything in place?
COL. JOHN WARDEN: Well, I think there are a couple of interesting points here to think about. One of them certainly is a direct answer to your question — given the air power capability you could probably go to war in three or four days from now if you wanted to. Anything after the 27th of January ought to be relatively straightforward.
The question is whether in fact, you need all of the ground forces in place before you initiate hostilities is different. In reality when you think about war you’re not only interested in winning which obviously we are but you’re also interested in cost and the more people that you expose and the closer you get with your opponent and the less you depend on the overwhelming advantage we have in technology, the more people you’re likely to lose, the higher the cost is going to be and the higher the political involvement.
So, In fact, this is one of those instances where you can probably accomplish everything you want with air power. But in the event you want a backup, having the ground force there seems to me to be a very interesting capability to have, which ought to drive the Iraqis farther towards what Geoffrey has suggested and I think is entirely possible — that there will be something that will happen in Iraq and Saddam will be gone before the 27th of January.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there an American interest, John Warden, in committing as late as possible because once you put people in that region they are as you suggest exposed that forces large forces become a target in a way they are not in Georgia and upstate New York?
COL. JOHN WARDEN: In… given the opponent that we have I don’t think that’s a serious problem. The Iraqis simply don’t have the capability to do much in the way of any kind of offensive operations outside their own border. So, I think from that standpoint it’s relatively safe. If you want that feeling of security get a lot of people there and a lot of things there I think you can do that without great risk.
RAY SUAREZ: But is terrorism a threat Patrick Lang?
COL. PATRICK LANG: No, I don’t think terrorism is a serious threat to U.S. forces in the region especially to the forces in Kuwait, because you can be sure that the force commander is exercising force protection measures on a large scale; they’ve got standing helicopter patrols that can observe across the border with ground observing radar – they’ve got all sorts of things going on.
There is a possibility some of the sympathizers to Saddam Hussein around the world may decide to start attacking us either here or in Europe in order to exert pressure on us. But I don’t think there is a great deal of terrorist threat to the force itself in the Gulf.
But, you know, with regard to what’s been said so far about how long this would all take you have to remember we have been prepositioning this force since the last Gulf War and have maintained a very large amount of materiel in ships off Diego Garcia, things dumped all over the shore of the Arabian Gulf, and we’ve been steadily increasing that as this crisis built up, so really what remains to be down now largely and what’s going to happen in terms of the third mech division and for other forces is to bring the people in a continual stream of commercial air – to marry them up with equipment that is already there.
RAY SUAREZ: That’s easier and faster — just to ship personnel?
COL. PATRICK LANG: Much, because when you start talking about moving tanks and heavy, self-propelled guns and other heavy pieces of equipment, which they need for this force, the only realistic way they can come is by ship. You can put a few of these things in the aircraft but the numbers you can put in are really quite small. You end up with ships. That’s what’s been going on for the last months, more and more of these things have been coming into the theater. So, in fact, by the end of the month you’re going to have a very substantial ground force there as well as all the air forces.
RAY SUAREZ: Geoffrey Kemp where do reservists fit in this puzzle?
GEOFFREY KEMP: Well, I think you may need some reservists in the field but where you really need the reservists back here in the continental United States to make up for the deficit for regular forces going overseas particularly since 9/11 when we have to be more concerned about defense of the homeland.
There is one other point I’d like to add, Ray, is that we won’t know until the inspectors start reporting and the U.N. starts debating exactly what access we’re going to have in the Middle East. There is this great question mark about will Saudi Arabia allow us to use all its bases? This will in turn I think have an impact upon how we think about the timing and the nature of the war, because obviously the more allies we have the better. And, therefore, we have to juxtapose the buildup to put the pressure on Saddam Hussein against a very fine tuned diplomacy in New York to make sure we get as many cooperative allies as possible if and with when the day come. Ships have go to through the Suez Canal.
RAY SUAREZ: John Warden how is that different or is it different from the Desert Shield time leading up to Desert Storm?
COL. JOHN WARDEN: Well, of course in the Desert Shield exercise there were two things that went on, the first is is that there was an initial assumption that the war would happen fairly quickly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August, that it didn’t happen allowed for the there to be time for a very significant buildup bringing an entire core from Europe in order to fall in and be ready to go.
Now as Patrick already said that burns a tremendous amount of equipment has already been pre-positioned so the time to do a similar sized build up is probably significantly less than it was before. So the president really has tremendous options here and can probably go to war any time that he wants to, any time there is a genuine causus beli and the allies are lined up.
RAY SUAREZ: So, what happens next? What are you looking for in the way of moves in the next couple of weeks?
COL. PATRICK LANG: What I’m looking to see happen is exactly what Geoff said– we run up to the end of the more get the U.N. report; the state of the union message is the next day.
You know I don’t think we’ll have moved all of this material and all of these people and made all of these preparations to simply walk away from this unless there is really compelling evidence that shows that Iraq is innocent of the things they have been implicitly accused of – which it’s not going to do that.
I think that things are likely to start happening in February in a big way unless there is very clear proof Iraq is innocent because it’s up to them to prove their innocence in this situation. You have to think as well that this situation has profound American domestic implications as well. To back away from this thing in an ambiguous situation would be very, very tough on the administration.
RAY SUAREZ: Patrick Lang, guests, thank you all.