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War Strategy: Day 3

March 21, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: And with me as they have been throughout this week retired Army Colonel Patrick Lang, a former special forces officer and defense attach in the Middle East and chief Middle East analyst for the defense intelligence agency during the Gulf War. And retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner who teaches military operations and planning and is a long-time consultant to the Defense Department. First Sam Gardiner, your reaction to that extraordinary first-person account from john burns, what you think this says about the conflict in military terms.

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Shocking. Clearly shocking to the leadership. I think that’s the interesting part, that there are really two targets for shock and awe — the military and political leadership and then the troops on the ground which we’re going to get to talking about them. But clearly this must be shocking to the leadership.

MARGARET WARNER: These targets, Pat Lang, if you thought about them in American terms it’s like the White House, the capitol, the Pentagon. I mean, do you think it’s going to have a big impact on the leadership?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, it will have a big impact on a lot of people in Baghdad. I think, you know, when David Brooks said earlier that things are reversed here in that military operations are being used to support psychological effects, I wouldn’t exactly agree with that because if you know you’re the great philosopher of war, he believed that war is a contest of two wills and the true object of combat is to affect the enemy commander’s mind. If this isn’t designed to do that, I don’t know what is. So in a strange way this fits very well the ancient patterns of thought about war. The other thing is as this gentleman said in his report is that the, you know, Iraqi society is very complex. This is something that I hope we’ve taken into account because, as he said, there will be people in the city who will be very happy to see us. There will be others who will not.

MARGARET WARNER: The other sort of… the major news of this evening, which we did report on the first show but we only had a little piece of it but now confirmed by the Pentagon is that this entire division, the 51st Iraqi division has surrendered. What is the significance again militarily of that? Is that significant?

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Well, there are a couple of things about it, Margaret. First of all it’s a regular division, not one of the elite divisions so you’d say, well, not so much. But we saw the pictures of the soldiers that had been… that give themselves up. It’s very interesting thing over time if you sort of think about soldiers you have seen surrender. Even during the last Gulf War when we first began to take prisoners, they had a look on their face of combat, which is after having been under the strain for a while, you begin to… they begin to have a look.

MARGARET WARNER: You’re talking about these Iraqi s who have been bombarded for weeks by American bombs.

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Right, in ’91.

MARGARET WARNER: They really looked….

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: In ways that military historians stall id the “Stalingrad stare,” which if you remember the picture of the German soldiers with sunken eyes. You can see it. These guys didn’t look like that. These guys gave up. These guys didn’t stay in the combat. They gave up. Now that’s very interesting because what that says is, first, about the strength of the regular army and second that the control and the willingness of people to defend their regime, it doesn’t seem to be there.

MARGARET WARNER: What does that say to you?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, you know, I’m remaining concerned about the rear area of American-British forces that advance into Iraq. I’m a conservative person about things like that. I would agree with Sam. These guys didn’t really look beaten to me. They just looked like they surrendered. If I were the American commander there in the third division, I wouldn’t want these guys turned loose and running around in my rear area. I’d be worried about that.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, today Donald Rumsfeld sounded… it was earlier but quite frustrated that they hadn’t had any major defections. Talk to us about the units that Saddam Hussein is counting on defending him and the U.S. really has to turn or else face pretty bloody combat in Baghdad.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, there are… there’s certainly the regular divisions of the Republican Guard, you know, who are in fact the distilled essence of the Iraqi ground military establishment. They’re soldiers and officers who have been picked out for their supposed excellence and loyalty to the regime. Most of them are Sunni Arabs but not all. And they have been given a special status. They get extra pay for the service; they get extra time toward retirement, they get all kinds of presents. They get the best equipment and everybody tells them they’re the best. So the belief is in fact that they are the most likely to fight well.

I’m not so convinced, in fact, that they’re all that willing to fight for Saddam Hussein because in their essence they’re not that much different from these other soldiers. They’re still Iraqis. They still belong essentially to the same military establishment. So, you know, I think it will be interesting to see once you come up against these guys and knock hard on the door to see what happens. In the times we’ve fought them before, their resistance was kind of brittle. And I suspect it may be now.

MARGARET WARNER: Aren’t there even more elite units though, a special Republican Guard as well?

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: That’s interesting that Saddam Hussein creates these circles of people he trusts or doesn’t trust. There are two other units that become the guards, the palace guards that go inside that circle. And the interesting thing that he’s done that makes the unfolding of this in the next couple days is they brought them all back into the Baghdad area. There are only two of the divisions that are outside Baghdad. So that they’re that close. Now, the one thing that had begun to unfold yesterday that we saw again today is that they have been targeted. In this target list has been the Republican Guard divisions, the elite divisions. And I expect that to continue until we get to the outskirts when the ground forces will engage them.

MARGARET WARNER: So give us a sense, Pat Lang, about if these negotiations are going on and Rumsfeld said today they were going on but it wasn’t Pentagon… it wasn’t at that official level. It was on another level — who would be doing the negotiating? How does it work?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Well, this is taking place in the subterranean world of clandestine operations. I’m sure the Central Intelligence Agency is playing a role and various… they will also need to have some Special Forces guys, green beret types in there because in a situation like this, I have always found that soldiers from another country’s army like this, they really want to deal with other soldiers. And they have an instinctive sense of professional bonding. They don’t easily come to agreements like this unless there’s another military man there. So I’m sure you’d have a mixed group of people from the CIA and from army Special Forces and that kind of thing conducting these negotiations which are, as I said earlier, I think it’s something you have to do but you have to be very careful you don’t get… you’re not duped in the process.

MARGARET WARNER: The administration or the United States is of course walking this fine line between the ferocity of these new attacks and also saying over and over we’re sparing civilians, we’re sparing infrastructure but they have not actually attacked a major city yet. Can this fine line be maintained if you get into urban combat in a city?

COL. SAMUEL GARDINER: Probably not. Urban combat will destroy– and the civilians have been told to stay in place, which is one of the things the United States has told civilians to do. But I really think, Margaret, that by the time that happens the way things are going that they’ll come apart. I really believe that. This is not an army. It wasn’t an army in 1991. When you see divisions give up wholesale like that, I mean, it’s not a fair fight. I don’t mean that in a sense that the fight should be fair. But this is a very weak military power.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you as confident?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: No, I’m not as confident as that. In the last Gulf War, what they did is they had this huge army and a lot of reserve units filled with old men and boys and tended to put those kinds of units in the front line where they ended up surrendering to drone aircraft and Italian camera crews. But in fact behind the line there were much higher quality units. If you talk to fellows in the second marine division they will tell you about the multidivisional counterattack mounted against them around the airport which they didn’t think was funny at all. So apparently there was some kind of real resistance around Nasiriyah today and I’d like to know what that is before I make a judgment.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, more tomorrow. Pat Lang, Sam Gardiner, thank you both again.