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War Plans

November 12, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: For months, the Pentagon has slowly and quietly built up American firepower in the seas and on land around Iraq. This carrier, the Abraham Lincoln, and its sister ship the George Washington, and their battle groups in the Persian Gulf are the most visible signs of that buildup.

LOU GREGUS, U.S.S. Normandy: We’ve been training for the past two years; Normandy has been going through a training cycle with the rest of the battle group. We’ve come here ready for whatever the President would direct.

RAY SUAREZ: In next door Kuwait, the third infantry division has been rotating troops on training exercises.

In Qatar, an air base is being expanded and upgraded, possibly as a control center if the Saudis deny the U.S. permission to use their bases.

On the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, B-52 bombers stand ready. And at Incirlik Air Force Base in southern Turkey, U.S. and British forces patrol the northern Iraq’s no-fly zone.

Over the weekend, both The Washington Post and New York Times carried stories describing how U.S. and coalition forces would move into Iraq if and when a war starts. On Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell had this message for Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein.

COLIN POWELL: He knows that the United States military has been planning. He knows what we’re doing. He can see what’s going on in the region.

RAY SUAREZ: General Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, said those plans are well underway.

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS: We prepare in terms of our tactics, our techniques, our procedures, our structures, the way we resource ourselves because anything less wouldn’t be prudent. And we will be prudent. We won’t be quick, we will be prudent.

RAY SUAREZ: General Franks said he didn’t want to speculate about what happens next in Iraq.

RAY SUAREZ: And for more on how a war with Iraq might unfold we get three views. General Richard Hawley retired in 1999. His last assignment was commander of air combat command. Retired Colonel Patrick Lang was a special forces officer and a middle east intelligence officer. And John Pike is director of GlobalSecurity.org, a nonprofit organization which focuses on security issues.

Patrick Lang, let’s start with an outline of the plan for making war in Iraq, as it’s known, what are the major points?

COL. PATRICK LANG (Ret.): Well, I think the stories that appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times very much reflect what General Franks just said, that what is going to happen is going to be prudent, in fact. And I think what has happened here in the planning process and in the discussion within the U.S. Government is that prudence has won the day.

In the early stages of planning, there was a good deal of thought that this could be largely accomplished as an air campaign which would, in fact, so intimidate the Iraqis that they would lay down their arms and get rid of the dictator and everything would be very conveniently done, with some assistance from opposition forces.

I think in fact that probably the idea has now won through that, in fact, there might be a situation occur in that scheme of things in which you might find some Iraqis who did not immediately wish to surrender, would hold out in particular localities and who would severely embarrass the plans of the United States and the timing of the operation, which is politically very sensitive in the region.

So now there is going to be a very considerable ground component within this, which will ensure that no matter what sort of adverse circumstances might occur that the United States would succeed and succeed rapidly.

RAY SUAREZ: So what is the initial air campaign set to do and when as far as the plans we’re hearing about do those ground forces get introduced?

COL. PATRICK LANG (Ret.): Well, as I understand the plan as it has been sketched out, in fact it will probably have a rolling start to a campaign. In other words, existing air activity will intensify and intensify against command-and-control centers, centers important to the Iraqi regime, communications, headquarters, things of that kind, and at the same time there will be some small special operations teams will attack targets of particular sensitivity within the country that the regime has to have function.

And within a very few days a sizable ground force will enter the country to proceed toward Baghdad to make sure, in fact, that the lesson is well absorbed by the Iraqi populous that, in fact, that the time has come for a change of regime and a elimination of weapons systems.

And the hope is obviously that in the course of that operation that these people will in fact get rid of their own present government and a new government will emerge.

RAY SUAREZ: General Hawley, what do you have to add to that?

GEN. RICHARD HAWLEY (Ret.): Well, I wouldn’t disagree. I think this is going to be a simultaneous effort where you see both land and air power brought to bear against critical targets. Of course the first fight in any modern war is for control of the air. The side that controls the air has advantages that are just dominant.

So that will be the first fight but then at the same time we’re fighting for control of the air, we’ll be trying to eliminate Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and his means of delivering those weapons. Those will all be critical targets.

They’ll be attacked by long range air power and naval air power coming off carriers, cruise missiles coming off both long range bombers, ships at sea and submarines and of course our light mobile forces on the ground that can get into place both before the fight actually begins and then be in place to exploit opportunities as they occur and prosecute the campaign that General Franks has laid out.

RAY SUAREZ: Given what you said about the first fight being in the air, does this Gulf war contemplated differ from the first one since the United States and Britain already control half the air space of Iraq?

GEN. RICHARD HAWLEY (Ret.): Well, they control the no-fly zones but there’s a large part of Iraq in which we have not flown for many years. That is the part of Iraq where the most intense defenses exist.

So there will be a fight. It will be not much different, I think, than the fight that we had in 1991. It won’t last a long time. It’s going to be lopsided. The Iraqis capabilities have not improved much. Ours have improved a great deal. Nevertheless it will be a fight and it will take some time.

RAY SUAREZ: Do we have built-up expertise perhaps not in the area of Iraq that you’re talking about but by virtue of having pilots that know the conditions, know the air conditions in that part of the world, know how to fly there, have been bombing from time to time, have been taking out anti-aircraft positions and similar things?

GEN. RICHARD HAWLEY (Ret.): We certainly have a lot of experience in Iraq. We’ve flown tens of thousands of sorties since 1991. We have yet to lose an airplane to the Iraqi air defense system. I wish there was some wood around here to knock on, but it’s… certainly that’s a huge advantage.

They know the terrain. They know the weapons systems. They’ve seen how the Iraqis react and they’re very skilled at their business. So I think they’ll do it very well. They’ll do it fairly quickly. On the other hand the Iraqis have had ten years to figure our systems out, to watch our tactics. So this cuts both ways.

RAY SUAREZ: John Pike, given what you’ve just heard from our two other guests about the contemplated action, talk a little bit about the preparation for it. How long does it take to get ready for that kind of war?

JOHN PIKE: Well, part of the problem is that we really don’t know exactly how large of an air campaign, how large of a ground campaign the United States is contemplating. Those war plans are being drawn up based on intelligence at a level of detail that simply could not be developed on the basis of the sort of unclassified sources that we’re using to have this discussion. And I think that the closer that we get to the actual onset of hostilities, the more disinformation there’s going to be coming out to confuse people about exactly what the plan is.

My suspicion though is–and at least I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that the air campaign was a lot smaller than many people are anticipating, that it’s basically building on the attacks on air defenses that have been going on for months now, basically focused on precision strikes against leadership targets, that the ground defensive may be a lot smaller than many people are expecting, perhaps as few as 50,000 troops marching up quickly from Kuwait to Baghdad.

Under those circumstances, if you’re looking at that sort of low-end attack, I think that that’s something where the additional troops, the additional aircraft could be brought into Kuwait, brought into the Persian Gulf with perhaps as little as ten days of overt build-up when it was clear that lots of troops were getting off of airplanes and there were a lot of carriers in the Persian Gulf that the ground offensive could start simultaneously with the air offensive I have and with luck the whole thing could be over ten days after that.

The onset of this war, I think, could surprise a lot of people in terms of how quickly it would start, how quickly the build-up would be completed and how quickly the entire war would end if you were lucky.

RAY SUAREZ: With the role that you gave to information in this conflict, could it be that the fact that we’re able to read about these war plans in such detail in major American newspapers be part of that already?

JOHN PIKE: (Laughing).

RAY SUAREZ: Is this part of a release that we want Iraq to be able to read online and in newspapers.

JOHN PIKE: I think part of the information that we’re seeing about the military buildup is trying to convince the senior Iraqi leadership that we are serious about regime change and if there’s any possibility of a coup in Iraq that now is the time for it to happen.

But you remember, of course, that during the D-Day invasion one of the critical problems that the Germans had was that they didn’t know which one was the real invasion. Was it Patton coming across at Calais, or was it Eisenhower coming across at Normandy. The allies had spent months and months convincing them that it was really Patton at Calais. They thought the real invasion was in fact the deception.

I have to assume that as a war gets closer, we’re going to be getting a lot more of these deceptions in the public domain.

RAY SUAREZ: Patrick Lang.

COL. PATRICK LANG (Ret.): I’m inclined to think as I said before that prudence will rule the day here and I think if you have a ground force that small and too small an air campaign then you begin to gamble with history just a bit.

You start to have a situation in which you’re not observing any longer the Clausewitzian idea that war has two sides and your opponent as a will which will be exerted against you and may do something that will embarrass you considerably especially if you think… if he learns you have a small force. So I’m inclined to think given what you can know from open sources of information that the force is going to be considerably larger than that both on the air and on the ground in order to make sure that this thing ends quickly because if it doesn’t end quickly it will be severely embarrassing to all the regimes of the region.

I had the foreign minister of one Arab country tell me if the thing lasts over a month we’re just absolutely in the soup. So we can’t have any kind of risk of a reversal here. This has to end cleanly, precisely and with the prospect of a new government.

RAY SUAREZ: General Hawley, does that being prepared for any eventuality butt up against the need for speed that you just heard Patrick Lang talk about? Can we serve both those masters at the same time?

GEN. RICHARD HAWLEY (Ret.): Well, that’s one of the great challenges. No commander wants to go into a fight without a substantial reserve to deal with the unknowns. Unfortunately no plans survives contact with the enemy. The Iraqis are going to have an influence on how this battle goes.

Our forces, our commanders, are going to want to have enough reserve force to deal with those unexpected contingencies. The challenge will be to get sufficient force engaged in time to execute the kind of a rapid-moving plan that appears to be in play here.

They’re going to have to put a lot of forces in early, light forces that can deploy quickly, that can be on ships off shore, that can already be on the ground in the region, and then quickly augment those with forces that can back them up and deal with the unexpected resistance that might occur in any fight that you ever get in.

JOHN PIKE: Well, I think that this again goes back to a problem that we’re having sitting here on the outside gauging where it is that Iraqi forces are currently deployed trying to understand how the Iraqis might be able to counterattack.

My assumption though– and I think the assumption of many observers– is that the Iraqi regular army is probably going to remain in garrison. If it’s getting out of garrison, that air strikes are probably going to be able to contain it very quickly.

And consequently rather than trying to destroy every identifiable target in Iraq, that the focus of the American air campaign and the ground campaign is going to be on Baghdad. That’s the political center of gravity in Iraq. And it’s going to be focused on those targets in Baghdad, special Republican Guard, special security organization, Saddam’s Fedayyeen, basically the regime itself which is a fairly small, finite discreet set of targets that can be addressed with precision air strikes, very quickly followed up by heavy force of three or four divisions marching up from the South.

RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thank you very much.