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On Point

Just Give CENTCOM a Chance

by Austin Bay
April 4, 2003

Afghanistan should have been the definitive lesson. October 2001 followed a sine wave of emotion, with peaks of euphoria tagged by troughs of distress, the one consistent theme from major media being Central Command was failing. Afghanistan, in the critics' lingo, was an instant Vietnam quagmire.

November 2001 showed that to be a hasty, faulty, utterly fruitcake judgment. However, in The Saddam War phase of the War on Terror, we've witnessed the same sad contrail of fret and hysteria, often fed by politicized commentators whose bias further clouds the fog of war.

Perhaps this demonstration will be more convincing. Peter Arnett's form of urbane warfare -- the smug wisdom of leftish elites -- is flawed, not CENTCOM's war plans. The urbane warriors lack the Pentagon's sophistication in urban warfare, mountain fighting and desert battles. It's not that the Pentagon gets it exactly right -- no military ever does -- but that it has earned public patience.

After that hard knock on the biased, let's praise the real reporters embedded in U.S. and British units. With few exceptions -- Geraldo the premier culprit -- their coverage has been courageous, magnificent and informative. Though cable television news often lets that medium's demand for drama-every-half-hour distort issues and events, many frontline reports by their embeds are much more than the first brush of history, they are history immediate and witnessed. They are also taking pictures of troops in a generation where TV isn't novelty, but normality. All American soldiers seem to ask is that reporters respect them and not tell the enemy where they are.

Which brings us to Baghdad. With Baghdad being surrounded, probed and in places liberated, we've an opportunity to assess what we've witnessed on the battlefield.

The bold strokes Central Command made early in Operation Iraqi Freedom are now paying off. Seizing the huge airbase complexes in western Iraq was a strategic coup. Holding the huge western airbases has allowed the allies to suppress the so-called Scud box. This denies Saddam Hussein his great strategic stroke, a chemical attack on Israel to expand the war. CENTCOM's western successes have diminished that threat.

The second bold stroke was the 3rd Infantry Division's unprecedented blitz to Baghdad. They bypassed resistance, which now means mopping up snipers and death squads. However, the 3rd ID seized weakly defended bridges and cut off Iraqi units, which ultimately will save allied lives, as well as time. When the 3rd Infantry reached Karbala, it fixed and held Baghdad's Republican Guard defenders. Then, the rain of U.S. precision munitions began to devastate the units that empower Saddam's outlaw regime.

Add another evident success: seizing oil fields to prevent eco-terror, both economic and ecological disaster.

Up to now, the allies have minimized civilian casualties. Pray that this continues, but mark it as a tentative success since street battles continue in several cities.

It looks like the March 19 bombing raid on Saddam's bunker missed him. However, it's a sure bet that surviving Baath Party bigwigs suspect someone in their inner circle now talks to the CIA. There's no trust among tyrants. Now trust inside the regime is less than zero.

Taking Baghdad Airport -- -an enormous complex -- offers a new route for supplying allied forces in the Baghdad area. Though an attractive target for Iraqi artillery, especially chemical shells, it also provides a ready base for the 101st Airborne's helicopters. Controlling the airport is also an information warfare coup. The Baath regime's key propaganda message has been the United States is lost in the desert and that allied forces are being defeated. This helps keep the Iraqi people afraid and under control.

But 3rd ID tanks on the tarmac expose that lie. From now on, Baghdad's grapevine and gossip will challenge the regime's televised lies.

These political effects may not be immediately evident, but give them time. The Iraqi people, and probing allied troops, deserve a little patience.

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