On Point: Rolling to Baghdad

by Austin Bay
March 21, 2003

Saddam's empire of fear is shrinking.

With each kilometer allied forces advance, Saddam's realm oftorture and terror diminishes in size and recedes further into history.

As I write this, I'm watching live TV showing U.S. armor racingover desert. It's a real-time illustration of the U.S. military's ability to"increase the tempo of operations" -- move swiftly -- when commanders givethe order.

The military operation, however, advertised as "shock and awe"began with selective shock -- a precision attack on a command bunker inBaghdad possibly containing Saddam and his clique.

That strike shocked the source of this war. A bespectacledSaddam -- or a look-alike -- had to appear on Iraqi TV to declare himselfalive. "Close" isn't an obit, but it ain't bad. Iraqis got the message: Theremoval of Saddam's clique is the objective, not the destruction of theIraqi people.

Which leads to the offensive. Three weeks ago, I wrote that the"Slow Roll" was a likely allied plan. Based on early reports, the offensiveis an "accelerating" Slow Roll, with Marines securing oil fields and allCentral Command forces probing for Iraqi resistance. Taking the port ofBasra, a Marine objective, will ultimately make it easier to deliverhumanitarian aid.

The "shock and awe" (the hard rain of precision munitions as thearmor accelerated) started 24 hours after the "Roll" began, with air attacksintensifying on targets throughout Iraq. The USAF and U.S. Navy sought towreak "exemplary destruction" on "regime targets." At least 100 targets werehit. The potential mistake in a "shock" campaign is shock becoming mere"show." One hundred targets is no show.

Why start slowly? Think of it as diplomacy with armored vehiclesdemonstrating restraint. Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld said the Iraqiregime is brittle, suggesting the Baghdad bunker strike had profoundeffects. One is seeding thoughts among the ruling junta that someone intheir midst tipped off the CIA on Saddam's hideout. Military objectives musthelp achieve political goals. Starting slowly but potently sends a politicalmessage. The world's most powerful nation -- even when employing militaryforce -- is careful how it's used when the true enemies are tyrants andterrorists, not Iraqi soldiers.

Thus this offensive is intricately linked to the psychologicalwarfare campaign waged by the United States. By design, the "psy-ops"initiatives seek to discourage and shatter the Iraqi leadership. Startingslowly, while demonstrating credible power, gives other Iraqis theopportunity to defect, surrender or slink off. The intended result is fewerU.S. and Iraqi casualties.

The Slow Roll may also have been something of a diversion.Saddam's strategic hole-card is an attack on Israel. That attack would mostlikely come from western Iraq's "SCUD box" or the H-3 airbase complex.Sketchy reports indicate the United States has control of key areas in westIraq. If so, this is lightning war in a new dimension and could prove to bethe biggest "shock." Special forces and perhaps parachute and helicopterinfantry are the troops for this operation. Controlling western Iraq makessense militarily, as it limits Iraq's ability to expand the war. The UnitedStates has the means to conduct such a lightning "desert leap."

Ambush is always a good soldier's concern. As "ops" unfold, auseful military adage is "it's never as good as it seems, nor is it as bad."Zones mined with concealed chemical or radiological bombs are a worry, butthat's why intel constantly probes for such large-scale booby traps.Remaining beneath the protective fan of Patriot PAC-3 missiles until alliedunits "uncoiled" may be another planning consideration behind the Slow Roll.The Patriot PAC-3 is a different missile from the Gulf War's PAC-2, and onMarch 20 it shot down at least two missiles fired at Kuwait. Citizens needto thank the U.S. Army air defense officers who put their careers on theline to give Patriot an anti-missile capability. I guarantee you the troopsthank them.

Here's a look-ahead: If Baghdad becomes a slugfest, the 3rdInfantry Division should be the decisive force. This heavy division'sfirepower integrates with the USAF's extraordinary air capabilities. Theunit has direct links to all types of intelligence, which gives itscommander the flexibility to tangle with multiple targets and maneuverrapidly. Here is where the USAF's "shock" saves American lives. IfRepublican Guardsmen decide to resist, America's precision firepower willsorely test the depth of their commitment.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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