On Point

Rolling to Baghdad

by Austin Bay
March 21, 2003

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

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

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

That strike shocked the source of this war. A bespectacled Saddam -- or a look-alike -- had to appear on Iraqi TV to declare himself alive. "Close" isn't an obit, but it ain't bad. Iraqis got the message: The removal of Saddam's clique is the objective, not the destruction of the Iraqi 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 offensive is an "accelerating" Slow Roll, with Marines securing oil fields and all Central Command forces probing for Iraqi resistance. Taking the port of Basra, a Marine objective, will ultimately make it easier to deliver humanitarian aid.

The "shock and awe" (the hard rain of precision munitions as the armor accelerated) started 24 hours after the "Roll" began, with air attacks intensifying on targets throughout Iraq. The USAF and U.S. Navy sought to wreak "exemplary destruction" on "regime targets." At least 100 targets were hit. 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 vehicles demonstrating restraint. Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld said the Iraqi regime is brittle, suggesting the Baghdad bunker strike had profound effects. One is seeding thoughts among the ruling junta that someone in their midst tipped off the CIA on Saddam's hideout. Military objectives must help achieve political goals. Starting slowly but potently sends a political message. The world's most powerful nation -- even when employing military force -- is careful how it's used when the true enemies are tyrants and terrorists, not Iraqi soldiers.

Thus this offensive is intricately linked to the psychological warfare campaign waged by the United States. By design, the "psy-ops" initiatives seek to discourage and shatter the Iraqi leadership. Starting slowly, while demonstrating credible power, gives other Iraqis the opportunity to defect, surrender or slink off. The intended result is fewer U.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 most likely 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 west Iraq. If so, this is lightning war in a new dimension and could prove to be the biggest "shock." Special forces and perhaps parachute and helicopter infantry are the troops for this operation. Controlling western Iraq makes sense militarily, as it limits Iraq's ability to expand the war. The United States has the means to conduct such a lightning "desert leap."

Ambush is always a good soldier's concern. As "ops" unfold, a useful 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, but that's why intel constantly probes for such large-scale booby traps. Remaining beneath the protective fan of Patriot PAC-3 missiles until allied units "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 on March 20 it shot down at least two missiles fired at Kuwait. Citizens need to thank the U.S. Army air defense officers who put their careers on the line to give Patriot an anti-missile capability. I guarantee you the troops thank them.

Here's a look-ahead: If Baghdad becomes a slugfest, the 3rd Infantry Division should be the decisive force. This heavy division's firepower integrates with the USAF's extraordinary air capabilities. The unit has direct links to all types of intelligence, which gives its commander the flexibility to tangle with multiple targets and maneuver rapidly. Here is where the USAF's "shock" saves American lives. If Republican Guardsmen decide to resist, America's precision firepower will sorely test the depth of their commitment.

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