On Point: How long will the war last? Who knows, but here's a guess.

by Austin Bay
March 28, 2003

Lieutenant-General William Wallace, US Army commander in the Persian Gulf, gave this assessment March 27: "The enemy we're fighting is a bit different than the one we wargamed against, because of these (fedayeen) paramilitary forces."

My translation: US war planners didn't anticipate extensive death squad tactics.

Military staffs use "game" techniques, experience, and current intelligence data to examine friendly and enemy combat options. They attempt to "see the battle as our enemy sees it and fight the battle his way, not our way." Goals include spurring creative thinking and exposing assumptions to critique. Commanders try to use these insights to craft better plans. A recognized weakness in U.S. wargaming is the "fake bad guys" rarely prove to be as ruthless as the genuine bad guys. Playing "dirty as Saddam" is tough. The real world's socio-paths and sadists one-up the imaginations of even the best crime writers.

A war plan provides a time frame. No war ever quite follows the plan, for many reasons. The enemy isn't stupid. The brass doesn't boss the weather.

Despite the general's admission, I'm convinced the fedayeen represent more of a political problem than military problem.

The Pacific island campaigns in WWII provide a historical example. Once organized Japanese resistance ceased and the allies had an island's airfields and ports operating, the brass would declare the place "secure." Infantry regiments would withdraw to refit for the next amphibious assault. The "major operation" was over- but tell that to the Navy SeaBees on the "secure island" who would scrap with snipers for months after the front had officially moved forward.

In Iraq the fedayeen's low-level resistance could flicker for months. That's one reason US Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki says peacekeeping in post-Saddam Iraq will require more ground troops.

Guerrillas need popular support, but the Iraqi people fear the fedayeen. British troops report civilians are telling them where the paramilitaries hide. The population isn't protecting the fascists. That suggests pro-Saddam holdouts may use guerrilla tactics but they're death squads, not a guerrilla force.

Baghdad is the real "big game." Thus the more discerning question: "How long will major military operations continue until the game is up in Baghdad?"

No outsider has CENTCOM's war plan or current intel.

Outsiders have to crack a "best guess" with open sources.

In early February, using a wargame originally developed in 1990 for ABC News Nightline, I looked at several Iraq attack options.

The allied forces actually in Kuwait on March 20 appeared in those games. However, the games also included the US 4th Infantry Division and one brigade of the US 1st Armored Division. Those units weren't in the line March 20th.

An option close to what appears to be the actual plan was dubbed "The Slow Roll." "The Slow Roll" had two variants, one with two fronts (Turkey and Kuwait) and one with a "Kuwait only" front. The game assumptions included US air supremacy, abundant smart bombs, and stiff Republican Guard resistance.

Major combat operations -meaning the destruction of Repubican Guard units around Baghdad-- took 15 days to 25 days to conclude. With a northern front and no hitches, 15 days. The south-only attack took 25 days, but that was with the presence of the 4th Infantry Division. One had parachute and helicopter units seizing the big airfields in western Iraq. Apparently CENTCOM took those with Green Berets.

"The Slow Roll" did get a few things right. It assumed the allies would try to minimize civilian casualties and protect oil facilities. The gaming does suggest that until the 4th Infantry arrives the allies risk a shortage of combat troops- a worry voiced by several old soldiers. Add the 4th Infantry's arrival time and the games indicate big operations could last five to six weeks. I'll trot out that guess, fully aware history pummels guess work. However, it's a fair bet that the destruction of the Republican Guards will mean the political destruction of Saddam's regime. The February games missed the 3rd Infantry's jaw-dropping dash to Baghdad. CENTCOM may well have another surprise.

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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