- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

U.S. military planners are facing the prospect that weapons inspections in Iraq will drag on for months, pushing the Pentagon's timetable for action from the ideal weather of February to the blistering days of midsummer, senior administration officials said this week.
War designers see February as the best time to fight and have considered troop deployments around that date. A February campaign would capitalize on optimum weather in the desert region. A February date also would allow three months for the administration to complete a final war plan, line up support from allies, and deploy and alert the necessary combat units.
"War plans continue to be developed," said a Pentagon official.
But the methodical approach adopted by U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has administration officials bracing for a longer wait before Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein eventually blocks the inspectors.
Under President Bush's "zero tolerance" policy, any Iraqi action to block or deceive inspectors would trigger a U.S. invasion to topple Saddam. Mr. Bush justifies such a response by saying the world cannot allow one of its worst dictators to possess its worst weapons.
Planners also are beginning to discuss the scenario that the international team may not turn up any significant weapons caches and Mr. Blix would return to the U.N. Security Council to give Iraq a clean bill of health. Baghdad has had four years to hide and move items since the last U.N. investigation team left in 1998.
"Blix says, 'We didn't find anything,'" said the Pentagon official. "Then what do we do? We haven't thought that one through enough. We expect Saddam to be Saddam."
This source and another official said Gen. Tommy Franks, who heads U.S. Central Command, continues to brief Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other senior officials on his emerging war plan.
Proponents of air power say they have detected one bothersome trend from Gen. Franks, who would command the overall air and land invasion.
"When Franks briefs, he doesn't talk about the predominance of air power," said the official. "It is not an air-centric brief. He wants to put the Army in the center. He doesn't keystone air-power benefits."
This source said that Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded the 1991 Desert Storm attack on Iraq, readily accepted the benefits of an overwhelming air campaign. He approved plans to take the battle directly to Baghdad from the onset of the war and keep it there until Iraqi troops fled Kuwait.
The source said Gen. Franks does not appear so keen on air power, although a new war against Iraq undoubtedly would begin with significant air strikes. Plans call for using up to 16 of the Air Force's 21 B-2 stealth bombers, which would drop satellite-guided bombs on key command targets in the war's first night.
The source said some Air Force officers are troubled by Gen. Frank's recent remark to a Florida business group that his plans for war in Iraq would be "prudent."
"Franks can run a classic slow-motion campaign or a fast campaign," the official said. "With massive air power, speed is more important than size. Franks is more involved in size."
In the spring, Gen. Franks told senior Pentagon officials that he wanted more than 200,000 total troops to wage war. This kicked off months of internal debate, pitting his view against Pentagon civilians who said a smaller force, coupled with indigenous fighters and precision air strikes, could do the job.
In the end, Gen. Franks got his troop number, as Mr. Bush has improved his general concept. But many ground troops will be kept in reserve. The debate still under way centers on the right mix of units and how many will be deployed in the immediate region before a war begins.
Planners are eyeing a "rolling deployment" in which the war would begin before all troops are in the region. The aim: tactical surprise.
The Washington Times has reported that an initial ground invasion of Iraq would involve 60,000 to 80,000 ground troops.

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