- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

U.S. military planners are focusing on February as the optimum time to begin a war against Iraq, and they would rely greatly on defecting Iraqi units to topple Saddam Hussein, according to senior defense officials.
Planners also will seek to design a force buildup that takes weeks, not the six months the exercise took in the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Troops would be more widely dispersed so as not to create large base camps that could be more easily targeted by Saddam's mobile Scud missiles. The Pentagon has not adopted a final time frame or military option.
The military also is looking at ways to hit as many targets from the air as possible in the opening days of the campaign. Commanders will depend on Tomahawk cruise missiles and B-2 bombers, committing 10 to 16 of the stealth aircraft, each of which can drop more than a dozen 2,000-pound satellite-guided bombs on different targets.
Once Iraq's estimated 60-plus surface-to-air missile sites are destroyed, B-52s and B-1s would join the war, also dropping precision-guided weapons on critical command centers and Saddam's known headquarters. The bombers will fly from the United States, the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and an air base in Fairford, England.
The senior defense officials said a war plan is emerging from U.S. Central Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Joint Staff, with input from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"He is not afraid to offer his opinion," an official said of Mr. Rumsfeld.
Much of the debate centers on the size of the U.S. force the number of ground troops, combat aircraft and Navy carrier battle groups. The officials said the U.S. troop size ranges from 75,000 to 250,000 soldiers.
Officials say Gen. Tommy G. Franks, who heads U.S. Central Command and would run the war, advocates a relatively large ground presence, although not nearly as large as the 550,000 troops deployed for Operation Desert Storm in the 1991 war. Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are said to favor a smaller force. Mr. Rumsfeld is described as advocating a medium-strength force.
"The generals always worry about risks to the troops," said a senior defense official, explaining why uniformed officers want a large number of ground forces.
Mr. Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that the U.S. military has sufficient forces to fight and win in Iraq, if President Bush ordered such an operation.
"We would not be short of troops," Mr. Rumsfeld testified. "You don't know how long something's going to last or what it's going to require. You can't know that, because the first thing that goes by the board is a plan in a conflict."
Two defense sources said that February would be the most likely time to strike, with hostilities over by no later than April. This would give United States and its allies optimum fighting weather before the oppressive heat of the Persian Gulf spring and summer sets in.
Officials said the timeline has not been approved and that Mr. Bush has not agreed to a plan. The presence of weapons inspectors from the United Nations inside Iraq could be a stumbling block and could prevent Mr. Bush from ordering an attack on his timetable.
In Afghanistan, the United States relied heavily on indigenous anti-Taliban fighters to win the war.
In Iraq, America would rely on defectors and dissidents within Saddam's army, two senior officials said.
"We know the names of every division commander," a military officer said. "The Iraqi Army and the Iraqi people want to get rid of Saddam. What they need is us as an enabling force."
Mr. Rumsfeld told the House panel that there's "no question but that there would be Iraqis who would be helping to liberate their own country."
Once U.S. cruise missiles and heavy bombers suppress Iraq's air defenses, tactical aircraft from land bases and Navy carriers would swoop in to hit military targets, such as the six-division Republican Guard.
The Persian Gulf states of Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar will allow U.S. aircraft to launch.
One defense official said that closer military ties being cemented between Washington and other Gulf states is one reason Saudi officials this week raised the possibility that the U.S. military would be able to use Prince Sultan air base for an attack. Riyadh worries that it may become less relevant to U.S. security concerns and has backtracked from its earlier position that the sprawling facility would be off-limits for any U.S. assault on Baghdad.
The official also said Mr. Rumsfeld's decision this summer to allow pilots to bomb command sites not just radars and missile sites in Iraq's southern and northern no-fly zones "is a prelude to war."
This official confirmed that many senior policy-makers believe a war with Iraq will be quick, won in weeks not months, if the right strategy is adopted. They based this prediction on Iraq's weakened military since 1991 and big U.S. advances in surveillance and precision-guided weapons.
In testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Rumsfeld seemed to agree with that assessment when he answered a question about whether Israel would be vulnerable to Iraqi missile attacks after a U.S. strike on Saddam's forces.
Mr. Rumsfeld said, "With respect to Israel, there is no question but that Iraq's neighbors, were there to be a conflict, would have a degree of vulnerability. And there's also no question but that that would probably not last for a very long time."
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday, Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, asked whether there was a "significant level of dissent" among the Joint Chiefs and combatant commanders about the U.S. military's preparedness to go to war against Iraq.
"Senator Warner, I'll just keep it real short: Absolutely not," said Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs chairman.
Mr. Wolfowitz, a strong advocate of military action to topple Saddam, yesterday compared the Iraqi dictator with Osama bin Laden, who ordered the September 11 attacks on America.
"When people threaten openly to kill Americans, we should take them very seriously," he told a joint congressional intelligence committee. "That is true of Osama bin Laden, and it is true of the regime in Baghdad."


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