- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

CAMP AS SALIYAH, Qatar Coalition forces will shun frontal assaults on Basra and other Iraqi cities in a deliberate attempt to avoid major civilian casualties that could damage their wider war aims, commanders said yesterday.
Attacking U.S. and British troops have decided to bypass cities where there is likely to be heavy resistance rather than risk treating the war's critics to the televised sight of bloodied corpses or charred remains of civilian adults and children.
The reason for the military's concern was apparent last night after a series of grisly pictures filled Arabic-language satellite television screens.
The broadcast of pathetic pictures of civilian casualties began in earnest only hours after the air war opened with a surprise U.S. attack on a "target of opportunity" in Baghdad before dawn on Thursday.
Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite channel that has become the icon of Middle Eastern media, showed video of an injured woman and a child in a Baghdad hospital for no fewer than six consecutive and uninterrupted reruns.
The British satellite channel Sky News also showed a poignant series of pictures of the latest injuries, including a child said to have been struck in the head by shrapnel.
The reporter also showed babies who, he was told, had been born prematurely through "trauma" experienced by their mothers in the first wave of intense bombing of Baghdad on Friday night.
The most immediate concern for coalition generals is Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, which has been virtually surrounded by U.S. and British forces as the main U.S. battle force raced ahead toward Baghdad.
Commanders last night were hoping to negotiate a surrender of the city, which is inhabited mainly by Shi'ites with a history of savage repression by Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime.
As a result, war planners hope the fall of the city will be met with scenes of joy and of contempt for the Iraqi regime that will provide a public relations bonanza for the coalition forces.
"Our intention is not to create a military confrontation in the city," Gen. Tommy Franks explained at a press conference at his headquarters in the Qatari capital yesterday. Because this is a war of liberation not occupation, "we intend to work with the civilian population," he said.
His remarks were elaborated on at a U.S. background briefing on civilian casualties, and separately when a senior British spokesman, Group Capt. Al Lockwood, declared that capturing cities was a diversion from the "effects-based" style of warfare being engaged in by the coalition.
Capt. Lockwood said cities should be captured only if there is a specific benefit, as in the case of securing a port for humanitarian supplies, like Umm Qasr.
During his briefing yesterday, Gen. Franks faced a number of hostile questions from British, Far Eastern and Arabic media about the intense "shock and awe" bombing campaign in Baghdad and reports that more than 200 civilians have been injured.
But at a subsequent background briefing, a U.S. official listed a number of techniques being used by coalition forces in support of the general's claim that "extraordinary" efforts are being made to prevent collateral damage.
"No matter what we do militarily," the briefer said, it is important that "we not create a situation where, after the war, you lose the peace."
The ability for a country to grow and flourish after a military operation can only be ensured by "keeping collateral damage to a minimum," he said.
The official said there was an intensive process under way of devising means "to gain the desired military effect without creating an undue effect on noncombatants or surrounding structures."
The official said weapons are chosen for every target so the explosions will not reach nearby schools, hospitals or other civilian facilities. The weight and power of bombs and missiles is being adjusted to ensure this, he said.
At times, he said, bombs are being dropped to one side of a target rather than directly on it so as not to damage a mosque or some other sensitive building on the other side.
He also said that coalition forces would in general not attack chemical or biological facilities with bombs and missiles, but would use ground forces, or would cut off the electricity supply or transport links that allowed such plants to function.
He said that targets were being rejected where they might have "dual use," as in the case of an electricity generator that supplies both a military and a civilian area or facility.
The coalition forces are also taking measures to avoid hitting "human shields" who have taken up positions around some sensitive installations, or military targets that have been placed in the middle of civilian areas.
Despite all these technical precautions, the official admitted, mistakes will happen."It's not science," he said.

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