- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Last Tuesday, before the outbreak of war, this page suggested that we "brace ourselves for the possibility of extended combat and greater suffering before the eventual victory." Now, after five days of war, we judge that events are proceeding faster and better than we had feared. The extraordinarily quick march to, and investment of, Baghdad has broken all military records. Our heavy armed division covered in excess of 100 kilometers in a day (more than twice the rate of the "measured advance" of equivalent units in the 1991 war). The casualties, while personal tragedies for our soldiers, their families and a grieving nation, have to be considered blessedly light given the inherent danger of a battlefield filled with more than a half-million combatants and so much lethal machinery.

But for the stock markets, most of the media and some of the public, the last five days have been a roller coaster of unjustified rising expectations of bloodless combat, followed by unjustified fears of military paralysis and misplanning. After a naively optimistic historic stock market surge last week, yesterday saw the markets plummet on war news over the weekend that was sad, but objectively disclosed continuing progress. Public polling showed continued strong support for the president's Iraq war policy, but an 18 percent drop from 62 percent to 44 percent of those who thought the war was going well, and a 17 percent increase in the number of people expecting significant casualties. Topping off these frenzied national mood swings, The Washington Post ran a front-page headline yesterday that claimed: "U.S. Losses Expose Risks, Raise Doubts About Strategy." Such doubts are certainly hasty, and probably misplaced.

This war is being fought differently than that of 1991. The rapid advances of our heavy units over the weekend were as fast as the "Hail Mary pass" offensive of 1991, but were made through more difficult and densely populated terrain. Reports of Iraqi threats to the lines of communication of advancing U.S. spearheads from Um Qasr close to the Kuwaiti border to Nasiryah on the road to Baghdad and the ambush of a U.S. Army maintenance company convoy over the weekend underline that in aiming for speed and "shock and awe," we are taking more risks than in 1991.

These risks are likely to be justified. In 1991, the more measured tempo of the larger forces liberating Kuwait reflected more limited war aims. This minimized but did not remove the Iraqi threat to lines of communication in 1991. Today, our forces have to do more with less and without the benefit of a prolonged air war preceding the ground offensive. U.S. and coalition forces have multiple options to deal with threats to the lines of communications. Resupply convoys can cut through deserts as well as follow roads, as the "Hail Mary" of 1991 demonstrated. Helicopters and tactical airlift can bring in high-priority supplies to forward locations. Follow-on forces advancing from Kuwait can clear away Iraqi forces. However, in the final analysis, what will end the threat to the lines of communication will be the defeat of Saddam, rather than attacking each nest of guerrillas. What would not work is pulling back resources from U.S. spearheads to defend the flanks at the expense of speed of advance. It is true that military historians can cite examples when this has contributed to defeat, such as the ill-fated British advance from Nijmegen to Arnhem, "a bridge too far" in September 1944. But the unchallenged ability of our airpower to engage serious challenges to the lines of communication will help, though this may pull needed sorties away from hitting Saddam's regime and Republican Guards.

More hard fighting lies ahead. There may be more rapid advances to increase the pressure on Saddam. Reinforcing success provides a better potential to collapse Saddam's regime than a more cautious advance. The capture of the desert airfields at H2 and H3 in western Iraq site of the Scud attacks on Israel in 1991 may lead to the fall of the larger airbase at H4. Forces airlifted to these bases could threaten Baghdad and Tikrit. The United States has accepted greater military risks compared to 1991. We committed troops to ground combat before a prolonged air campaign. No one delayed the initial advance of fewer troops to mop up bypassed Iraqis or take objectives, such as Basra. Rather, "maintenance of the objective" a basic principle of war is aiming our forces at Saddam and his regime rather than troops on the flanks.

The latest media worry sandstorms is also misplaced. Rather, bad weather is likely to work to our advantage. Among military scholars, the Battle of 73 Eastings in the 1991 war is studied as such a model. In that battle, our forces defeated Iraq's Brigade of Tawalkana by closing undetected until our units suddenly appeared coming out of a sandstorm to quickly overwhelm the enemy.

It is not likely to be an easy war. It may well be longer and costlier than the 1991 ground war. But by declining to play it safe, we have increased our chances that victory can be achieved without having to rely on massing forces and firepower. "Shock and awe" is by no means the only thing that we can produce on the battlefield in Iraq.

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