- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

The next 24 to 48 hours will see both hard fighting and surprises some affecting coalition forces, others tightening the vise on Saddam. The "shock and awe" of the opening battles has worn off. Fortunately, our losses have still been so few that the media can focus on individual helicopters sitting forlornly in an Iraqi field. As our forces close towards Baghdad and Tikrit, "hard pounding" will replace shock and awe. Continued fighting along the lines of communication may inflict losses and delay the resupplying of U.S. forces. But it is unlikely to have a decisive effect.

Coalition forces seeking to minimize both friendly and Iraqi casualties have tried to rely on maneuver rather than assault. The London press reported that on Monday one of the British spearheads around Basra the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard battle group withdrew 10 miles to find an easier way around Iraqi opposition before it suffered any fatal casualties. Coalition forces, admirably, are not being rushed by politicians' desire for a quick victory. As long as they can keep the pressure on, this is acceptable. But one of the sad lessons of military history is that a desire to minimize casualties in the short term has often led to more casualties in the longer term through prolonging conflicts and failing to achieve decisive successes. When we reach Baghdad, there may be no more ways around opposition.

Closer to Baghdad, the threat of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons becomes very real both for our forces and Iraqi civilians. Iraq's air force and large surface-to-air missiles have largely been withheld from combat, giving rise to fears that they are being readied for Saddam's own "shock and awe": a counterattack with gas and germs. This may give him some tactical victories and cost us additional casualties, but it will not affect the course of the war. Chemical (and biological) weapons use has been rare since 1918 because its potential for decisive results is limited.

The U.S. got away with gradual escalation and low-cost victories in Kosovo and Afghanistan. There was hope that this could be repeated in Iraq. The "three thousand smart munitions in 24 hours" planned to be aimed at Saddam's regime but not used to open the conflict would have helped. But the war you fight is seldom exactly the war you plan for. As long as we stay committed to our course of action and bring additional resources to the battle, the next 24-48 hours, while unlikely to be decisive, will set the stage for ultimate success.

Late yesterday afternoon, after capturing over a hundred Iraqi soldiers, U.S. Marines confiscated 3,000 chemical warfare suits and masks from them. We would think that even profound skeptics would be forced to infer that Saddam does, in fact, have chemical weapons.

Finally, as we go to press, the not yet fully confirmed report of a Shi'ite majority uprising against Saddam in Basra, if true, would provide striking support for the Pentagon's theory of victory.

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