- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

President Bush yesterday convened his war Cabinet on the U.S. plan for invading Iraq, and his field commander emerged to say that American forces are now ready to capture Baghdad and oust President Saddam Hussein.
"If the president of the United States decides to undertake action, we are in a position to provide a military option," Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, said at a Pentagon press conference.
The White House meeting is likely to be the last face-to-face briefing between Mr. Bush and his four-star commander, Gen. Franks, before war begins. "They don't want to tip off the timing with another meeting," a U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
War planners realize they have lost any chance of strategic surprise as they position more than 200,000 U.S. troops around Iraq. But they still hope to gain some tactical surprise when the first shot is fired.
Gen. Franks, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and CIA Director George J. Tenet all attended the war briefing for Mr. Bush. Gen. Franks told the war Cabinet how he plans to capture Iraq, either with or without stationing a large number of U.S. ground troops in Turkey to open a northern front against Saddam's forces.
"There is no doubt we will prevail," Gen. Franks said at the Pentagon.
If war does come, Mr. Rumsfeld said at the same press conference, "The Iraqi regime will be gone, and Saddam Hussein would be removed from power."
The White House session yesterday underscored how close the United States is to waging a second war against Iraq in 12 years.
Gen. Franks has more than 250,000 allied troops stationed in the region, including about 600 strike aircraft, five carrier battle groups and 30 ships capable of launching hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles on the first night of the war.
One piece still missing is the Army's 4th Infantry Division. Its soldiers, tanks and attack helicopters sit in limbo while Turkey considers whether to hold a second vote in parliament on allowing 60,000 American troops to be stationed near Iraq's northern border.
The U.S. official said that if Turkey gives a final rejection to the Bush administration's request, Gen. Franks may choose not to use the division at all and instead create a northern front with airborne troops.
As for the timing of an attack on Iraq, the official said war could begin anytime after mid-March.
Mr. Bush has not yet given the invasion order to topple Saddam and rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. The U.N. Security Council next week is scheduled to debate a new resolution being pushed by the administration that authorizes an attack on Iraq. After that debate has ended, an invasion could come at any time, the U.S. official said.
Gen. Franks said he has the forces in place now to begin an attack. They include more than 50,000 Marines in Kuwait, the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, and various armored regiments, airborne soldiers, Special Operations troops and CIA paramilitary operatives.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the campaign "will be much more difficult" without Turkey's support.
But during an interview with Chris Core on WMAL radio, he added: "I think we will be able to have an effective operation in northern Iraq without Turkey."
Military analysts say Gen. Franks could open a second front against Iraq by inserting the 101st Airborne Division into the northern part of the country, augmented by combatants flown in on tactical cargo planes under the cover of strike aircraft.
Gen. Franks was guarded yesterday about discussing any aspect of his war plan, saying that as head of U.S. Central Command he had an obligation to protect operational security.
Gen. Myers told reporters on Tuesday that the war's first hours will be designed to bring "shock and awe" to Saddam's forces so they realize they have no hope of victory.
About one in 10 munitions in the 1991 Persian Gulf war was precision-guided. This time, with the advent of satellite-directed bombs and new electro-optically guided missiles, as many as nine out of 10 weapons would be precision-guided.
In Desert Storm, the allies bombed for 38 days before ground troops advanced to liberate Kuwait. This time, air strikes are likely to go on for several days before significant ground elements move against Baghdad. There will, however, be smaller simultaneous ground actions by CIA operators, and Special Operations and airborne troops.
"What you would like to do is have it be a short conflict," Gen. Myers said. "And the best way to do that would be to have such a shock on the system the Iraqi regime would have to assume early on that the end is inevitable."
On WMAL, Gen. Myers predicted fewer civilian losses than in 1991, something Gen. Franks declined to repeat yesterday.
Said the Joint Chiefs chairman: "We're going to be able to have more precision, which means we're going to be able to hit the targets better and reduce the civilian casualties, or collateral damage."
To stress that point, the Pentagon held a press briefing by a Central Command war planner. He led reporters through a step-by-step process for selecting military and dual-use targets so as to minimize civilian deaths.
The briefer said that Saddam's practice of putting tanks and other weapons near mosques, hospitals and schools will not preclude an attack.
"If a government chooses to co-locate those weapons with one of these protected sites, they lose their status under international law as a protected target," the official said.
Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday still held out the chance that the United States could avoid war. He said Saddam may yet decide to leave the country.
"[Or] it could happen because his forces might decide that it doesn't make sense for them to fight for a regime that won't be there," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

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