War Plans and Pitfalls
Unless Saddam Hussein suddenly capitulates to US demands, therefore, American (and some British) forces can be expected to commence an attack on Iraq at some point between December of this year and February of the next.
Already, there are signs of the impending conflict. In addition to much-publicized reports of the buildup of US troops and equipment in Kuwait and Qatar, the Pentagon has announced a significant shift in the tactics employed by US and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones over southern and northern Iraq. Until recently, the aircraft struck ground targets only when fired upon or when anti-aircraft radars were aimed at them, and they usually confined their attacks to the gun and missile units directly involved in the encounter; for several months now, however, allied planes have engaged in pre-emptive attacks, striking at command-and-control facilities that are thought to manage the Iraqi air-defense system. Attacks of this sort, intended to make the airspace over Iraq completely safe for allied aircraft, typically precede a full-scale air offensive.
By far the most significant indication of the White House commitment to an early attack on Iraq is the planned transfer in November of Gen. Tommy Franks and up to 600 senior officers from the Central Command (Centcom), now based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, to the new US combat command center at Al Udeid air base in Doha, Qatar. Although described by Pentagon officials as part of a training exercise, the transfer is viewed by many observers as a precursor to the initiation of combat, as the officers involved are responsible for the management of all US forces in the region. To put this in historical perspective, the transfer of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf--one of Franks's predecessors as commander in chief of Centcom--to Saudi Arabia in 1990 signaled the imminent onset of Operation Desert Storm.
Once the President gives the go-ahead for the actual invasion, US forces will follow a script that has been crafted by General Franks in consultation with Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and other Pentagon officials. In all probability, the White House has already selected the code name for this engagement, possibly an allusion to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Not knowing the chosen name, we'll dub it "Operation Desert Cyclone," which suggests the importance of speed and shock effect in the Pentagon's invasion plan.
Once commenced, Operation Desert Cyclone will probably take the following form:
Phase I: All-out air attacks on Iraqi air-defense sites, military and police headquarters, communications links, suspected WMD production centers and Saddam Hussein's palaces and command centers in Baghdad. Attacks will also be conducted on installations used by the Republican Guards and the special security units that protect government leaders, along with the city of Tikrit--Hussein's major political power base. The aim of these attacks will be, first, to give the United States uncontested control of the airspace over Iraq; second, to destroy Hussein's capacity to communicate with his commanders in the field (especially those responsible for the use of WMD munitions); and, third, to demonstrate the futility of resistance to the US assault.
To conduct these attacks, the Pentagon will rely on long-range bombers based in the United States, England and the British-controlled island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Once Iraq's air-defense system is thoroughly destroyed, the Pentagon will also make use of tactical aircraft based on US aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Mediterranean, and at bases in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. (Saudi Arabia may or may not allow the use of Prince Sultan Air Base, located near Riyadh.)
Phase II: Airborne and helicopter assaults by US Special Operations Forces and commando units on suspected WMD sites and missile-launch facilities, on key command-and-control centers in Baghdad and other cities, and on Saddam Hussein's own operational headquarters (if its location can be determined). The units involved in these missions will operate from forward bases in Kuwait, southeastern Turkey and (possibly) eastern Jordan.
Phase II will also include armed uprisings by Kurdish militias in the north and Shiite rebels in the south. These uprisings will be supported and directed by CIA and Special Forces personnel, and backed up by allied combat aircraft. Their goal will be to pin down Iraqi troops in outlying areas so as to prevent the reinforcement of units guarding Baghdad.
Phase III: A high-speed armored assault on key military and government facilities in and around Baghdad. The US forces involved--mostly Army and Marine units based in Kuwait--will seek to avoid head-on clashes with any regular Iraqi forces in their path and try to circle around them, using their superior speed and mobility to reach Baghdad without taking significant casualties. Upon arriving at the outskirts of the capital, these units will "marry up" with airborne and Special Forces units already in the city to complete the assault on Iraqi military headquarters, Republican Guard facilities and other props of the regime.