TCS Daily

The Bold Is So Beautiful

By Melana Zyla Vickers - April 11, 2003 12:00 AM

Boldness has turned the tide in this war.

After an initial burst of action in which the ground war started before the air war and Special Forces denied the Iraqi military large swaths of territory in the West and South, hesitation appeared to risk gripping U.S. warplanners. But after the sandstorms of March 27-29, the Pentagon and the White House threw any remaining overcaution to the wind. Boldness prevailed in the rapid advance of ground troops into the heart of Baghdad and in warplanners' intellectual confidence that a precision air campaign of record brevity had pummeled the enemy enough for ground troops to push through.

It was just a week ago that critics including "some retired military officers embedded in TV studios," as Vice President Dick Cheney put it, were speculating that the U.S. military's advance was grinding to a pause, that long supply lines were vulnerable, and that without reinforcements, ground troops' move into Baghdad would be disastrous. Those criticisms went ignored - and rightly so. When in time Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President George Bush reveal what they were thinking early in the week of April 1, the public will learn whether that period was as much of a returning point to the campaign's early boldness as it appears.

Bold Move No. 1: Initial rapid ground assault and move towards Baghdad, and the reliance on Special Forces. Within the first few days of the war, Special Forces and regular ground forces had seized large sections of Southern Iraq and the Western Desert, denying Saddam Hussein's troops the opportunity to fire missiles on neighboring Israel, to destroy oilfields, or to attack Iraqi Shiites in the South. Meanwhile, other ground forces dashed through the "Baghdad 500," advancing to within 50 miles of the capital. These moves were in stark contrast to the 1991 Gulf War, when 38 days of bombardment largely preceded boots on the ground. Also in contrast with the 1991 war - and, indeed, with any other U.S. military action - the Pentagon has relied very heavily this time on its precious-commodity Special Forces: While they comprise less than 2% of all U.S. active and reserve forces worldwide, the highly trained fighters represent 10% of U.S. ground troops in Iraq. The ambitious plan to rapidly seize territory in the South and West, requiring speed and high maneuverability by small numbers of men, could not have been executed without this new reliance on the Green Berets, Delta Force, Navy SEALS, and Army Rangers.

Bold Move No. 2: Advancing rapidly into Baghdad with comparatively modest numbers of ground troops, long supply lines. In the first Gulf War, the coalition had about a quarter-million troops on the ground, and that number again in the sky and sea. This time the U.S. troops on the ground have never exceeded 125,000, yet have the far more ambitious job of defeating the Iraqi military throughout the country and taking Baghdad. Once the initial push toward Baghdad was underway, some critics questioned whether there were enough troops to guard the long supply lines of the advancing U.S. forces and whether the forces would get bogged down in heavy resistance in the city, other critics protested that too many civilian targets were being struck in the air war. Secretary Rumsfeld faced a choice: Advance on Baghdad with the available troops and step up the air war to ensure the enemy is weakened to the point of little resistance, or listen to the critics and wait for weeks for reinforcements, moving carefully on a narrow range of air-power targets. The choice Rumsfeld made is now history.

Bold Move No. 3: Relying on the power of long-range precision strike and other technological advances. With each conflict since the Gulf War, precision air power has asserted greater centrality as the main killing force in the U.S. way of war. The precision of munitions has increased from the 7% that were precision-guided in 1991, to over 80% that are precision-guided today. At the same time, unmanned aerial vehicles have allowed U.S. forces to keep an eye on enemy movements at all times. For example, UAV surveillance allowed the U.S. to pound Iraqi Republican Guard divisions that sought to reinforce their Baghdad- and Medina-division comrades in the south. The Secretary of Defense, along with other warplanners, gambled that these advances in precision munitions and persistent surveillance would afford U.S. troops the opportunity to move into Baghdad more rapidly and with less ground reinforcement than ever before imagined.

He played boldly, and it's looking like he won.

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