The hull of a destroyed Iraqi tank is backlit by the burning Al Ahmadi oilfields, which were set on fire by retreating Iraqi troops in 1991 after the first Gulf War. (®) 1991 Allan Tannenbaum
General Tommy Franks, the man who will run the war against Iraq, arrived Tuesday at his command post in Qatar, according to Reuters. Camp As Sayliyah will be the forward position for commanding U.S. and allied forces against Saddam Hussein’s army when hostilities begin. Normally based in Tampa, Fla., the commander of Central Command is expected to stay in Qatar “until the Iraq crisis was over,” according to officials in Florida.
But a senior Central Command official said Franks would be returning to Florida in a few days. “Modern command and control does not require him to be here all the time,” the official said. “Don’t place a lot of importance on where he is … Good military commanders focus on strategic surprise.”
Moreover, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last week that U.S. troops are in position and ready. More than 200,000 troops are in the region, with 105,000 in Kuwait alone. More will surely follow, assuming Turkey approves the deployment of up to 62,000 troops (although it will take a couple of weeks to bring them up to speed.)
Stratfor engages in some intriguing speculation concerning the confluence of events and people in the region:
… achieving strategic surprise in this war is going to be tough. What can be a surprise in this war is timing. Everyone is focused on mid-March as the beginning of the war. While it is not necessary for the senior commander to be present at the battlefield, it has certainly been standard practice in the U.S. military that the commander be as close to the battlefield as possible. Even with superb information flows, a commander needs to be seen by his troops, and he must have the ability to move about the battlefield to absorb realities that the finest digitized information doesn’t provide. Finally, given the culture of the U.S. military, it is just hard to imagine a senior commander staying behind in Tampa while a multidivisional force under his command engages the enemy. It just isn’t the way it’s done.
This brings me back to March 1 as the preferred attack date, as it’s a new moon. Furthermore, as the moon waxes, it will remain below the Iraqi horizon until 4 a.m. or so until mid-March. Many signals will be gleaned from Franks’ travels. If he does return to Florida in a few days, it’s unlikely an attack will occur in early March and mid-March is the likely date. But if he stays…
Of course, Franks’ jetsetting could be part of a plan to throw Iraq off balance, as they’re quite capable of making the same analysis of the general’s movements as Stratfor and others are. And while it’s preferable for Franks to be in the region when the battle is joined, it’s not a requirement, especially as he could be there in hours. With America’s emphasis on blitzkrieg-like “shock and awe” battle tactics, if I were Saddam and knew Franks was on his way over, I’d skip town. By then, however, it will probably be too late.
A word on “shock and awe:” I’m all for ending wars quickly and with the minimum amount of people dead, but this strategy looks like one that has been drawn up by someone who has never seen ground combat. Significantly, the only member of Bush’s War Council who is actively for the war and has seen active duty is Rumsfeld, who was a navy pilot from 1954-1957, conveniently missing the Korean War. Rumsfeld is also one of the architects of the “shock and awe” theory of modern warfare. As a friend of mine in the infantry told me, “Things look a whole lot different on the ground than when you’re looking at a little computer screen at 20,000 feet. They don’t know what it’s like.”
Of course, inter-branch rivalries are well know, but he has a point. The current plan, as published, calls lfor 800 Tomahawk attacks on Baghdad and 3,000 smart bomb attacks across the country in 48 hours. Assuming a 90% accuracy for the smart bombs and Tomahawks, that’s still 80 stray cruise missiles and 300 mistakenly bombed targets. And hell, since the “smart” in smart bombs and cruise missiles relies on accurate intelligence data, 90% accuracy is probably giving a lot more credit than is due. Remember that little matter of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade back in the last war? The bomb hit precisely where it was supposed to go, but the military had the wrong information on the target. And that was one foul-up. How many will there be in Baghdad, a city the size of Paris with 4.5 million people? As I said, 80… At least.
I know civilians die in war. It’s tragic but also unavoidable. (Unless you don’t go to war at all, but that’s not very likely is it?) But when al-Jazeera broadcasts footage of the victims of bombed mosques, hospitals and orphanages to the world, angry Muslims won’t care that Saddam placed military targets next to a mosque and thus shares responsibility for its destruction and civilian deaths. All they’ll see is a bomb casing with a “Made in the U.S.A.” label on it. And we’ll have made al Qa’ida’s recruiting job easy.