WASHINGTON, March 26 (UPI) -- Pentagon officials contend that "armchair generals" criticizing conduct of the war in Iraq are failing to grasp the fundamental changes in strategy from earlier conflicts.
The changes include accepting more tactical risk to reduce long-term strategic risk; using air dominance to make the battlefield three dimensional; and selecting the least number of critical targets to get the maximum impact on the enemy's will to fight.
Five days into the war, armchair generals including retired warriors are calling military reporters to express their concerns there is only one heavy division committed to the battle; concerned only 250,000 personnel are undertaking the war when more than 500,000 were required to expel Iraq from tiny Kuwait in 1991; concerned there is not enough artillery; and concerned there is not yet a northern front to attack the Republican Guard divisions north of Baghdad.
Iraq has captured at least two prisoners of war and there may be five more.
The U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division is cutting a narrow swath at a breathtaking pace toward Baghdad, bypassing cities and eschewing firefights as it races to meet its quarry -- the Republican Guard division protecting the Iraqi capital.
As it moves, it is leaving its rear undefended -- or at least that's how it looks to those viewing the battlefield through historic lenses. Proof of that vulnerability: A convoy of supply vehicles was ambushed Sunday and 12 lightly defended soldiers went missing.
It is a puzzling strategy to former generals and to an increasingly military savvy public reared on traditional land warfare, where a line on the ground (referred to in the Pentagon as FLOT, or forward line own troops) is moved forward as the territory behind it is occupied and held.
But senior Pentagon officials explain there is a method to what some consider madness: accept more tactical risk to reduce the long-term strategic risk.
The tactical risk is that which troops accept on the battlefield. Certainly they would be safer with more heavy divisions than less, with more artillery than less, with more soldiers than less.
More important to Pentagon and Central Command planners is reducing the strategic risk. They do not want to win the war just to lose the peace afterward.
Bringing such firepower would run the risk of flattening the country, killing civilians and convincing the Arab world the United States does indeed intend to "own" Iraq for a long time to come, according to military officials.
That approach would undermine the strategic goal for the United States in Iraq, which is not just to topple Saddam Hussein's regime -- bombing alone would do that -- but to win the hearts of the Iraqi people. The United States has committed to rebuilding Iraq and the less it has to do, the better. And post-Saddam, it wants in place a government friendly to the United States, and to achieve this it needs to convince the Iraqis -- and the rest of the Arab world -- the American force is a liberating rather than a conquering one.
It plans to do this with the minimum amount of bombing and the minimum amount of civilian casualties. A U.S. Air Force officer described this a week ago as "effects-based targeting." This approach to bombing uses a hyper-intelligent and culturally sensitive examination of the battlefield to identify and bomb the least number of critical targets to get the maximum impact on the enemy's will to fight, rather than his ability to fight.
Leaving Baghdad largely intact is critical to the long-term peace, even if it ends up drawing out the near-term battle, Pentagon sources say.
There are sound tactical "effects-based" reasons for opting for a leaner force on the ground, Pentagon officials insist.
The relatively agile ground force assembled for this fight jumped into Iraq more than 24 hours before the original plan, in part because intelligence revealed the southern oil fields were rigged with explosives, a senior military official said Tuesday.
A larger ground force might have slowed down what the Pentagon hopes will be a lighting-fast strike on elite Iraqi units -- no less a part of "shock and awe" to undermine the regime than the deafening bombing of Baghdad.
"If I were in Baghdad and I was looking south and I saw a U.S. Army division that is on the outskirts of Baghdad, I think -- you know, I don't know that that would be shock, but I'd certainly be a little concerned," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers said at a Pentagon news conference Tuesday.
With its rear exposed on the ground -- unheard of in traditional military planning -- the 3rd Infantry Division is relying on the Air Force and the Navy to provide cover from the air. A quick-moving land force just has to be faster than the enemy forces behind it. The 3rd Infantry may appear surrounded on the ground, but under a sky firmly controlled by U.S. aircraft, the enemy is actually the one surrounded, military officials suggested. What was once a two-dimensional battlefield is now a three-dimensional one, and one of those dimensions is firmly in American hands with the advent of precision munitions, laser-range finders and GPS-aided targeting.
"We've got total dominance of the air. It is not air superiority, it's dominance. They have not put an airplane up," U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday.
He launched a spirited defense of the approach on Tuesday at the Pentagon, saying it has the full support of the men charged with carrying it out.
"The people who are involved in this... are very comfortable, as are the Joint Chiefs of Staff," he said.
Myers pronounced the plan "brilliant" at the same press conference.
War chief Gen. Tommy Franks plan employs a stunning, common-sense approach to the hairiest scenario of the battle: urban warfare. He doesn't want his people involved in bloody street fighting -- for their own sakes and for the civilians inevitably caught in the crossfire. So he directed the leading edge of the ground forces to largely skirt the cities, focusing their urban fighting on securing roads, bridges, waterways and airfields to allow food and water to be delivered to people increasingly at risk.
The plan envisions that any Iraqi fighters remaining in the bypassed cities after the demise of the regime would lose their motivation to fight.
The maneuver has been strained over the last two days, as irregular forces have taken up positions in the cities and harass U.S. Marines and British soldiers' positions on the edges. But coalition forces reiterated their intentions Tuesday: they will secure the cities for humanitarian aid without occupying them. They are banking on targeted raids to win the day. They refuse to be drawn into a fight not of their own choosing.
What remains unclear is what the coalition responsibility will be if humanitarian workers are victimized by Iraqi troops once in the cities.
Both Rumsfeld and Myers have a strong interest in seeing this work. Winning the war with a minimum of U.S. and Iraqi civilian casualties will be its own reward. But if the strategy works, it will also bear out a central theme of Rumsfeld's reign in the Pentagon.
Rumsfeld came into office promising transformation -- transitioning the services and especially the Army to lighter, faster tanks and weapons, but more importantly, changing the way the leading edge fights wars. What would be traditionally a lumbering, logistics-heavy forward march is now a speedy, agile sword -- all tooth, very little tail, in Pentagon parlance.
It is Rumsfeld's enthusiasm for transformation that has his critics grumbling, charging that his insistence on seeing it realized on this battlefield and his hubris in believing it can be successful puts troops in danger.
If the strategy works -- if Iraq is "liberated" from Saddam Hussein and a friendly government takes root --the success will be a stunning endorsement of Rumsfeld's leadership and of Franks' tactics. It will be perhaps the first instance of a ground force winning a war without capturing a square inch of enemy territory but moving through it toward its final engagement. Its success hinges on the belief that the Iraqi people don't really oppose the United States, and instead will just go peacefully about their business. If the forces encounter significant indigenous opposition, it will be a very different outcome, Pentagon officials recognize. The only way the U.S. force will be welcomed is if it inflicts no unnecesary damage, no unnecesary violence. It is a delicate balance and one never achieved by an invader before, Pentagon officials say. It will be made possible by excellent intelligence, precision targeting, and patience.
Rumsfeld is aware of the criticism leveled at him but he is unmoved by it.
"I can't manage what people -- civilians or retired military -- want to say. And if they go on and say it enough, people will begin to believe it. It may not be true, and it may reflect more of a misunderstanding of the situation than an analysis or an assessment of it, but there's no way anyone can affect what people say. We have a free country. In Iraq, they can affect what people say because you get shot if you say something they don't like," Rumsfeld said. "We don't do that."