PINEHURST, N.C. — I am frequently asked how much different would war with Iraq be this time around. The question, of course, assumes a comparison with Desert Storm in early 1991 to the potential for war in the desert in 2003.
Most analysts, strategists and commentators when asked this question point to the weapons enhancements, the size of the international coalition and so on.
My first response is different. I respond by noting that the objectives have changed, and changed significantly. In 1991 the mandate to the coalition forces was to expel Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait and to restore Kuwait as a sovereign nation. That objective, perhaps too limited, was clearly and quickly achieved.
This time it is different. Over the past several months, much has been made of "regime change" as the objective. And while nearly everyone agrees that would be good for the people of Iraq and the entire region, there is a larger objective in mind.
The real objective which we should focus on is Iraq's disarming ... the elimination of their weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological and nuclear) ... as spelled out in several United Nations resolutions. Saddam has been amply warned of his need to disarm. To date, he has failed to respond in a positive manner to the U.N. mandate. While there is still time for him to do so, the prospect of his compliance is not all that good.
Even if Saddam Hussein should agree to a U.N. supported and monitored exile, and even should his closest supporters either stage a successful coup or go into exile with Hussein, the objective remains... disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.
I would argue that disarming Iraq must be the overriding objective, because even if a coup or exile should rid Iraq of Hussein and his closest supporters, there is still the overarching need to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction. Depending on the circumstances this could be very, very different from the much more limited objectives of Desert Storm twelve years ago.
Ridding Iraq of Hussein, his henchmen and his WMD will require going all the way to Baghdad. But yet despite a significantly larger objective than that of Desert Storm, America's armed forces, supported by many coalition partners (and there will be many), will have no need of the more than 500,000 men and women engaged in that theater twelve years ago. Current estimates are for half that many and I would argue that an even smaller force could be successful.
In 1991 there were over 550,000 United States troops involved in Desert Storm. But there also was only one type of stealth aircraft; there were no unmanned aerial vehicles; there were relatively few precision guided munitions (PGM's). Although there was a heavy reliance on the F-117 stealth fighter in 1991, it could carry but two bombs per airplane. Only about 10 percent of the bombs in Desert Storm were precision guided, and those mostly by laser which are subject to cloud and weather impact.
Should there be a war in Iraq in 2003, the Air Force, Navy and Marine aviators are expected to employ upwards of 80 percent of precision guided munitions, and, quite importantly, they are now GPS (global positioning system) directed and are not subject to weather, dust and clouds.
Also this time around the Air Force will employ the B-2 stealth bomber from forward bases in the United Kingdom and the Indian Ocean. The B-2 can carry 16 PGM's allowing it to strike 16 separate and distinct targets on each sortie. With the PGM accuracy statistics, it is only necessary to place one weapon on each target to insure a "kill." You can expect much more bang for the buck in 2003.
Senior level command and control is also infinitely better with the Air Force's Combined Air Operations Center in Saudi Arabia and replicated in a similar center elsewhere in the theater. General Tommy Franks' Central Command theater headquarters is already up and running after a successful shakedown in early December. The communications, intelligence and surveillance capabilities for those who would lead the attack are light years beyond the Desert Storm capability.
Our soldiers and Marines are also considerably better prepared for desert combat. There have been incredible advancements in command and control capability, real-time intelligence from unmanned aerial vehicles, more realistic computer assisted combat and equipment enhancements.
With enhanced night vision goggle training and equipment our ground forces literally control the night. These troops also possess significantly lighter and more efficient chemical warfare gear. It may still make it tough to fight for extended periods in hot summer desert climates, but it is much better than the earlier versions of chemical warfare gear.
Of course, the big unknown is whether or not we will have to fight in the cities such as Baghdad. While Saddam's army is still a formidable threat, it is a shell of its former size and capability. It has lacked training over the past decade and no longer represents the army of the Desert Storm era. But urban warfare in the cities can be a significant challenge.
In an urban environment of civilians, human shields, mosques, hospitals, historical sights, and the potential for chemical and biological agents, we ask much from our soldiers and our Marines. But they have been training for urban warfare for several years and with the several MOUT ((military operations urban terrain) training sites on Army posts and Marine bases, they are better equipped to strap on this mission than ever before. Having said that, it is still a dangerous and difficult mission, and my hope is that surrounding the cities may bring success without the urban fighting.
Will America and its "coalition of the willing" have to fight in 2003? That is a decision that must be made in Baghdad. Although it is not too likely to happen, Saddam could disarm peacefully and adhere to the United Nations resolutions. Should that happen, war is not inevitable. There could be a peaceful outcome and lives and property could be spared.
The objective remains ... rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. That must be our focus as the days and weeks unfold.