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Battle Plan Envisions 'High-Tempo' Assault

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By Molly Moore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 21, 1991; Page A01

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia, Feb. 20—The allied battle plan for a ground war against Iraqi forces is based on a "high-tempo, fast-paced" assault that will be waged "more violently than any war in history," according to senior American military officials.

In addition to massive attacks by hundreds of allied tanks and artillery weapons, the war plan designed by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf and his staff incorporates feints designed to trick Iraqi forces and lure them out of their bunkers, making them more susceptible to allied air attacks, officials said.

When the order is given to initiate the ground attack, most of the allied forces will push across the Kuwaiti and Iraqi borders in bulky, cumbersome chemical suits and masks. "This war will be chemical probably from the very first hour," said a military intelligence officer.

Military officials have said the first allied forces to enter the heavily mined, booby-trapped and bermed Iraqi battlefield will be Marine mine-breaching teams and Army engineering units assigned to clear paths through minefields.

Although allied warplanes have been trying to set off mines with bombs, officials expect that at least one-third of the submerged explosives will survive the air raids to pose threats to advancing armor and infantry units, officials said.

While the mine-breaching teams are working their way through the minefields, attack planes and helicopters will be firing missiles and dropping bombs on any Iraqi artillery units trying to stop the engineering teams. The idea is to lay down a withering barrage from both ground and air forces to prevent Iraqi gunners from firing.

Field commanders say one of their greatest concerns is that the mine-breaching teams could be slowed enough by Iraqi artillery fire to impede advancing allied tanks and infantry units, creating a traffic jam on the battlefield.

Allied forces have divided the battlefield, giving Saudi, Kuwaiti and other Arab forces the politically sensitive position of moving into Kuwait City first with strong support from U.S. Marine amphibious, air and ground units, according to Saudi and American officials.

Other Marines, British "Desert Rats" and U.S. Army units will assault Iraqi front-line and second-echelon forces in Kuwait, and American heavy-armor divisions will pitch their M1-A1 tanks against elite Republican Guard forces inside Iraq.

Much of the ground campaign also will rely on tactics of outflanking Iraqi forces, surrounding critical units and squeezing them away from support lines and supporting forces, officials said. Said one senior American military official: "We're going to hit him where he ain't."

"The maxim in our battle plan is to move very quickly," said a U.S. general. "We want to roll as quickly as we possibly can, and we'll destroy anything in the way." He described the battle plan, if executed, as a campaign based on "speed and shock and violence."

The attack will be "prosecuted more violently than any war in history," Col. James Riley, who commands a brigade of the Army's 1st Armored Division, told his officers in a meeting attended by a pool reporter.

Senior commanders say that despite the speed and massive force called for in the battle plan, allied forces face a formidable mission fraught with risks of unexpected battlefield disasters.

"It's not going to be snap," said Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly, senior operations officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.

In recent days, allied forces have stepped up isolated land attacks on Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq, including a helicopter raid on a cluster of 13 Iraqi bunkers today that resulted in the surrender of an estimated 450 to 500 Iraqi troops.

Senior American officers said the military police roundup of the prisoners, who emerged from the bunkers with their arms raised skyward, is the deepest penetration yet by U.S. ground troops into Iraqi territory.

Reconnaissance patrols by both allied and Iraqi forces and intensified harassment fire by allied troops already have softened and broadened the border area dividing the opposing armies.

Allied ground forces have shuffled some of their positions within the last two weeks in anticipation of their marching orders. Meanwhile, the Navy has moved four aircraft carriers into the gulf and gathered all 31 amphibious ships in one northern location there.

Officials said Navy vessels are continuing to fire Tomahawk missiles into heavily defended targets in Baghdad, thus reducing threats to allied planes there and freeing them for other missions.

While intensive aerial bombardments will continue throughout a land invasion, much of the allied air power -- particularly the U.S. Air Force A-10 tank-killer planes and Army attack helicopters -- will be shifted to more traditional missions of protecting moving ground forces from opposing armor and infantry attack, officials said.

When ground units encounter particularly fierce fire from Iraqi forces, risking massive allied casualties, the units will be pulled back briefly to allow air power the clear the area of Iraqi troops, officials said.

Because the allied forces will be so dependent on air cover for protection and support, weather will play a critical roles in determining precisely when the ground campaign begins -- once President Bush has decided to move into the land phase of the operation -- officials said.

Cloud cover would impede the ability of allied planes to distinguish between friendly and opposing troops and could allow Iraqi forces to emerge from their bunkers unseen.

One high-ranking U.S. general in Saudi Arabia said bad weather would significantly benefit Iraqi troops. "I'd come out of my hole if there was a day when I thought I had air parity and I knew where I wanted to fight and had T-72 tanks and" Soviet-built personnel carriers, he said.

U.S. commanders also have raised growing concerns about the threat from "friendly fire" from allied aircraft. U.S. Marines already are expressing bitterness that "the U.S. Air Force has killed more Marines so far than the Iraqis have," as one Marine officer put it.

Seven Marines were killed when Air Force planes accidentally rocketed their light armored vehicle during a border battle with Iraqi forces, and another Marine died when Air Force A-10 attack jets dropped cluster bombs on a Marine campsite well south of the Saudi border.

Earlier this week, two infantrymen were killed and six others wounded when the Bradley Fighting Vehicle they were riding in reportedly was hit by a Hellfire missile fired by an Army Apache helicopter.

"What we've found is that when you have two opposing forces intertwined, it's very difficult to separate the friendlies from the enemy," said Lt. Col. Bill Hatch, commander of an Apache battalion in the 1st Armored Division. "It's just exceedingly difficult."

Commanders said the apparent lack of discrimination of targets in the reported Apache attack underscored the problem of fratricide.

In an effort to help reduce the potential for friendly-fire deaths, Army aviation and armored units have redoubled training efforts in recent days. Pilots are studying new gun-camera footage to help them learn to recognize American vehicles from the air, and armored units are considering new identification markers for their vehicles to make them more recognizable to pilots from the air.

© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

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