KHAFJI, SAUDI ARABIA -- The first ground battle of the Persian Gulf War fought in this deserted border town dashed hopes among the allied forces that they will see hordes of Iraqi defectors waving white flags.
Marines here joke that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has outfitted his soldiers with green instead of white underwear so they have nothing to wave. But the truth is Saddam has laid out an obstacle course of mines to keep allied troops out of Kuwait, and the same minefields will keep his own people in. Saddam has imprisoned his troops inside Kuwait with a barricade that makes the Berlin Wall look like a scalable Tinker Toy.
And since the battle at Khafji -- when initial assessments were that the Iraqis might be crossing the border to turn themselves in -- any defector who gets through will face the guns of very skeptical allied troops who are ready to shoot first and check for white flags later.
The Central Intelligence Agency and the Army have sponsored an airdrop behind Iraqi lines of more than 4 million leaflets urging the hungry and tired soldiers to defect.
The point of the leaflets was to convince Iraqi soldiers that their cause is unjust and that resistance to the allies is futile -- a message punctuated by round-the-clock bombing of the Iraqis that deprives them of sleep and confidence.
Just before the Khafji battle, some U.S. soldiers on the front were taught the Arabic phrases for "Put your hands up" and "Throw down your weapon."
Saddam's response to the leaflets was to send officers out collecting them, and to make it a serious offense for anyone else to pick one up. One POW told debriefers that his friend was thrown into the brig and had his head shaved when an officer discovered one of the leaflets in his pocket.
The leaflets suggest that anyone surrendering in a tank should come with the turrets turned to the rear, but since Khafji, that may not be convincing enough. Word spread quickly at the front that the Iraqis accomplished the sneak attack on Khafji by rolling their tanks in as the leaflets suggested, with turrets turned to the rear. Then the turrets swung around and the Iraqis began firing.
New leaflets have since been dropped over Iraqi troop concentrations amending the instructions. Deserters in tanks should turn the turrets backward and march any soldiers not needed to drive the tank in front of it.
But Marines and the Army infantry have vowed that no Iraqis will take advantage of their open arms again. Said one Army sergeant in a forward-deployed operations center: "There ain't going to be no next time."
Sgt. James Fletch, an antiaircraft gunner from Tifton, Ga., put it this way: "Now you never know if they're going to surrender or if they've got something up their sleeves."
The wariness of the troops toward possible defectors has the CIA and the Army Psychological Operations Groups frustrated. One intelligence officer at the front said, "This completely undermines the entire program that psy ops are playing up because the next guys that come through might get blown away, and then there's going to be no more surrenders."