If U.S. and allied forces are ordered to war with Iraq, they plan a phased attack to drive Iraqi troops from Kuwait and would begin with air strikes against airfields and communications sites inside Iraq, escalating into ground battles with Iraqi forces in Kuwait, according to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.).
Aspin, drawing on public hearings and private discussions with military leaders, said that under current war plans, American and allied bombers and attack planes would begin the war by blasting airfields, missile sites and chemical and nuclear installations inside Iraq in an effort to preempt Iraqi strikes against forces in Saudi Arabia and against Israel.
That attack would be followed by massive air assaults on major military supply depots, field command headquarters and communication lines inside Kuwait and first-tier troops assembled on the border of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Aspin said.
If several days of aerial battering do not force an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, the war would intensify with a large-scale ground assault against Iraqi forces in Kuwait, according to Aspin's assessment.
Aspin said he based his war scenario on hours of public hearings with current and former senior military officials and on private discussions, which he said bolstered the credibility of the assessment. He said he released the report to help focus this week's congressional debate on President Bush's request for the use of "all necessary means" to drive Iraq from Kuwait.
"When Congress votes this week on authorizing the use of military force to push the Iraqis out of Kuwait, this is the military campaign they will be voting on," said Aspin. "It's the first time we've been able to know in advance how a war would likely be conducted. And it's the first time Congress and the nation can make a decision on war based on this kind of information."
Aspin's report parallels the integrated air and land attack scenarios now being portrayed by some senior U.S. military officials. It is the third in a series of "white papers" Aspin and his staff have compiled on the allied options -- economic sanctions, diplomacy and war -- for addressing the Iraqi invasion.
The report leans heavily on portions of public testimony by Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Aspin said he continues to favor a vigorous diplomatic effort to avert war but said he will vote to authorize Bush "to use force to liberate Kuwait."
Aspin added that while he does not believe American and other anti-Iraqi forces can win a "bloodless" victory, "prospects are high for a rapid victory with light to moderate American casualties" of about 3,000 to 5,000, including up to 1,000 deaths.
That estimate is disputed, however, by military analysts and some officials who estimated that the casualty rate could exceed 18,000, including more than 3,000 deaths, in a brutal air-land confrontation with the heavily armored and entrenched Iraqi forces now assembled in Kuwait.
Iraq has moved more than 540,000 troops into Kuwait and southern Iraq, according to figures released yesterday by the Defense Department. About 360,000 of the 430,000 American troops ordered to the Middle East are now in position and ready for potential combat, U.S. officials said. An additional 245,000 Arab and allied troops are in place on the Arabian peninsula, according to Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams.
Aspin said U.S. forces in the gulf "may not reach their peak readiness for combat operations until early February" and said it would be "better to wait" until then if the United States resorts to war.
Aspin said military officials have told him that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is not a direct target of the air strikes and added that if Saddam is at his "summer home" during the attack he will be safe but that Saddam could be subject to attack if he is at one of the major Iraqi military command centers.
Aspin said some military officials believe the first phase of air strikes against critical targets inside Iraq could last as long as a week with up to 2,000 air missions a day. Those officials estimate 70 to 80 American and allied aircraft would be shot down or crash during that phase of the conflict.
In the next phase, bombers and attack planes would attempt to destroy supply depots, command headquarters, rail and highway communications lines into Iraq and some of the front-line Iraqi forces in Kuwait. Some officials estimate that up to 300 pilots and crew members could be killed and another 1,500 wounded during both phases of the air war.
But Aspin said he agrees with many Army and Marine Corps officials who have said the military will be forced to move into the third phase -- a major ground assault -- in order push Iraqi forces out of reinforced revetments, bunkers and ditches where they have entrenched a powerful armor and infantry force.