The nation's top military officer said yesterday that a war against Iraq would be a two-front fight, despite Turkey's resistance to allowing U.S. ground forces to move into northern Iraq through its territory.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said that the United States aims for a short conflict that minimizes civilian casualties, and that the war might end before there is a battle for Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.
Myers's comments, at a breakfast meeting with reporters, were not radically different from what defense officials have said in private recently. But they were significant because they were the first in which a senior U.S. official publicly described the expected nature of a war with Iraq, and especially how the U.S. war plan differs from the approach used by the United States in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Senior Bush administration officials appear to be engaged in a final round of discussions on the war plan. Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the U.S. commander for Middle Eastern operations, met yesterday with senior Pentagon officials, with much of the discussion focusing on options for establishing a northern front in Iraq if Turkey continues to refuse to allow U.S. troops to move through its territory. Franks is scheduled today to brief President Bush on the state of planning.
The last major variable appears to be how to establish a northern front without Turkish cooperation, or if Turkey only allows troops to be flown through its airspace.
"We continue to work with Turkey," whose parliament voted Saturday against permitting U.S. troop movements, Myers said. "In any case, there will be a northern option, with or without Turkey."
Several possibilities are being considered for sending U.S. forces into Iraq's north. Myers indicated that military commanders are contemplating using a more lightly armed force than the Army's 4th Infantry Division -- which had been slated to move by land through Turkey into Iraq -- and providing it with additional aircraft cover. "One of the ways you make up for the difference in a light force . . . is with airpower," Myers said.
Myers also touched on several aspects of what the initial assault on Iraq would look like.
The war would be executed as quickly as possible, he said, but he indicated that the way to achieve that aim is to strike with significant firepower at the outset.
"The best way to do that is to have such a shock on the system that the Iraqi regime would have to assume early on that the end is inevitable," he said.
Myers said this should not be taken as an indication that widespread bombing of civilian targets is contemplated. "The U.S. military . . . will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that there is a minimum of civilian casualties," he said.
Myers said a new war would be very different from the Gulf War, in which five weeks of U.S. bombing preceded a short ground offensive.
"It's not going to be like 1991," he said. "If your template is . . . a 38-day air campaign and a four-day or five-day ground campaign -- all I can say is, it'll be a lot different from that," he said. Military officials have said they expect that air and ground assaults would begin almost simultaneously.
One major early mission of U.S. forces would be to locate and secure Iraq's suspected arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, Myers said. The U.S. government expects to learn far more about those weapons programs once its forces invade Iraq.
At that point, he said, the "giant shell game" played by the Iraqi government to conceal its weapons "would come to a halt," and instead "people would come forward and say, 'Here's where this is, here's where that is.' "