Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that the Iraqi government probably expected a replay of the 1991 Persian Gulf War's long air campaign and was surprised by the speed of the U.S. ground attack.
At a news conference at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld offered an extensive analysis of the U.S. military's success in Iraq, saying former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and his associates were most likely surprised by the U.S. decision to commence a ground war March 20, before the air war began and without waiting for the 4th Infantry Division to arrive from the Mediterranean.
"I would speculate that they very likely expected Gulf War II, a long air war that would give them time to do whatever they thought they wanted to do . . . followed, at some distance, by ground war," Rumsfeld said. "The ground war went so much faster that the opportunity for people to reorganize and to reconstitute forces, in areas where they could provide a more aggressive defense, didn't exist."
On a day when U.S. ground forces in Iraq reported no major combat engagements, and continued moving toward stability operations, Rumsfeld also described how the Pentagon is reexamining its overall deployment of forces in the Persian Gulf region in the aftermath of the war. He noted that U.S. warplanes are no longer patrolling "no-fly" zones over northern and southern Iraq, which they have since the early 1990s.
U.S. air crews that had patrolled the northern no-fly zone have been sent home from Turkey, leaving in question the military's continued presence at Incirlik air base.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told foreign reporters at a separate news conference that bases in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that were used to patrol the southern no-fly zone might not be necessary anymore.
"So that's all going into the examination of this, and I think sometime here in the fairly near future, we'll be able to publicly talk about what kind of U.S. footprint would be in the region after that," Myers said at the Foreign Press Center.
Although some bases in the region may no longer be necessary, the U.S. military presence inside Iraq will most likely be significant for months. Myers declined to estimate how many U.S. forces might ultimately be necessary in Iraq, beyond noting that there are currently 120,000 U.S. troops there, plus 20,000 to 30,000 "coalition partners" from Britain and other countries.
The Pentagon's search for peacekeeping assistance has begun in earnest. Rumsfeld said he and his aides are "on a very active effort to attract and encourage other countries to offer forces for the . . . stabilization process." He said he had discussed the matter by telephone yesterday with the defense ministers of Britain and Poland.
Asked about the type of U.S. forces necessary to stabilize Iraq, Rumsfeld replied, "One element is how many foreign forces do we think we're going to be able to attract to come in and give us some assistance, because that affects the number of U.S. forces we need."
After Rumsfeld's news conference, military experts were divided on his assessment that the Iraqis were likely caught flat-footed by a rapid ground advance that proceeded air operations because the Iraqis expected the Americans to wait for ships carrying the 4th Infantry Division's equipment to arrive in Kuwait from the Mediterranean before launching any invasion.
The 4th Infantry was supposed to have opened a northern front from Turkey, but that was scrapped after Turkey's parliament refused to allow U.S. forces to move through Turkish territory. Moving the division's equipment by ship from the coast of Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean to Kuwait took three weeks, leaving only the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, the Marines and the British to launch the initial invasion of Iraq.
"I think Rumsfeld has a point," said Tom Donnelly, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. "They were probably thinking that, 'These guys aren't going to attack with just three divisions -- that's crazy.' "
But Jeffrey White, a former specialist in the Iraqi military for the Defense Intelligence Agency, said he thinks the Iraqi military had a fairly clear understanding of the attack. "My sense is that the Iraqis were pretty capable of reading what we were doing, and of understanding what would be coming at them," said White, now a defense analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
He noted that Iraqi defenses were configured much differently than in 1991. For this war, he said, "They didn't have barrier defenses [near the border], and they moved their air defenses back to Baghdad."
Either way, Rumsfeld credited his battlefield commander, Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, with a speedy movement of forces that overwhelmed the Iraqis and kept a number of bad things from happening. Franks decided to start the ground war early, for example, to keep the Iraqis from setting the southern oil fields ablaze, defense officials have said.
"The oil wells were not set afire like they were last time," Rumsfeld said, referring to the torching of Kuwait's oil fields by Iraqi forces during the 1991 war.
Asked about the formal processes each service will use to study lessons learned, Rumsfeld said it "would be a mistake for the services to engage in service-centric lessons learned."
"This was not a war fought by the Army or the Navy or the Air Force or the Marines," he said. "It was a war that's been fought by joint forces under excellent leadership. And there isn't one service that could have done what was done."
Rather than each service considering its owns lessons learned, Rumsfeld said the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, headed by Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, Rumsfeld's former military assistant, would review how the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines worked together.
Asked about his own lessons learned, Rumsfeld said: "Have I learned things? You bet, but I'll save those for another time."