NEAR THE KUWAITI BORDER, SAUDI ARABIA -- Ground war has come a long way since the "Charge of the Light Brigade." If only the allies had nothing more potent than "cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left of them."
The kind of breach American soldiers must make in Iraqi defenses makes the British Light Brigade's suicidal charge look like a game of Pac Man.
An awesome array of millions of mines, barbed wire, deep trenches filled with flaming oil and radio-detonated napalm bombs awaits them. And that's not counting the possible use of chemical and biological agents or the pounding from more than 7,000 Iraqi tanks and artillery pieces, or the guns of hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers.
"It sounds like a certain kind of hell," one Marine told us in typical leatherneck understatement.
The U.S. military is concentrating much of its efforts on destruction of minefields, mindful of the fact, as one Marine officer said, that mines caused a majority of the casualties in Vietnam.
Military intelligence officers in the region estimate that Iraqis have sown more than 500,000 mines in belts two kilometers wide along virtually the entire Saudi-Kuwaiti border. And they are continuing to plant this deadly crop in an effort to turn Kuwait into one big booby trap.
From Dec. 19 to Jan. 5 alone, satellite photos showed Iraqi soldiers laying 60 kilometers of mines. They can continue to spread them from helicopters and special artillery pieces that spew mines like a tennis ball machine.
There are the small "toe poppers" that can blast off a soldier's foot; the "bouncing Betty" that jumps four feet in the air before exploding; mines set off by trip wires; mines detonated by computer chips; and a large pressure-sensitive mine that can lift a 60-ton tank five feet off the ground.
With the approach of the possible ground offensive, or "G-Day" as they call it here, the biggest fans of the successful air assault were the Army and Marine Corps combat engineers. It is their job to create a path through the maze using mine detectors, bulldozers and special tanks equipped with plows and explosive cords shot by rockets across a minefield and then detonated.
The mines are not all that allied ground forces have to contend with. These are the other features in Saddam Hussein's hellish obstacle course, roughly in the order that U.S. soldiers will confront them:Hundreds of miles of razor wire. Ditches filled with metal spikes, concrete blocks, burned-out vehicles and 55-gallon drums of napalm that can be detonated by remote control. Trenches filled with oil ready to be set on fire as flaming moats. Twelve-foot-high sand walls. Hundreds of thousands of infantry soldiers ready to fire on anyone who makes it that far. More than 2,000 fortified artillery pieces that will belch out an inferno if they are not stopped by air strikes and allied artillery. More than 5,000 tanks, many of them in triangular formations that allow them to fire on anyone coming at them head on or along their flanks.
It is all calculated, as one Marine officer put it, "to channelize us into what we call killing zones."