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Powell Vows to Isolate Iraqi Army
And 'Kill It'

By Dan Balz and Rick Atkinson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 24, 1991; Page A01

Post time line
The allied strategy for winning the Persian Gulf War is to isolate the Iraqi army occupying Kuwait and then "kill it," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday in the most explicit U.S. government description of its battle plan.

During a Pentagon news conference intended to summarize the first week of combat, Gen. Colin L. Powell declared that the Iraqi force of more than 500,000 in the Kuwaiti theater is "sitting there dug in, waiting to be attacked and attacked it will be." But in outlining a methodical squeezing of the Iraqi military, Powell pleaded for patience and added, "We're in no hurry. We are not looking to have large numbers of casualties."

Appearing at Powell's side, Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "doesn't know how badly he's been hit" because of damage to Iraq's communication system. Saddam may continue to surprise the allies with air strikes, terrorist attacks and missile attacks, Cheney added, but he "cannot change the basic course of the war {and} will be defeated."

"Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First we're going to cut it off, and then we're going to kill it," Powell said, while also promising to "rip up the {Iraqi} air force in its entirety."

The chairman cautioned, however that "we're dealing with an enemy that is resourceful, an enemy that knows how to work around problems, and that is ingenious." Iraqi troops and warplanes are sheltered in concrete bunkers and Saddam's communication lines to his commanders are resilient and redundant. To illustrate Iraqi guile, Powell noted that maintenance workers have painted runways to appear damaged in hopes that allied bombers will bypass them.

As if on cue, the briefing ended with reports that another salvo of Scud missiles, the bane of allied forces this week, had been detected heading toward Saudi Arabia. Those missiles were successfully knocked down by Patriot missiles, as was another Scud aimed at Israel about the same time.

Despite Powell's vow of an attack and the optimism offered by the Pentagon's top two officials, neither dwelt in more than cursory fashion with the potentially brutal ground combat that many senior military officers now believe is inevitable. In recapping the first week of the war, Powell referred in passing to the huge allied army poised to "finish off the job should that be necessary."

But after some of the most intense bombing in modern warfare, several officials reviewing U.S. intelligence reports concluded yesterday that Saddam remains firmly in charge of his air and ground forces, and those forces are still largely intact -- and loyal. "Saddam has not blinked," one key official said.

The task facing the United States and its allies, another official noted, is suggested by results of repeated attacks on the Republican Guard. The full fury of allied bombers has not yet been loosed on the units that form the spine of the Iraqi occupiers, but the hundreds of sorties flown already have destroyed only about 25 of the Guard's 800 tanks, the official said. The total Iraqi tank force in Kuwait and southern Iraq exceeds 4,000.

In their hour-long briefing yesterday, Powell and Cheney offered not only the most detailed look at the war's progress but also the most complete look most Americans have had of Saddam's military machine. With the exception of unexpectedly foul weather and elusive Scud missiles, "we believe that it's gone very well," Cheney said, a point Powell reinforced by describing allied air and naval superiority and the plan to slowly strangle the Iraqi forces in Kuwait.

Yesterday's Scud attacks underscored admissions by U.S. officials that the missiles are "the most significant problem we've got right now," as Powell put it. Iraqi ingenuity in using decoys and perhaps manufacturing more of the mobile launchers means the allies may "never get all of them," another senior official added.

Administration officials again praised Israel for not retaliating after the damaging attack Tuesday night in which three Tel Aviv residents died; some of those same officials, however, reportedly voiced concern about the potential impact on relations with Israel of a statement by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. forces in the gulf.

"Saying that Scuds are a danger to a nation is like saying that lightning is a danger to a nation," Schwarzkopf told BBC radio. "I frankly would be more afraid of standing out in a lightning storm in southern Georgia than I would standing out in the streets of Riyadh when the Scuds are coming down. If it's going to hit you it's going to hit you, but the percentages {of getting hit by a Scud} are so much less."

U.S. officials in Riyadh provided a short seven-day summary, noting that allied aircraft have now flown more than 12,000 sorties, evenly divided between bombing runs and such support missions as refueling and reconnaissance flights. The relatively clear weather yesterday permitted air attacks across Iraq and Kuwait, including the first combat missions flown by pilots from the gulf nation of Qatar, who reportedly struck Scud storage shelters in Kuwait.

No additional U.S. aircraft were reported lost to hostile fire, although a Marine pilot was killed when his AV-8B Harrier jet crashed in a training mission. An Army AH-1 Cobra helicopter also crashed in accident; no injuries were reported. Total U.S. aircraft losses in Desert Storm -- including helicopters -- is now 14, including nine shot down.

In the only reported ground action, soldiers from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment engaged in a firefight with an Iraqi patrol on the Saudi side of the border, according to a U.S. official. Two U.S. soldiers were slightly wounded and six Iraqis were captured.Damage Report Questioned

There were indications yesterday that Tuesday's reports of extensive damage to Kuwaiti oil installations set ablaze by the Iraqis had been somewhat exaggerated. Aerial photographs of the Wafra area just north of the Saudi border showed what appeared to be four large and three small fires in pipelines or pumping stations, as well as smoke rising from a small refinery formerly operated by Texaco Inc. There was no confirmation of reports that major oil storage tanks elsewhere in Kuwait were also ablaze.

In a speech to the Reserve Officers Association here last night, President Bush described allied operations as "right on schedule" and said he was "very pleased with our progress to date." Bush ruled out any pause for diplomacy, as some nations have proposed, saying, "We will stay the course, and we will succeed, all the way."

Allied bombing raids "have put Saddam out of the nuclear bomb-building business for a long time to come," the president said, adding that continued air attacks will "systematically deprive Saddam of his ability to wage war effectively."

Earlier, Vice President Quayle toured military bases on the East Coast, where he assured families of American prisoners of war that the United States "will hold Saddam Hussein and his henchmen personally responsible" for any mistreatment of the POWs. Quayle also complained about news coverage of anti-war demonstrations, saying the media "gives much more attention to those protests than they deserve."

Iraqi television again aired video of two captured allied pilots who had been shown earlier this week -- Navy Lt. Jeffrey N. Zaun and Italian air force Capt. Maurizio Cocciolone.

The hour-long presentation by Cheney and Powell alternated between cautious optimism and plain caution. "A military operation of this intensity and complexity cannot be scored every evening like a college track meet or a basketball tournament," Cheney said. "We are deliberately waiting until we have some confidence in the results of specific categories of targets."

Powell, using charts, graphs and a manner that appeared relaxed and confident, reviewed the principal developments in the war and attempted to counter criticism that the Pentagon has been dilatory in publicly revealing bomb damage reports.

He said the bad weather that blew across Iraq and Kuwait after 2 1/2 days of combat was more severe and of greater duration than anticipated, forcing the allies to abort "a number of our planned missions."

In air-to-air dogfights between allied and Iraqi planes, 19 Iraqi interceptors have been destroyed compared to "at worst" one for the allies, he said. All of the Iraqi losses have been French-built F-1 Mirages and Soviet-made MiG-29s, their top interceptors. Another 22 planes have been destroyed on the ground, for total Iraqi losses of 41 out of roughly 800 interceptors and bombers. Iraq also has another 600 transport planes, helicopters and other aircraft.

A more important gauge of allied air supremacy than downed enemy aircraft, Powell added, is the inability of Iraq to muster "a single ground attack against any coalition target." After a week of war, "we are not being challenged" by the Iraqi jets, most of which are trying to "hide and survive," he said.

"This has not been, so far, a very good return on the investment that Saddam Hussein has put into the air force," Powell added.

Powell also displayed a large map of Iraq and Kuwait with 66 primary and secondary airfields that include hardened bunkers, ammunition dumps and fuel storage tanks. In the past day, U.S. intelligence has detected activity at only a handful of the bases, mostly around Baghdad and in western Iraq, he said.

Iraqi air sorties dropped from an average of 235 a day in December to 116 the day the war began to fewer than 40 now, he said. Electronic "emissions" have dropped 95 percent in the past week, which Powell interpreted as a symptom of the bomb damage and Iraqi efforts to remain hidden.Allies 'Have Free Run'

Echoing a similarly optimistic assessment provided over the weekend by Schwarzkopf, Powell said allied air forces "have free run of the area as much as possible. There still will be losses, and I don't want to understate that. But in general, air superiority."

While offering few details, other than several artist's renderings of destroyed Iraqi facilities, Powell said he was generally satisfied with "bomb damage assessments" of the 12,000 sorties to date. The destructive power of allied attacks on the entrenched Iraqi forces, however, will be evident until the two great armies facing one another in the desert clash. Cheney pledged that phase of the campaign plan would come only "after we've done enormous damage to his ground forces {with bombing}, after they've been significantly weakened."

Between them, Powell and Cheney made three disparaging references to the Iraqi navy, which the chairman described as a collection of "minor and insignificant patrol boats."

But in discussing Iraq's ground forces, they appeared more respectful, particularly of the "30 plus" divisions in Kuwait and southern Iraq, which Cheney described as "gone to ground and hunkered down."

In describing how the allies will "cut off" the Iraqi forces, Powell noted that the waves of air attacks on Baghdad beginning Jan. 17 were part of an effort to sever "the brains of the operation." Warplanes will "intensify this cutting off process" from the Iraqi capital southward down the Tigris and Euphrates valleys to the large city of Basra, where the occupying force has its headquarters.

"And as we get into the process of cutting it off, we will also step up the process of killing it by going after stockpiles, ammunition, food, stripping away their gun air defense, using air attacks and, if it becomes necessary, we are assembling a fairly sizable ground force that could finish off the job should that be necessary," Powell said.

The chairman said he was "not telegraphing anything. I just want everybody to know that we have a tool box that's full of lots of tools. And I brought them all to the party."

But Saddam is also using his tool box, according to U.S. intelligence estimates. The Republican Guard continues to receive supplies, and "there is no sign the {Iraqi} troops in the operational theater are affected by the bombing," a senior official said. The physical and psychological impact of the first few hundred bombing sorties, he added, "has not been very impressive."

Another Pentagon official, voicing a conclusion reached by many who doubt that air power alone will force Iraq from Kuwait, said, "The inescapable conclusion is that a ground war will be necessary."

In Iraq yesterday, the government announced that it was cutting off sales of gasoline, but Baghdad radio boasted that Iraq "remained unbroken" after a week of heavy bombardment by the allies. The Iraqi oil ministry asked for public cooperation in what it described as the suspension of gasoline sales "for a short period," apparently because of damage to the country's oil facilities.

Cable News Network correspondent Peter Arnett, whose reports are subject to Iraqi censorship, reported that on a drive through parts of Baghdad on Tuesday he had seen half a dozen fruit and vegetable stands open and doing business and what appeared to be citizens returning to the city in cars loaded with luggage. He also reported "no visible damage" along a 10-mile route from his hotel through several neighborhoods. "The population in these civilian areas have gotten over the shock of war, the initial shock," Arnett reported.

He said that the shortage of water and power appeared to be the most serious problem and reported seeing water trucks filling up cans for the people. He also said Iraqi reporters have noted damage to a school in another city. Iraqi radio reported the deaths of about 60 civilians, including 13 killed when a downed airplane crashed into houses. White House Denies CNN Report

The White House issued an angry denial on one part of Arnett's report, in which he said allied bombers had hit an infant formula factory in Baghdad. White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said U.S. intelligence showed that the factory produced biological weapons, which the Iraqis had hidden "behind the facade of baby milk production."

"Everything Peter Arnett reports is approved by and censored by and reviewed by -- on the spot -- the Iraqi government, and people should keep that in effect," Fitzwater said, adding the event was "staged by Saddam Hussein."

The White House said it had no information about possible civilian casualties or damages but repeated earlier statements that the allied air attacks are not targeting civilian facilities.

Iraq closed its border with Jordan yesterday, halting thousands of refugees fleeing the country. About 2,500 refugees had crossed the border on Tuesday, a Jordanian official said. About 2,000 foreigners have crossed Iraq's eastern border with Iran since the war began, according to Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz also addressed an angry message to Turkey, accusing the government in Ankara of aggression by allowing American planes to launch raids from Turkish territory.

The Cheney-Powell briefing was designed in part to tamp down a growing debate between the government and the news media over the amount of information the government is providing about the progress of the war. Senior administration officials had begun to worry that the lack of information, particularly from military briefing officers at U.S. Central Command in Riyadh, was creating a public relations problem.

Fitzwater told reporters at his daily briefing yesterday that phone calls coming into the White House switchboard were running "100 to 1" against the media for reporting "too much information that could be helpful to the enemy."

Although White House and Pentagon officials have attempted to put the blame on the media for creating a false sense of euphoria about the progress of the war, officials acknowledged they, too, had been swept along by the apparent success of the first 36 hours of action. Now, an official said, a more sober attitude has set in. "People are back to the attitude that it's going to take a while."

Another official involved in war planning at the highest levels added, "I never thought that air would do it alone. . . . Patience is the biggest problem now. The American people are impatient, the press is impatient, the White House is impatient. We have a good campaign plan. We just need the time to stick with it."

Staff writers David S. Broder, Ann Devroy, Helen Dewar, Barton Gellman, Haynes Johnson, Tom Kenworthy, George Lardner Jr., Thomas W. Lippman, R. Jeffrey Smith; foreign correspondent Nora Boustany in Jordan, and staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

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