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The United States and coalition partners would win any future war to overthrow Saddam
in rough terms, U.S.-led forces might suffer 100 to 5,000 forces killed in action in such a future war. The lower half of that range is perhaps the most plausible. But there is a very real possibility that American deaths could exceed 1,000 in number, and several thousand deaths cannot be ruled out.
By the methodologies employed here, Iraqi troop losses might be expected to roughly 2,000 to 50.000. And civilian deaths could number in the tens of thousands as well. Casualties in countries such as Israel and the United States, not so much from SCUD missiles or other military delivery vehicles as from action by Iraqi-supported terrorists or special forces, could number in the thousands if Saddam provided them with weapons of mass destruction. But such losses might also be trivial in size.
As such, those who feel strongly that a future war against Iraq would be either a cakewalk or a debacle should be challenged to explain why. Historical data and combat models put the onus squarely on those who would make such confident predictions. A quagmire in Iraq seems extremely unlikely. But on the other hand, to count on easy victory, as many American proponents of war seem to do, is not only unsupportable by the available evidence and by the methodologies of combat prediction. It is also irresponsible as a basis on which to plan U.S. military strategy in any future war against Saddam Hussein.
III. WHAT TYPE OF WAR WOULD IT BE?
Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, is located in the heartland of Arabia, a region whose stability is
Why the Afghanistan Model Won't Work
Why not overthrow Saddam on the cheap, Afghan-style, as some of the most prominent proponents of overthrow seem to call for?4 First, relying on insurgency operations based on Kurdish and Shia forces would have a very high probability of failure because of the disparity of power between Saddam's forces and anything that can be deployed by these surrogates. In Afghanistan opposition forces were half as large and at least as well armed as were the Taliban, whereas in Iraq Saddam's army is five times as big as the fractious opposition groups all put together. And air power alone would not be sufficient to tip that balance, especially in urban environments. Significant U.S. ground forces would also be needed because war planners cannot assume that the Iraqi army will adopt counterproductive tactics. Iraqi forces are unlikely to deploy their armor in the open desert (like Iraq had to do after attacking Kuwait) or to fire from static positions and becoming sitting ducks for airpower (like the Taliban did in Afghanistan). They are more likely to hunker down in the major cities, especially Baghdad, where Saddam is likely to hole up. Many of their weapons will be placed near apartment buildings, hospitals, schools, and mosques—as Iraq has already learned to do during a decade of constant bombardment by the United States and United Kingdom in the southern and northern no-fly zones. Knowing that his only hope once an invasion began might be to ensure that enough civilians were killed to provoke unrest or revolution in other Arab capitals or major protest movements in the West, Saddam would probably seek to create an "al Jazeera" effect by forcing the United States to hit large numbers of civilians if it chose to attack certain military targets.
Trends in military technology development and recent American battlefield victories suggest to some that the United States' high-technology edge will make the deployment of a large invasion force unnecessary. Indeed, laser- and satellite-guided bombs, as well as new reconnaissance and communications systems like JSTARS aircraft and Predator and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles demonstrated enormous potential in the Gulf War, Bosnia and Afghanistan. But two other conflicts from recent history also need to be kept in mind: the U.S. military campaign in Somalia in 1992-1993 and the war against Serbia over Kosovo in 1999. In both cases, difficult battlefield terrain and conditions—the urban setting of Mogadishu, the forested settings of Kosovolimited enormously what high technology could do.
The Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) weapon that was so effective against the entrenched Taliban forces would be difficult to use against Iraqi armor deployed in urban settings, since it could cause so much collateral damage to civilians that its use might be severely limited. Laser-guided bombs could be more effective, at least in good weather, but they require forward target designators and even they could not be used against individual soldiers carrying small arms. If U.S. aircraft tried to spot targets on their own, they would have to fly low over Iraqi cities, risking losses from Iraq's antiaircraft artillery and shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. When coalition aircraft flew low in the first three days of Desert Storm, the result was 27 aircraft damaged or destroyed-one-third of their losses for the entire war.
The Need for "Desert Storm II" U.S. ground forces, on the other hand, would make a decisive difference in a war to unseat the butcher of Baghdad. Indeed, many Iraqi units might well change sides and move against Saddam if they saw a massive army coming to get them. At the moment many of the commanders of these units are loyal to Saddam only out of fear for their lives. But if they come to understand that their survival depends on distancing themselves from Saddam, their brittle loyalty to him could well crack. It is unlikely to crack in the face of opposition forces alone, ied by rival ethnic groups who would likely exact retribution on Saddam's commanders if they were somehow able to prevail on the battlefield.
Under these circumstances, the United States and any willing military partners would need a force large enough to defeat Iraq's military unit by unit if necessary, while eventually also establishing order throughout Baghdad and perhaps other cities as well. Military targets would include command and control infrastructure needed to maintain control of the country, other major military assets such as bases, marshaling yards, and equipment depots, major public buildings, utilities, and of course Saddam himself as well as his palace guard. They would also have to include the main military forces of the Iraqi state, which could otherwise mount counterattacks against U.S.-led troops even after the invading armies had wrested control of the country from the ruling regime.
In the initial phase, American forces would target Saddam's Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard, together about 100,000 strong, while trying to convince Saddam's other 300,000 forces and 650,000 military reservists not to resist. If such a strategy were successful, only a few tens of thousands of American forces might ultimately see combat; in the best case scenario, Iraqi resistance might quickly crumble even in the ranks of the Republican and Special Republican guards. But the United States could not size its forces or develop its war plans based on that assumption, since Iraqi forces will only collapse if they are convinced of the inevitability of their defeat."
What Bases Would Be Needed?
This type of operation could not be done without substantial access to foreign military bases. Some have suggested otherwise, claiming for example that the United States could mount an operation by flying forces directly into western Iraq. However, this idea makes little military sense. U.S. airlift could deploy and sustain at most two divisions and their direct support, or perhaps 50,000 to 75,000 troops in all and neither of these divisions could be particularly heavy with armor (U.S. airlift would only be adequate to deploy and sustain about one heavy division in this way). The fact remains that the only way to confidently defeat Saddam is by deploying a large armored force to the region by sealift and then mounting an operation that would in many ways resemble Desert Storm. The United States would require significant base access to carry out this type of operation. Indispensable would be facilities in Kuwait and Turkey—the former to
provide air bases and permit deployment of the main armored forces for their northward march on Baghdad, the latter for enough airfields to help protect Kurdish populations and forces during the war. Ideally, Bahrain would also allow the United States to continue to use its 5th fleet headquarters based there. But the requirements would also include air bases in at least one or two other Gulf sheikdoms.
More air bases would be needed due to the need to field up to 1,000 combat jets in the region (the Kosovo war, by way of comparison, required nearly that many against a much smaller country and enemy military). In rough terms, fielding 1,000 combat jets, plus associated support aircraft such as refueling and electronic warfare planes, as well as airlifters, would require at least 15 airfields and quite possibly 20 or more. Were Saudi Arabia to provide its facilities, the problem would be essentially solved. Absent Saudi access, however, the United States would have to find that number of airfields in Turkey, Kuwait, other small Gulf countries, and its own aircraft carriers. Even if the United States used 4 to 6 carriers, and even factoring in two to three bases in both Kuwait and Turkey, the United States would still need at least half a dozen other facilities and perhaps a dozen. Most of the smaller Gulf states have two to four long, paved runways, though the United Arab Emirates possesses eight (for comparison's sake, Saudi Arabia owns 31).' So if Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates each provided two airfields, or if a subset of those countries each provided three to four, the problem should be solvable-especially if Saudi Arabia would permit overflights of its territory, since otherwise bottlenecks in air traffic could occur at the northern end of the Persian Gulf. But the operation would still be difficult, since most of these bases are not nearly as well developed or stocked with fuel, munitions, and spare parts as are Saudi facilities.
Clearly, Riyadh's active support for an invasion of Iraq, while not absolutely indispensable, would be enormously desirable on both political and military grounds. This is one more reason why the president's 9/12 strategy of working through the United Nations if possible is so sound, since it vastly improves the odds of Saudi assistance should we have to go to war.
IV. CAN WE FIGHT IRAQ WHILE PURSUING AL QAEDA?
An important policy question in regard to a possible war to overthrow Saddam Hussein concerns the timing of any such effort. Some suggest that, while they might be willing to support an invasion of Iraq under certain conditions, now is not the time given the urgent priority of defeating the terrorist organization that attacked the United States on September 11. There may be international political reasons not to go to war against Iraq anytime soon. For example, countries unhappy about a war against Iraq may reduce intelligence cooperation with the United States for the war on terror. However, in military terms at least, I do not believe that the U.S. military would have great difficulty in waging both wars at once.
The U.S. military, we have been told for a decade, is sized and structured to fight two major wars at once. Each conflict has been expected to require up to 500,000 American troops. The Bush administration has recently determined such a goal may have been
impractical, but still claims the capability to wage one such all-out war and a second major operation perhaps half as big. In all, that could involve about 750,000 U.S. troops in combat.
By comparison, today's demands are modest, and they would remain well within our capabilities even if we went to war against Saddam. Operations in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf together now require about 60,000 American personnel; the ongoing commitments in the Balkans involve another 10,000; smaller missions of various types in the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen and the Sinai add fewer than another 10,000. Post9/11 security measures at military bases around the world might involve 50,000 more troops. Adding in 250,000 Gls to overthrow Saddam, all war-related deployments combined would involve about 400,000 troops—a substantial number, to be sure, but only about half the total we are supposed to be able to deploy at once. A more detailed military analysis leads to the same conclusion. Consider:
Main Combat Forces
We have enough to deploy 250,000 troops, including four to five ground combat divisions and 12 to 15 air combat wings, to the Persian Gulf. Today's U.S. military has 13 active-duty divisions (10 in the Army, three in the Marine Corps). Less than one full division is presently involved in the Afghanistan campaign; less than one is in the Balkans; small pieces of other divisions are deployed elsewhere. That leaves more than 10 divisions available. Even after excluding the Army's Second Infantry Division in South Korea, the Korea-oriented 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, and the Pacificoriented Third Marine Force in Okinawa, we would have more than ample ground troops to overthrow Saddam and occupy Iraq.
A similar conclusion holds for air power. There are 20 tactical fighter wings in the Air Force, 11 in the Navy, and three in the Marine Corps. Of that grand total, only about 10 would be unavailable based on existing commitments in the Western Pacific and Afghanistan. And the dozen bombers that have typically flown over Afghanistan constitute just 10% of total U.S. capability.
Key Support Forces
Certain critical forces, ranging from aerial tankers to transport aircraft to special operations units to unmanned aerial vehicles, have been heavily used in Afghanistan. But even at its peak, Afghanistan did not place higher demands on most of these support capabilities than would a so-called major theater war. And today the tempo of operations is less than half what it once was, while allied combat forces are providing considerable help in the ongoing search for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.
The U.S. military today owns some 600 refueling aircraft, of which more than 400 are airworthy at present. They have been heavily used in Afghanistan. But they are presently flying fewer than 50 sorties a day in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Most would be available should the bell toll for Saddam.