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US Plan for Iraq Is Said to Include Attack on 3 Sides
5 July 2002
WASHINGTON An American military planning document calls for air, land and sea-based forces to attack Iraq from three directions the north, south and west in a campaign to topple President Saddam Hussein, according to a person familiar with the document.
The document envisions tens of thousands of marines and soldiers probably invading from Kuwait. Hundreds of warplanes based in as many as eight countries, possibly including Turkey and Qatar, would unleash a huge air assault against thousands of targets, including airfields, roadways and fiber-optics communications sites.
Special operations forces or covert C.I.A. operatives would strike at depots or laboratories storing or manufacturing Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to launch them.
None of the countries identified in the document as possible staging areas have been formally consulted about playing such a role, officials said, underscoring the preliminary nature of the planning. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visited American bases in Kuwait and Qatar and the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain on his most recent trip to the Persian Gulf region in June.
The existence of the document that outlined significant aspects of a "concept" for a war against Iraq as it stood about two months ago indicates an advanced state of planning in the military even though President Bush continues to state in public and to his allies that he has no fine-grain war plan on his desk for the invasion of Iraq.
Yet the concept for such a plan is now highly evolved and is apparently working its way through military channels. Once a consensus is reached on the concept, the steps toward assembling a final war plan and, most importantly, the element of timing for ground deployments and commencement of an air war, represent the final sequencing that Mr. Bush will have to decide.
Mr. Bush has received at least two briefings from Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the head of the Central Command, on the broad outlines, or "concept of operations," for a possible attack against Iraq. The most recent briefing was on June 19, according to the White House.
"Right now, we're at the stage of conceptual thinking and brainstorming," a senior defense official said. "We're pretty far along."
The highly classified document, entitled "CentCom Courses of Action," was prepared by planners at the Central Command in Tampa, Fla., according to the person familiar with the document.
Officials say it has already undergone revisions, but is a snapshot of an important, but preliminary stage, in a comprehensive process that translates broad ideas into the detailed, step-by-step blueprint for combat operations that the Pentagon defines as a "war plan."
Still, the document, compiled in a long set of briefing slides, offers a rare glimpse into the inner sanctum of the war planners assigned to think about options for defeating Iraq.
"It is the responsibility of the Department of Defense to develop contingency plans and, from time to time, to update them," Victoria Clarke, the Pentagon spokeswoman, said today. "In fact, we have recently issued new general planning guidance, and that generates activity at the staff level."
Officials said neither Mr. Rumsfeld, nor the Joint Chiefs of Staff or General Franks had been briefed on this specific document as yet.
The source familiar with the document described its contents to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity, expressing frustration that the planning reflected at least in this set of briefing slides was insufficiently creative, and failed to incorporate fully the advances in tactics and technology that the military has made since the Persian Gulf war in 1991.
Administration officials say they are still weighing options other than war to dislodge Mr. Hussein. But most military and administration officials believe that a coup in Iraq would be unlikely to succeed, and that a proxy battle using local forces would not be enough to drive the Iraqi leader from power.
Nothing in the Central Command document or in interviews with senior military officials suggests that an attack on Iraq is imminent.
Indeed, senior administration officials continue to say that any offensive would probably be delayed until early next year, allowing time to create the right military, economic and diplomatic conditions.
Nonetheless, there are several signs that the military is preparing for a major air campaign and land invasion.
Thousands of marines from the First Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, Calif., the marine unit designated for the gulf, have stepped up their mock assault drills, a Pentagon adviser said. The military is building up bases in several Persian Gulf states, including a major airfield in Qatar called Al Udeid. Thousands of American troops are already stationed in the region.
After running dangerously low on precision-guided bombs during the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has said it has stepped up production of critical munitions. The Air Force is stockpiling weapons, ammunition and spare parts, like airplane engines, at depots in the United States and in the Middle East.
"We don't know when or where the next contingency will be," Gen. Lester L. Lyles, head of the Air Force Materiel Command, said in an interview this week. "But we want to fill up the stock bins."
The Central Command document, as described by the source familiar with it, is significant not just for what it contains, but also for what it leaves out.
The document describes in precise detail specific Iraqi bases, surface-to-air missile sites, air defense networks and fiber-optics communications to be attacked. "The target list is so huge it's almost egregious," the source said. "It's obvious that we've been watching these guys for an awfully long time."
Dozens of slides are devoted to organizational details, like the precise tonnage of American munitions stored at various bases around the Persian Gulf, deployment time lines for troops leaving East and West Coast ports for the gulf region, and the complexities of interwoven intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance networks.
At the same time, according to the source, the document is silent on or barely mentions other important aspects of any operation, suggesting that there are several highly classified documents that address different parts of the planning.
For instance, the "Courses of Action" document does not mention other coalition forces, casualty estimates, how Mr. Hussein may himself be a target, or what political regime might follow the Iraqi leader if an American-led attack was successful, the source said.
Nor does the document discuss the sequencing of air and ground campaigns, the precise missions of special operations forces or the possibility of urban warfare in downtown Baghdad, with Iraqi forces possibly deploying chemical weapons.
In fact, the discussion about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is relatively terse. The document discusses the broad threat such weapons pose to American forces and surrounding countries, the need to deter Baghdad from using them, and, failing that, devising ways to counter them.
It describes the number of Marine and Army divisions, air expeditionary forces, and aircraft carriers. These and other forces add up to as many as 250,000 troops, the source familiar with the document said, but there is little detail about those forces beyond that.
Nor does the document contain a comprehensive analysis of the Iraqi ground forces, including the Republican Guard and various security forces that are believed to be fiercely loyal to Mr. Hussein. This again suggests that such analysis is either incomplete or is contained in another planning document.
By emphasizing a large American force, the document seems to reflect a view that a successful campaign would require sizable conventional forces staging from Kuwait, or at least held in reserve there.
An alternative plan, championed by retired Gen. Wayne A. Downing of the Army, calls for conquering Iraq with a combination of airstrikes and special operations attacks in coordination with indigenous fighters, similar to the campaign in Afghanistan. Relying solely on that approach appears to have been ruled out.
General Downing resigned last week as Mr. Bush's chief adviser on counterterrorism, reportedly frustrated by the administration's tough talk against Iraq but lack of action.
Among the many questions the military and the administration must address before staging an invasion is where to base air and ground forces in the region.
Geography and history, specifically the gulf war, would suggest that countries like Kuwait, Turkey, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain would be likely candidates for staging troops or air combat missions.
Any mention of using bases in Saudi Arabia, from which the United States staged the bulk of the airstrikes in the gulf war, is conspicuously missing from the document, said an official familiar with the briefing slides. The United States would need permission to use Saudi airspace adjacent to Iraq, if not Saudi bases themselves, officials said.
The Saudis have allowed the United States to run the air war against Afghanistan from a sophisticated command center at Prince Sultan Air Base, outside Riyadh, but have prohibited the Air Force from flying any attack missions from Saudi soil.
Senior Air Force officials have expressed mounting frustration with restrictions the Saudis have placed on American operations, and the Central Command is developing an alternate command center at the sprawling Udeid base in Qatar, should that be needed.
The Central Command document does not contain a time line of when American forces could start flowing to the gulf or how long it would take to put all the forces in place. Nor does it answer one of the big questions administration officials are wrestling with: how will Mr. Hussein react if there is a large buildup of conventional forces, such as the United States had in the gulf war.
"The Iraqis aren't just going to sit on their butts while we put in 250,000 people," a military analyst said.