clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Military adapts to Iraqi tactics

Drive pushes on toward primary goal of Baghdad

CAMP DOHA, Kuwait — One week after the United States unleashed its military campaign to drive Saddam Hussein from power, the war has become a tough fight.

The air campaign that the Pentagon promised would "shock and awe" the Saddam Hussein regime appears to have done neither. Saddam has not lost his grip on power and the Iraqi military's command and control system is still intact.

Turkey's decision to deny access to American ground forces has made it difficult for the U.S. military to open a northern front, a factor that has enabled Saddam to send most of his zealous paramilitary forces south. The American military carried out a major airborne operation in northern Iraq on Wednesday night, but U.S. commanders had hoped to deploy the more potent 4th Infantry Division, a mechanized force and one of the Army's most high-tech units, in the north.

But while the campaign has not produced the swift victory for which the Bush administration clearly hoped, the American military is moving to adapt. In carrying out any military plan, commanders here like to say, it is important to remember that "the enemy has a vote."

The Iraqis threw the allies a curve ball by deploying thousands of fedayeen and paramilitary forces in southern Iraq to engage in guerrilla-style hit-and-run attacks. Indeed, more paramilitary forces were reported heading south on Wednesday night from Baghdad to join the fray.

The allies, however, are now countering by putting off the battle of Baghdad for at least some days and focusing their efforts to attacking the paramilitary groups in and around Najaf, An Nasiriyah, Samawah, Basra and other southern cities.

With the limited ground forces the Bush administration has allocated for the initial phase of the campaign and the imperative to take care of threats in their rear, the U.S. military can hardly do anything else.

The planning and preparations for the drive to Baghdad, however, are very advanced. The next phase of the campaign is to take the fight to the Republican Guard divisions that are on or approaching the outskirts of the Iraqi capital and then begin ground attacks against key strongholds in Baghdad itself.

The war so far has been demanding and unpredictable. But the U.S. military has accomplished some important objectives and has changed its strategy and tactics to deal with its foes. Allied commanders seem persuaded of two things: the Fedayeen and their ilk will be defeated and the most difficult fight, the battle of Baghdad, lies ahead.