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Optimistic intelligence estimates guided U.S. war planning


Proved wrong in the first 5 days of war

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Tuesday, March 25, 2003

The first five days of the Iraq War proved that several vital conclusions reached by U.S. military intelligence and the State Department were wrong, according to sources close to the Bush administration.

The intelligence assessments addressed the resilience of President Saddam Hussein's military as well as the will of the opposition to his regime.

Sources close to the Bush administration said a series of what turned out to be faulty intelligence assessments formed the basis of the U.S. military buildup and war strategy in the effort to topple the Saddam regime.

Early warnings from the Iraqi opposition and from Arab intelligence were ignored but have now been demonstrated to be accurate, the sources aid.



The U.S. strike on the Medina division of the Republican Guard on Monday stunned U.S. military planners and pointed to the high price of a hasty advance into Iraq,, Middle East Newsline reported. "The Pentagon was sold on the idea that the war would be a piece of cake because everybody hated Saddam so much that once we entered, his military would collapse and all of the opposition forces would come out of the woodwork," one source, who closely monitors the battle situation in Iraq, said. "The assumption was completely wrong and now the administration is trying to figure out what to do."

The sources said the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff drafted and approved a rapid ground force drive through Iraq along two fronts that was meant to be accompanied by punishing air strikes on Baghdad, Tikrit and other major regime strongholds. The allied war strategy was based on the assumption that the United States would receive significant help from Turkey as well as Kurdish and Shi'ite opposition forces.

The administration had concluded that Iraq's military would collapse on the first day of fighting and that the Republican Guard would soon follow. The sources said these assessments formed the basis of the military's restrictions on target selection and rules of engagement.

Instead, the sources said, Iraq's military held firm, Turkey refused to allow the deployment of U.S. troops to form a second front, and opposition forces failed to battle Iraqi forces. The sources said the failure by Turkey and the Iraqi opposition to cooperate have been one of the most disappointing aspects of the initial stage in the war.

"The Kurds are simply not moving against the Iraqis," another source said. "They are preparing to fight the Turkish military, which plans to enter northern Iraq. In the south, the Shi'ite opposition hasn't raised a finger to help us and there is information that they might attack us if we enter such cities as Karbala and Najaf."

The sources also dismissed the most touted achievement of U.S. intelligence -- the identification and targeting of Saddam's meeting place.

They said the bombing of what was to have been a meeting by the Iraqi leadership had no significant affect on the regime. They said Saddam, his son and heir-apparent Qusay, Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan all escaped serious injury. The only one who might be hurt is Saddam's elder son, Uday, who is not regarded as a significant element in regime survival.

The failure to estimate the Iraqi military has also hurt the U.S. advance on the ground, the sources said. They said two Apache helicopters were downed and 30 others, which included the advanced AH-64D Longbow model, were struck by Iraqi small arms and anti-aircraft fire.

Commanders cut short the air attack before the U.S. helicopters could incur heavy damage on the T-72 tank force of the Republican Guard. U.S. military commanders have called the Medina division deployed around 80 kilometers south of Baghdad the linchpin of the Republican Guard force. On Tuesday, a Marine Corps division attacked the Medina unit in what was described as a fierce engagement.

Retired U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, commander of the 24th Infantry Division, said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld underestimated Iraqi resistance as well as the nature of the conflict that would take place in Iraq. The result was that Rumsfeld dismissed the appeals of U.S. military chiefs to send additional troops and ground force platforms to Iraq.

"I think everybody told him that," McCaffrey, a leading commander in the 1991 Gulf war, said. "I think he thought these were U.S. generals with their feet planted in World War II that didn't understand the new way of warfare."

The sources warned against expecting U.S. forces to quickly impose a siege on Baghdad. They said lines of communications, logistics and supplies are dangerously overstretched and that Central Command would seek to strengthen them over the next few days.

Moreover, the sources said, there are insufficient number of U.S. troops to maintain a siege of Baghdad. They point out that the Iraqi capital is huge, with an estimated population of 8 million.

At this point, the sources said, the State Department is urging the White House to consider an Arab initiative to convince Saddam to abdicate.

Saudi Arabia has urged for a ceasefire and what the kingdom termed an honorable way to end the war.

But the sources said President George Bush is determined to achieve a military victory and drive Saddam from power. They said Bush is being urged to lift restrictions on target designation and rules of engagement that would result in the destruction of the Iraqi Defense Ministry as well as state radio and television.

"What I think you're going to see over the next few days is the kind of war that the president thought he'd avoid -- heavy air bombing and a bloody fight that will lead to claims of numerous Iraqi civilian casualties," a source said. "Congress and the American people don't have the patience for a war that will last even weeks."

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