WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon's official claims of destruction of Iraqi tanks, artillery and armored vehicles inside Kuwait are at least three times greater than the estimates from U.S. intelligence agencies, a U.S. official who has reviewed the intelligence figures said yesterday.
"The numbers out of CentCom [the U.S. Central Command in Saudi Arabia] are at least triple the intelligence numbers," said the official, who asked not to be further identified.
The issue of how much of Iraq's armor and artillery has been destroyed in bombing sorties assumes greater significance as allied troops get into position along Kuwait's borders for what some officials say is the imminent beginning of the ground campaign. U.S. and allied officials have said they would like to see 50 percent of Iraq's war-fighting capability in and around Kuwait destroyed before committing ground troops to wrest Kuwait from Iraq.
Intelligence sources said the major reason for the discrepancy is that the Central Command relies heavily on debriefing from pilots returning from bombing missions, as well as prisoners of war and low-level reconnaissance photography, while the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency rely almost entirely on satellite photographs. These often are analyzed three or four days after an attack.
Pilots, intelligence sources said, often exaggerate the success of their missions -- "Take what a pilot says and divide it by three," said a former Air Force pilot -- while photo reconnaissance can miss some "kills." Thus the intelligence estimates are conservative, the sources said, while the military's are often optimistic.
Nevertheless, because of the differences between the estimates, some intelligence officials are upset.
"I've talked to senior people from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency," said the official, who has reviewed both intelligence and Central Command data. "They are not satisfied at the numbers they're getting from CentCom, and professionally they are offended. Professionally they think these numbers are disastrous.
"The number in Washington [from the intelligence agencies] was about 10 percent" of Iraq's war-fighting capability in the Kuwait area, he said.
Pentagon officials and Central Command officials in the gulf released their last bomb damage assessment Thursday, when they reported that 1,300 Iraqi tanks had been destroyed, or 30 percent of those in the Kuwait theater; 1,100 artillery pieces, or 35 percent of the total in the theater; and 800 armored vehicles, about 27 percent of those vehicles in and around Kuwait.
A Pentagon spokesman confirmed that discrepancies exist between the military and the intelligence assessments of bomb damages inside the Kuwait theater of operation. "And never the twain shall meet," Army Maj. Kathy Wood added.