High-tech coalition took cover in 'fog of war'--and thickened it WAR IN THE GULF

THE BALTIMORE SUN

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- At the end of the war fought under the name Desert Storm, one army was in ruins. Another army, relying heavily on technology and deception, startled the world with the speed and finality of its success.

This sharp, violent conflict had its share of "the fog of war," a favorite phrase of U.S. officers -- feints, confusion, exhaustive rehearsals for battles never fought, real fog that hampered air strikes, a fog of words and the acrid black smoke from burning oil wells.

Fighting ended, or at least came to a pause, when the U.S.-led coalition almost ran out of targets, so nearly total was the destruction of the army that Iraq expensively outfitted to occupy Kuwait. By all accounts, there wasn't an army left to fight.

How and when the war began depended on where you were.

More than a hundred Air Force pilots began their war accelerating down runways in Saudi Arabia at 3 a.m. Jan. 17, gulf time. Navy missile technicians had begun their cool, remote battle about 90 minutes earlier with the launch of cruise missiles from vessels in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. For residents of Baghdad, Desert Storm began when the missiles arrived, probably unsighted until the blasts were heard and felt.

Depending on their expectations, people dispute whether the conflict was short or long. In the first seven hours, allied pilots flew 750 missions, at the time a number that sounded impressively high. Given the lack of response from Iraq -- few planes left the ground -- the first day seemed, briefly, as if it was going to be enough, or nearly enough.

Leaders on both sides made predictions. Their forecasts were more fog, because the bluff and bombast were carefully calculated and could not be separated from facts.

President Saddam Hussein's most advanced weapon was his rhetoric, expertly targeted on the Arab and Muslim worlds. He presented himself as every Arab's brother, and if he also was a bully, his bullying was supposed to be overlooked for the sake of the Arab family -- and if not overlooked, then praised as a sign of Arab strength.

Iraq's neighbors anxiously complied for years and made Mr. Hussein stronger. In hindsight, he overstepped himself with the invasion of Kuwait; he made the bullying impossible to hide.

His neighbors sought protection by joining a military coalition organized by the United States. Mr. Hussein responded by firing insults. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and his advisers were "evil men," "plotters." President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was "a clown and a liar."

Mr. Hussein never sounded less than supremely confident. "It would be an honor for the believers to fight in one of the days of this battle," he said to inspire his troops and to intimidate the West. He cast the fight as against economic oppression and for the liberation of Palestine.

"For these reasons," he concluded in a phrase no one forgot, "the battle in which you are locked today is the mother of all battles."

The best publicist for the coalition was Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, its military commander. He might have been cast for the role by Hollywood: physically imposing, sharp-tongued, equipped with a chip-on-the-shoulder confidence. He looked born to be saluted.

General Schwarzkopf made his prediction in September. "Iraq is going to lose," he said, "and they're going to lose big time."

At the time, his prediction was part bluff. In September, he was four months away from having the forces necessary to launch an offensive. By January, when more than 500,000 troops were here, his army still was outnumbered in soldiers and outgunned in tanks and artillery, and by large measures.

"So you can see basically what our problem was at that time," he said after the shooting was over. "We had to come up with some way to make up the difference."

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Part of the solution was the air campaign. In his message to the U.S. troops on the first morning of the war, General Schwarzkopf called the bombing "the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm."

The 750 missions of the first morning were only a squall. By the time the United States and Iraq agreed to a tentative cease-fire, pilots had flown 110,000 missions over Kuwait and Iraq, roughly four times the number flown against Japan during the last year of World War II.

Iraq's military infrastructure was the first target: airfields, command centers, ammunition dumps and the industrial complexes dedicated to chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Pilots flew 2,000 missions a day, then 2,500, 2,700 and eventually more than 3,000.

Iraq responded with Scud missiles, the second night of the war. Seven missiles in the first barrage were fired into Israel and one toward Dhahran, headquarters of Saudi Arabia's oil industry and site of a key air base. Militarily, the results were insignificant. Politically, the damage was devastating -- but only for Iraq.

A Scud, judged by current missile technology, is notable for its crudeness; it is a "dumb" weapon, unguided after launch, an arrow carrying up to 1,000 pounds of explosives shot into the air. Of the 81 Scuds launched by Iraq, only one hit a military target, a military dormitory in a suburb of Dhahran, where the blast and fire killed 28 U.S. reservists.

No other weapon did as much to strengthen the coalition. Saudis, originally either uneasy about the war or oblivious to it, fled Riyadh and Dhahran, the largest cities within Scud range. When people returned, they came as eager hawks and newly convinced that Mr. Hussein was a real enemy.

Scuds also failed to have their intended effects on Israel. Israel chose not to repond militarily -- or failed to find a way to do so. Whatever the reason for Israel's restraint, Mr. Hussein lost his chance to recast the war as a battle between Arabs and Jews. Israel gained grudging respect from sworn enemies, leaving Iraq isolated.

Iraq continued to invoke higher powers. "God is on our side," Mr. Hussein told CNN in Baghdad, when the air campaign ended its second week. "And whoever has God on his side is never defeated."

Coalition members invoked the power of technology. At least once a week, senior officers appeared before television cameras in Riyadh or at the Pentagon to screen the latest films from aircraft dropping laser-guided munitions. Almost invariably, the targets were shown exploding.

Cameras and reporters played an important role in the coalition's strategy, but not the role the press would have knowingly chosen. Journalists fumed about Pentagon rules that allowed fewer than 200 reporters into the field, and only on the condition that whatever they taped or wrote was submitted to military censors. More than a thousand other reporters were more or less forced to spend the war in hotels.

Commanders meanwhile used the press to help deceive Iraq. In November, reporters were taken aboard vessels participating in what was billed as a rehearsal for an amphibious landing by Marines, maneuvers that were a feint.

They were intended to persuade Iraq that such landings would occur and to shift its forces accordingly. By giving wide coverage to the exercise, the press contributed to the deception while being a victim of it.

From the beginning, deception was to be paired with air strikes in the strategy for overcoming Iraq's numerically superior forces. As U.S. troops arrived in Saudi Arabia, they were deployed where they would not be used, to tempt Iraq to concentrate its defenses there.

Iraq obligingly fulfilled its role. When U.S. and allied forces were stationed directly opposite Iraqi forces in southeastern Kuwait, Iraqi troops began expanding their minefields and digging new trenches. The same thing happened when an allied naval task force appeared in the Persian Gulf off the Kuwaiti coast.

It was all a ruse. Air strikes were destroying the remnants of the Iraqi air force and blinding Iraqi commanders; the Iraqis were left without a way to observe troop movements on the Saudi side of the border. And then General Schwarzkopf ordered at least one-third of his forces to move west, where Iraq had neglected to shore up its defenses.

Everyone traveling by car during mid-January along the highway connecting Dhahran to Riyadh saw the shift. Every day thousands of flatbed trucks were traveling west and then turning north toward the border. Truck after truck carried neatly stacked artillery rounds. People grumbled at the traffic; they usually remained oblivious that what they were passing was the manifestation of a grand strategy.

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Success in a ground campaign was dependent more on success the air campaign than on deceit. Bombing continued without letup but was redirected against troops in and around Kuwait. By the time the ground invasion began, Iraqi units along the border had lost as many as 50 percent of their men and equipment to air strikes and the desertions the bombing helped inspire.

With few exceptions, U.S. soldiers had yet to see their opponents face-to-face, or even tank-to-tank. Pilots dropped bombs, sometimes filmed the effects but were not on the ground to feel them. The battleships Wisconsin and Missouri, after launching cruise missiles, fired several dozen rounds from their giant guns, but when the ships were miles from shore.

Direct contact was limited to border skirmishes in the desert and the one battle initiated by Iraq, at the Saudi town called Khafji. Iraqi tanks and other armored vehicles held the town for part of an afternoon and night. Iraq lost about 400 men as casualties or prisoners of war, at least four times the casualties of the town's defenders. Iraq proclaimed a great victory, saying Khafji was "the omen of the thundering storm that will blow over the Arabian desert."

The storm, when it came, arrived from the opposite side of the border, and the violence was of unparalleled complexity and speed. In 100 hours, beginning at 4 a.m. Feb. 24, the coalition's ground invasion decimated the 42 divisions composing Iraq's 500,000-member army in the Kuwaiti theater.

Iraq's eight Republican Guard divisions, the country's elite force, were defeated in the largest U.S. armored attack since World War II.

The largest helicopter assault in military history moved U.S. and French forces from the Saudi-Iraqi border to the Euphrates River, within 150 miles of Baghdad, until those columns turned toward the Iraqi city of Basra and helped close a vise around the Republican Guards and Kuwait.

Even for armies, there were terrifying amounts of violence. Marine Capt. Mike Ettore talked of the apparent superiority of U.S. M-1A1 tanks against any target -- "I mean, if they saw it, they killed it" -- and then the shock of finding six fully loaded troop trucks coming within range. "They were just annihilated."

Iraqi armor usually fell victim to allied helicopters and planes before encountering tanks. "We heard one of the pilots saying on the radio, 'It was like a turkey shoot,' " Captain Ettore said after an Iraqi mechanized column tried to escape north. "We passed that column the next day, and it look like a junkyard."

Iraq prepared to fight a slower, different war. Its last tanks tried to protect themselves by retreating into roadside shelters. Tracks left in the sand helped guide aircraft to the shelters, and heat-seeking missiles then locked onto the hot engines of the hidden tanks.

When Marines reached Kuwait City, some advanced through dense black smoke from the oil fields set alight by Iraq. Officers needed flashlights to read maps at noon. A Marine described the scene as "something out of Dante's 'Inferno.' "

Operation Desert Storm continued through another night in a tank battle to the north, the one slugging match of the war. By the next dawn Iraq's tank force was whittled from 4,200 to one-tenth that number or less; its soldiers were prisoners, dead or trying to walk home; because very little remained, the fighting stopped.

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