Weeks of Fighting, Months of Cleaning Up May Still Be Ahead
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Iraqi army is doomed, military experts say, but weeks of tough fighting, including street battles in Kuwait City, may still lie ahead.
Analysts said Monday that U.S.-led forces - who knifed through Iraqi lines as the ground offensive began and had yet to face a significant Republican Guard force - must watch for chemical attacks, avoid hundreds of thousands of mines and disgorge Iraqi troops from urban areas.
″I suspect the Iraqi army as a whole is near collapse,″ said retired Army Col. Trevor Dupuy, a military historian and author of a book on the war in the gulf. ″But it’s a big army, and we’re not going to overwhelm them instantly.″
Dupuy predicted it could take a week or two to end the fighting. Retired Navy Adm. Thomas Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, guessed the war could last from 10 to 50 days, depending on resistance from the elite Guard.
Marine Brig. Gen. Richard Neal, spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Saudi Arabia, said Monday he would not offer a time frame for winning the war.
″All I can say is that ... we’re meeting the enemy and we’re not having any problem to date in destroying him,″ Neal told reporters.
President Bush said coalition forces ″are advancing on their objectives″ and Kuwait ″will soon be free.″
But both spoke Monday before any major battle with the 150,000-man guard, much of which was entrenched along the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. Indeed, Bush cautioned that ″there are battles yet to come and casualties to be borne.″
Moorer said the allies must first complete their encirclement of the guard. At that point, perhaps in the next day or two, ″we will know if they have managed to retain any fighting capability.″
Another unwanted prospect for the allies is that the Iraqis will resist inside Kuwait City, requiring protracted street fighting.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Alan Gropman recalled the World War II battle of Stalingrad, where Hitler’s six-month drive to conquer the Soviet city resulted in 300,000 casualties and total defeat for his 6th Army.
Kuwait City is not Stalingrad, Gropman stressed, but several weeks of house-to-house fighting may be required if Iraq vigorously contests the city. The Americans and their allies would like to bypass the city, but that may now be ″politically impossible″ because of reports of Iraqi atrocities against Kuwaiti citizens.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Leroy Suddath said he hoped the U.S. Marines and the Army’s 82nd Airborne approaching the city will step aside and allow Kuwaiti troops to lead the advance into their occupied capital.
″It’s far better for them to do it,″ Suddath said.
He said fears that the Iraqis would use their large poison gas arsenals have been lessened by allied successes in quickly breaking through the front lines and keeping on the move. But Iraq can still attack with chemicals if the allies move into more set positions, ″which would slow us and impede us but not stop us.″
The allies have also been successful in threading their way through mine fields, but ″the Iraqis have an enormous number of mines and have spread them willy-nilly,″ Moorer said. It could take weeks to clear those mines, months if the Iraqis do not help locate them.
Col. Gropman, like other analysts, expressed surprise at the ease with which the allies breached Iraq’s front lines and transported troops behind the lines.
But he too guessed it might take two or three weeks to bring about a surrender and cautioned that this depended on the allies limiting their objectives to the liberation of Kuwait.
The military might be tempted to move further into Iraq with a goal of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, Gropman said, citing a precedent from the 1950-53 Korean War.
There, U.S.-led forces recaptured within months territory occupied by North Korea, but then expanded war aims to invade the North. That drew the Chinese into the battle and resulted in a war that lasted three years - and ended in a stalemate.