If it comes to war with Iraq, the United States plans to rely on speed and overwhelming firepower on the ground. Momentum is crucial, military sources told ABCNEWS.
An intense air bombardment of just a few days would start a U.S.-led war against Iraq but then a major push of American and British ground troops — more than 100,000 — would roll into southern Iraq, sources said.
As U.S. troops push north from the Kuwaiti border, they will not pause long to deal with pockets of resistance. Instead, they will isolate those pockets and keep on moving toward Baghdad 300 miles up the road, sources said.
While the main body of allied troops will be heading north, smaller contingents will be pushing toward Baghdad from the western desert and northern part of Iraq controlled by the Kurds. With this approach, U.S. military leaders would open three fronts against the Iraqis.
Administration sources said even if Turkey refuses to allow American ground troops to enter northern Iraq from Turkish territory, the Bush administration is prepared to move ahead anyway. A much lighter U.S. force would be inserted into northern Iraq, coming in by air, landing at airfields that special forces are already surveying in Kurdish controlled territory.
New Apache Even More Powerful
As a ground assault begins, U.S. military officials expect many of Iraq's 2,000 tanks — along with tens of thousands of troops — to dig in near cities.
The U.S.-led effort will go after the Iraqis with a combination of M-1 tanks and Apache helicopters — the same one-two punch that decimated Iraqi armor 12 years ago in the Persian Gulf War.
The helicopter, now called Apache Longbow, has been heavily upgraded with better radar, more firepower and a longer range.
"It's powerful, it's lethal, it's effective," said Lt. Col. John Williams, who now runs the Apache Longbow pilot training program at Ft. Rucker, Alabama. "We can engage targets out to five miles away … beyond the range the enemy can see us."
Flying at 150 miles an hour, just feet off the ground, the Apache Longbow can track more than 100 targets, passing information instantly to other helicopters that are all armed with 30 mm cannon, rockets and Hellfire missiles.
The Army intends, whenever possible, to fight in darkness. American forces have a huge advantage because of night vision equipment. For the Apache Longbow, darkness provides even cover.
"We can set the conditions of the battlefield," said Capt. Kevin Belden. "And we can engage him when he can't see us or engage us."
Offensive Computer Attacks Expected
Any fight against Iraq will also involve combat of a very different kind.
U.S. forces will launch the largest offensive attack on computers and communications links ever attempted, sources said The goal will be not to destroy Iraqi communications, but to control them in ways never before possible.
"Special forces have now been trained so that they can break into land lines," said ABCNEWS military analyst Anthony Cordesman, "and actually either monitor what's going on inside those systems or feed in false information."
War planners said two huge questions remain unanswered: whether the Iraqi army will stand and fight and whether Iraqi people will regard American troops as liberators or occupiers. How the United States conducts the ground war will help shape the answers to both.