Paratroops, Ground Troops Up Next

ByABC News
March 20, 2003, 10:56 AM

March 20 -- As Operation Iraqi Freedom unfurls at a furious pace, air power is expected to intensify over Baghdad and special forces operations are likely paving the way for what could be one of the largest airborne operations in decades.

"What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict," said Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said today. "It will be of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before."

Making Way for Shock and Awe

ABCNEWS' John McWethy reported that military sources affirm the air campaign is intensifying and will continue to focus on government and military leadership targets.

At the same time, air and ground forces have begun to clear territory south of Baghdad to open passages for more ground and air power. This involves taking out sand berms and missiles and artillery that still threaten U.S. forces in Kuwait.

Preparing southern regions will also involve removing air defense radar and communications in the region, say military sources, so Baghdad can't know when aircraft is approaching. This will clear the way for what has long been touted as the U.S. military's "shock and awe" air assaults.

Retired Gen. Richard Hawley, former commander of Air Combat Command, expects the powerful wave of air attacks could last two to three days and will be aimed at a number of targets. The air power is likely to strike any areas where military leadership is based, including bunkers and government buildings. It will also seek to take out all of Baghdad's air defense systems to eliminate the city's ability to defend itself.

The bombs will also likely target Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard units.

"These are the ones who are expected to fight," said Hawley. "By targeting them we will try and demonstrate to the other Iraqi troops that it will be senseless to resist."

Chute to Kill

In addition to the airstrikes, there are plans for a massive drop of paratroopers, say military sources, in what will be the largest airborne operation in decades. Thousands of U.S. troops are expected to parachute into Iraq to help seize remote airfields and secure bridges and command centers.