Cover Story


Embedded reporters help put a human face on a shockingly powerful military assault. Embedded humanitarians in the command chain of Operation Iraqi Freedom help make this a genuinely George W. Bush-style operation-as compassionate conservatism goes to war

Issue: "Army of compassion," April 5, 2003

Under maritime stars and through sandy gales, from blue water seas to desert flats to rocky hills, American forces in the Gulf closed the first week of a war without end in sight. "We will stay on the path, mile by mile, all the way to Baghdad and all the way to victory," President George Bush told troops in Florida.

The opening assault on a command center in Baghdad was followed by cruise missile attacks down the Tigris River, thunderous pummels to Republican Guard strongholds, and to Saddam Hussein's gargantuan main palace.

As the Iraq minister of information tried to give a press conference beneath the opening hours of a "shock-and-awe" campaign, Iraqi TV plainly showed the room vibrating. These were no Hail Mary passes. Four-fifths of the ordinance that fell on Iraq in the first week of war was precision guided.

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Also precision guided was the simultaneous insertion of troops across the country after the initial volley of airpower on March 19. At the same time the army's Third Infantry Division rolled across the desert from Kuwait on its way to Baghdad, special forces parachuted into the western desert and the northern mountains, British soldiers seized the strategic al-Faw peninsula, and together with U.S. Marines claimed the only deepwater port at Umm Qasr. Navy SEALS scaled offshore oilrigs in a successful operation to save the country's oil supply.

The opening week of war brought, one after another, "a day and a night of a thousand targets," in the words of one Scottish newspaper. It also brought home the sobering truth of American sacrifice. Bodies of eight fallen Americans arrived at Dover Air Force Base on March 25, with more on the way.

For the New York City fire chief who cried on Sept. 11, "I need an air force," the U.S. military was on the job to unravel the terror-sponsoring regime of Saddam Hussein. Aerial bombardments ran to over 1,000 a day. In Afghanistan they averaged 95. The pace was designed to overwhelm, crumbling Iraqi morale with a bewildering array of strength.

But the oft-repeated "shock and awe" actually refers to a strategy that goes beyond brute and colorful air domination. "[T]o achieve Shock and Awe," wrote the authors of a 1996 book of the same name, requires "compliance or capitulation through very selective, utterly brutal and ruthless, and rapid application of force to intimidate." The aim, according to authors David S. Alberts and a team of military strategists at the National Defense University, "is to convince the majority that resistance is futile by targeting and harming the few."

The strategy is successful if it leads to "rapid dominance," not only of enemy forces but of the keystones to society at large-communications and the economy, along with government at all levels. In Iraq, of course, all these were under control of Saddam Hussein.

Shock and awe gained currency after the first Gulf War, usually under other names, as military strategists debated whether air power-what the experts call stand-off power-could decisively defeat the enemy alone. The post-9/11 world, where 19 men could theoretically outstrike the world's best army, made clear to experts that the old Cold War doctrine of overwhelming force could not defeat enemies who leave no address.

The first week's progress, with astonishingly swift advances here and dug-in trench warfare there, corresponds to the new and more complex-but strategists hope, ultimately more nimble-philosophy of war. What looked to outsiders like U.S. forces bogging down along the Euphrates is actually a plan unfolding rather than bursting forth.

For the commanders of Operation Iraqi Freedom, moving large numbers of coalition forces simultaneously into Iraq, while combining air and land forces into agile and close-coordinating units, are the signs of a sea change in battlefield planning.

"If you want to pressure someone to the negotiating table, air power might be enough," strategist Robin Dorff told WORLD, "but to achieve this kind of political objective-regime change-you are going to have to occupy territory. At some point you are going to have to meet troops on the ground with troops on the ground."

Mr. Dorff, chairman of the department of national security and strategy at the Army War College, said the agility drilled into the troops and programmed into their weapons and other equipment means they aren't surprised by the first week's setbacks-encounters with irregular forces, bad weather, and the ever-present danger of chemical-weapons attacks.

"We rush to reach the great lessons learned, but it is too early to say what they will be," Mr. Dorff cautioned just as the 3rd Infantry Division moved to within 50 miles of Baghdad. The battle for the capital, where U.S. soldiers face thousands of Republican Guards and booby-trapped infrastructure, he said, would be decisive.


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