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WATCHING IN SHOCK & AWE

I take back everything I ever said about the Slow Army. The Third Infantry Division is rocketing along the sands of southern Iraq at speeds usually reserved for the light recon guys. The atmosphere inside their armored vehicles must be hot, dirty, and comprehensively dusty, but the guys are sweating it out with growing pride at the job they’re doing. Keep the pedal to the metal, guys.

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For those of us who wore the uniform in the Vietnam era, the most amazing thing is not the capability of our soldiers, or their equipment, or the level of success so far. It’s not the calm, tough aura around the field grade and senior commanders. That stuff is all the norm. The amazement comes from the attitude of the press embedded with the troops.

During Vietnam, we shunned the press. They were the enemy, almost as much as the North Vietnamese were. They couldn’t be trusted, and deserved the mushroom treatment. The “five o’clock follies” body count briefings were meant to keep them at a distance. But the Newly Embedded Pressies (or “NEPs” if I am permitted to invent an acronym) are learning much in a prolonged lesson denied their predecessors. They are getting to know — and love — the guys on the line. Being there, seeing these young folks, their intelligence, training and enormous capability will implant a respect for the American soldier no other experience can. Big Dog Don Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers have built a bridge to the press that will pay off in fairness and understanding for decades to come.

But the press is still doing things that can hurt. We heard a while ago that many B-52s have taken off from bases in the U.K., and that they will be over Iraq in about five hours. I’m sure Iraqi agents could find that out for themselves, but it’s not something the press should be broadcasting. Or is it? I only hope the Iraqi army’s TV satellite dishes haven’t all been knocked out, and that Fox and MSNBC and CNN can deliver the message to whoever is left of Saddam’s regime. When the Buffs are headed in, that’s a message only the Taliban couldn’t understand. Each packs about fifty five-hundred pound bombs, and that’s enough to ruin anybody’s day. That broadcast delivered another surrender deadline to whomever was watching. Let’s hope the word gets out pretty fast. Otherwise, the Buffs will simply destroy those who don’t get the message.

We have suffered the first casualties, and the first to fall in action was a Marine officer. Several others died in the crash of a large helo yesterday. Our Brit allies have also lost men, some in that same helo crash. These deaths, and the others that will surely follow, will not diminish our leaders’ resolve, or that of the Brits or the Aussies. The Iraqis don’t understand that as the butcher’s bill is paid, our resolve only grows. As Big Dog said, Saddam’s days are numbered. And the number is getting really small.

D&I

There may still be some who are wondering what “shock and awe” means, even after the bombs fell on Baghdad after noon our time. But we need to understand that what we saw there is probably not one tenth of what is being visited upon the Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar Divisions, one near the southern city of Basra and one in the north. We didn’t turn the lights out in Baghdad, but only did our best to decapitate — and incapacitate — what may be left of Saddam’s regime.

Though reports are not at all clear, it appears that we have targeted two categories of Iraqi targets: the regime itself and the symbols of it, and those army divisions that are resisting. We have talked long and hard with the Iraqi leaders, trying to persuade them to surrender. That phase ended today with the Baghdad strike. We will talk more, but only with local commanders to accept their surrenders.

The “shock and awe” campaign will have destroyed Saddam’s palaces, the places where the WMD were created and stored, and also the places of murder and torture. The relief to the Iraqis will be palpable.

What we saw in Baghdad is a surgical strike on the regime. What is going on in the north and south will not be. Those two divisions — each commanded by a member of Saddam’s family — will be the focus of the real “shock and awe” campaign, which is designed to kill many and demoralize the rest, depriving them of the will to fight. Those who survive will soon flee or surrender.

Shock and awe. It kills, demoralizes, and will ultimately shorten the conflict.

NOT YET DONE

Don’t get too excited. It isn’t over yet. Yes, the Army has gone half the distance to Baghdad in a day. Yes, the SEALs–with the Royal Marine Commandos–have captured the major oil fields near Basra and in the north. And yes, there’s a pretty good chance that Saddam is most sincerely dead. If it seems too good to be true, it is.

Coalition forces have achieved some major strategic objectives in record time, starting with capturing the oil wells before many of them can be torched. I spoke to my friend, Col. Oliver North, who is a Fox correspondent embedded with a Marine unit. Ollie told me that the firefighters have already put out one of the oil well fires set by Saddam’s people. Ollie also told me that his helo was flying near the one that crashed last night, killing all aboard. In his usual Marine-calm voice he told me he wasn’t sure until they had returned to base that our friend and his senior producer, Griff Jenkins, wasn’t on the helo that crashed. I can only imagine the anguish he held inside until he saw that Griff was ok.

Among the other strategic objectives already achieved is the capture of the H-2 and H-3 airfields in western Iraq. These airfields are in the “Scud Box”–an area west of Baghdad where Saddam’s main Scud batteries were probably located–which is now secure. This makes it pretty certain that no Scuds will be launched at Israel, and Saddam’s people can’t ignite a wider war by killing hundreds of Israelis, inciting them to counterattack, and arab neighbors to join the fight. The latter point probably wouldn’t have worked, but if the Scuds were launched, the theory would have been put to the test.

Saddam’s entire 51st infantry division, about 8,000 men, surrendered today. Our guys are taking prisoners faster than they can manage them. But these aren’t the Republican Guards, or the “Special” Republican Guards, many of whom are dug in around Baghdad. Some of the prisoners are what’s left of the “shock and awe” airpower avalanche that fell on the areas outside Baghdad. At least one of the new “MOAB”–massive overhead air burst–weapons was used. This big brother of the old daisy cutter weighs 21,000 pounds, and has a blast radius of almost a mile. Enough to ruin an entire division’s day. The gyrenes and cav units–not to mention the spec ops guys–can fight through the night before they rest. Unconfirmed reports indicate that they won’t rest until they’re across the Euphrates River, and they may make it before we wake up tomorrow. By tomorrow night, they will be at the gates of Baghdad. But we still have to pound the remaining Republican Guards into submission. We don’t want to go house-to-house in Baghdad.

The commander of the 101st Airborne told his men, “the road home goes through Baghdad.” Let’s just hope that our guys can travel that road as quickly as they have gone today.

But the problems are just beginning. Turkey–seemingly a different nation than the ally we have known for over 50 years–has sent about 1,500 troops into Kurdistan over our strong objections. The Kurds are well-armed, and will fight the Turks. And if that isn’t enough good news, Iran has about 20,000 troops in western Iraq near the border to “protect” the Shia there.

We have made an historic mistake–equal to allowing Saddam to remain in power in 1991–by not allowing the free Iraqis to form their provisional government, recognizing them, and protecting them. Unless we do this in the next day or two, the model for the new Iraq may not be America, but Yugoslavia. What the military is about to win, the State Department is already throwing away. And if they do, the price we pay for a free Iraq–in blood and treasure–will have been only a down payment in Iraq.



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