By the time you read this, the city of Basra–one of the key objectives in the campaign to liberate Iraq–may be ours. The Iraqi Third Corps, headquartered there, may surrender at daybreak or sooner. When American and British troops entered the city of Umm Qasar nearby, the fall of Basra became imminent. We don’t know how many Iraqis will surrender soon, but the great numbers may surprise everyone.
The ferocity of the coalition attack is building steadily. Last night, in a very limited strike, we may have killed or crippled much of the Iraqi leadership, even Saddam. After that we paused, for the lesson to sink in. This morning, and again this evening, our bombing raids and troop advances punished the Iraqis increasingly. We have boots on the ground in southern, eastern and western Iraq. About 20,000 spec-ops guys have been there for months. They are being reinforced and replaced by regular units. This will continue tomorrow, as the pace of advance increase steadily, along with the growing air war. The best line of the war so far is whichever Pentagon official responded to Fox News’s Brett Baier’s question about whether the current attack is the “shock and awe” phase. The answer was, “If you have to ask, it isn’t.” By Sunday, we will not have to ask.
Turkey’s perfidious performance delayed, but didn’t defeat, our establishment of a northern front. We have had an “airhead” (no, not your little brother, a rough-hewn airbase) in the northern no-fly zone for some time. Now that the Turks have opened their skies to our aircraft, that airhead will be the base for us to bring in–by air assault or otherwise–enough light infantry to threaten Baghdad’s defenders as they are supported by the full-out air war that has yet to begin.
Finally, we learned an important lesson this day. We learned that the French are capable of attacking and destroying a target they find threatening. When the 10,000 Frenchmen trying to storm our Paris embassy were turned back by the two Marine gate guards who frowned at them, the fierce Parisians stormed a nearby McDonald’s, demolishing it. I am so sick of these people that I’d challenge Chirac to a duel, but for the fact that the challenged party has the privilege of choosing the weapons. I refuse to fight with nothing but silk handkerchiefs.
The shock and awe campaign appears to be ready to begin. Navy fly-guys on carriers in the Persian Gulf have shifted to “surge” operations. When they surge, the deck of the carrier becomes the at-war equivalent of an Indy pit stop. You land, get a drink, refuel, rearm, and snap that salute to the catapult officer, launching again. Iraqi resistance is there, but the pace of operations will shut that down.
We are lucky about the weather. The sand storms abated, and the ground and air people are taking advantage of that. Saddam’s “palace” compound in Baghdad appears to be burning. It is (was?) the location of the Special Republican Guard headquarters, as well as that of the Special Security Service. The former was in charge of WMD, both using it and hiding it. Hans Blip missed his chance to inspect the first place he shoulda gone. The Special Security Service was Saddam’s secret police, and its headquarters was torture central.
I’m more than a bit angry at some of our compadres on talk radio. One I listened to briefly said that the air-raid sirens in Baghdad was music to his ears. That betrays a profound lack of knowledge and appreciation of what is going on. This is certainly a proud day for America, because we are standing up for ourselves, our nation and our culture. But it is also a somber and serious day. Good young men and women are in action, risking their lives for us. It’s not a time to be dancing in the streets. If you want to hear how I think it should be handled, listen to the Oliver North Show on a local station or at www.radioamerica.org today, 3-6 P.M. EST. We’re starting with something I think everyone should appreciate. More later.
The full force of the Coalition military is being unleashed at this moment. Local commands will soon be advancing through the DMZ into Iraq proper. Commanders have been given authority to engage and destroy any opposing forces. Anyone who doesn’t surrender quickly will bear the brunt of the most massive assault the world has seen before today. Mr. Rumsfeld said it best when he repeated the president’s invitation for the Iraqis to surrender.
British forces are already engaged to the north, Harrier attack aircraft targeting missile batteries. The Iraqis will — probably by the time you read this — be feeling the initial stage of the air campaign. Being in Saddam’s military after this very moment is a life decision.
At this point, the effects of the “surgical” strike last night are unknown, at least to the public. We know that one Scud (or “al Samoud”) missile was fired at our forces massed in Kuwait and was intercepted and killed by a Patriot antimissile battery. The Iraqis also fired a second and third missile, (the second incorrectly reported as a “Sunburn” anti-ship missile, both probably “FROG” variants — free rocket over ground missiles) were also fired and were either shot down or landed harmlessly in the desert. A small aircraft, one of about sixty Iraq has fitted out as drone attack aircraft, also crashed near the First Marine Expeditionary force in northern Kuwait. Artillery fire is being exchanged across the Kuwait border.
It’s very tempting now to question what the president is doing, waiting to launch the main attack, and exposing our troops to this kind of fire. We have to be patient.
The president and his team are probably now talking directly to whatever is left of the Iraqi leadership, including possibly Saddam himself. More importantly, it is almost certain that they are talking directly to Iraqi military commanders, seeking their surrender. These talks may go on for several hours more, and if they are unsuccessful, we will see the main attack come very soon.
It is very important to note that the Iraqis haven’t yet used chemical or biological weapons against our troops, and that they haven’t — yet — fired missiles into Israel. This indicates that some of the Iraqis are taking seriously our warnings against the use of these weapons, and that they are concerned about Israeli retaliation. These are hopeful signs that this conflict can be brought to a successful conclusion quickly, and without much bloodshed. Patience is in order.
But patience is not always wise, and cannot be limitless. If the talks now ongoing do not succeed before dark in Iraq — about three hours from now — we can expect the main forces to cross into Iraq and the full capability of our forces brought to bear. As the president said last night, there will be no half measures. Let us pray the full force will not be needed. There’s always a chance, albeit a very, very small one. More later.
If the rest of the Iraq campaign is conducted with the audacity that began it, Iraq may be liberated even more quickly than we imagined. Even before the president spoke at 10:15, in the pre-dawn light of the Baghdad sky, F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters took a shot at a meeting of the Iraqi leadership. A target of opportunity — probably including Saddam or one of the other Iraqi “top five” — presented itself, and the fighters took their chance. This speaks very well about the freedom the president has granted the commanders, and their willingness to use it.
It may be days or weeks before we know if that raid scored big. Because cruise missiles were also used, we know this had to be more than just a spur-of-the-moment raid. Something big was up, and we must have had several hours to deal with it.
In his short speech, the president said that the campaign had begun, and it will not be made with half measures. In the next half day, the battle plan will unfold. Saddam’s palaces will be targeted, bridges seized, oil wells secured. Most importantly, Scud missiles will be captured or destroyed. Wednesday, Israeli civilians were ordered to unpack their gas masks, and to keep them within reach. The Israelis have been told they have three minutes to don their masks and get into their shelters from the time the horn sounds. If the Scuds, carrying chem or bio weapons, get past the spec-ops guys and the Patriot and Arrow antimissile systems, thousands of Israeli civilians may die.
This is — as we learned in Vietnam — the ultimate in reality TV. Much of the war will go on beyond the scope of even the embedded TV correspondents. Actions by SEALs, Marine Recon, Army Rangers, and Green Berets, will be numerous and exceedingly quick. They are going on, I am sure, as I write this. They will continue, as the brief precursor to the “shock and awe” stage. Coming soon, probably later Thursday, will be an airborne avalanche on Iraqi military targets. About ten times the bomb tonnage dropped in the entire 1991 Gulf War will fall in only a few days. After that, the massive ground forces should be able to move with extraordinary speed.
At home, we can do little except pray for our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who are now in harm’s way. This “reality TV” is real people, shooting real bullets, and bleeding real blood. God grant us that few of our people — and our allies’ — are lost. Our forces are worried about how to handle, feed and guard the thousands of Iraqis who may surrender quickly. That is one problem I hope they have in spades. More follows.