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Rumsfeld's strategy under fire as war risks become increasingly apparent

WASHINGTON—Five days into the war, the optimistic assumptions of the Pentagon's civilian war planners have yet to be realized, the risks of the campaign are becoming increasingly apparent and some current and retired military officials are warning that there may be a mismatch between Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's strategy and the force he's sent to carry it out.

The outcome of the war isn't in doubt: Iraq's forces are no match for America and its allies. But, so far, defeating them is proving to be harder, and it could prove to be longer and costlier in American and Iraqi lives than the architects of the American war plan expected.

And if weather, Iraqi resistance, chemical weapons or anything else turned things suddenly and unexpectedly sour, the backup force, the Army's 4th Infantry Division, is still in Texas with its equipment sailing around the Arabian peninsula.

Despite the aerial pounding they've taken, it's not clear that Saddam Hussein, his lieutenants or their praetorian guard are either shocked or awed. Instead of capitulating, some regular Iraqi army units are harassing American supply lines. Contrary to American hopes—and some officials' expectations—no top commander of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard has capitulated. Even some ordinary Iraqis are greeting advancing American and British forces as invaders, not as liberators.

"This is the ground war that was not going to happen in (Rumsfeld's) plan," said a Pentagon official. Because the Pentagon didn't commit overwhelming force, "now we have three divisions strung out over 300-plus miles and the follow-on division, our reserve, is probably three weeks away from landing."

Asked Monday about concerns that the coalition force isn't big enough, Defense Department spokesperson Victoria Clarke replied: "... most people with real information are saying we have the right mix of forces. We also have a plan that allows it to adapt and to scale up and down as needed."

Knowledgeable defense and administration officials say Rumsfeld and his civilian aides at first wanted to commit no more than 60,000 American troops to the war on the assumption that the Iraqis would capitulate in two days.

Intelligence officials say Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and other Pentagon civilians ignored much of the advice of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency in favor of reports from the Iraqi opposition and from Israeli sources that predicted an immediate uprising against Saddam once the Americans attacked.

The officials said Rumsfeld also made his disdain for the Army's heavy divisions very clear when he argued about the war plan with Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the allied commander. Franks wanted more and more heavily armed forces, said one senior administration official; Rumsfeld kept pressing for smaller, lighter and more agile ones, with much bigger roles for air power and special forces.

"Our force package is very light," said a retired senior general. "If things don't happen exactly as you assumed, you get into a tangle, a mismatch of your strategy and your force. Things like the pockets (of Iraqi resistance) in Basra, Umm Qasr and Nasariyah need to be dealt with forcefully, but we don't have the forces to do it."

"The Secretary of Defense cut off the flow of Army units, saying this thing would be over in two days," said a retired senior general who has followed the evolution of the war plan. "He shut down movement of the 1st Cavalry Division and the1st Armored Division. Now we don't even have a nominal ground force."

He added ruefully: "As in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, we are using concepts and methods that are entirely unproved. If your strategy and assumptions are flawed, there is nothing in the well to draw from."

In addition, said senior administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, Rumsfeld and his civilian aides rewrote parts of the military services' plans for shipping U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf, which they said resulted in a number of mistakes and delays, and also changed plans for calling up some reserve and National Guard units.

"There was nothing too small for them to meddle with," said one senior official. "It's caused no end of problems, but I think we've managed to overcome them all."

Robin Dorff, the director of national security strategy at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., said three things have gone wrong in the campaign:

_A "mismatch between expectations and reality."

_The threat posed by irregular troops, especially the 60,000 strong Saddam Fedayeen, who are harassing the 300-mile-long supply lines crucial to fueling and resupplying the armor units barreling toward Baghdad.

_The Turks threatening to move more troops into northern Iraq, which could trigger fighting between Turks and Kurds over Iraq's rich northern oilfields.

Dorff and others said that the nightmare scenario is that allied forces might punch through to the Iraqi capital and then get bogged down in house-to-house fighting in a crowded city.

"If these guys fight and fight hard for Baghdad, with embedded Baathists stiffening their resistance at the point of a gun, then we are up the creek," said one retired general.

Dr. John Collins, a retired Army colonel and former chief researcher for the Library of Congress, said the worst scenario would be sending American troops to fight for Baghdad. He said every military commander since Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese strategist, has hated urban warfare.

"Military casualties normally soar on both sides; innocent civilians lose lives and suffer severe privation; reconstruction costs skyrocket," Collins said, adding that fighting for the capital would cancel out the allied advantages in air and armor and reduce it to an Infantry battle house to house, street by street.

Another retired senior officer said the Apache Longbow helicopter gunships that were shot up badly Sunday had been sent on a deep strike against Republican Guard divisions guarding the approaches to Baghdad. He and others said the Apaches shouldn't have been used that way.

"They should have been preceded by suppression of enemy air defenses," the general said. "There should be a barrage of long-range artillery and MLRS (Multiple-Launch Rocket System) rockets before you send the Apaches in."

Reports from the field said virtually every one of the estimated 30 to 40 Apache Longbows came back shot full of holes, as the Iraqis fired everything they had at them. One did not come back, and its two-man crew apparently was taken prisoner.

"Every division should have two brigades of MLRS launches for a campaign like this," the general said. "They do not, and the question in the end will be why they don't."

He said the Air Force was bombing day and night, but its strikes have so far failed to produce the anticipated capitulation and uprising by the Iraqi people.

One senior administration official put it this way: "'Shock and Awe' is Air Force bull---!"

Dorff said: "Expectations were raised for something that might be quick and relatively painless. What we're seeing in the first few days probably ought to dispel that. Part of the problem is that expectations were raised that we would march in and everybody would surrender—sort of the four-day scenario of 1991."

Instead of streams of surrendering Iraqi soldiers, the American and British forces report that they are holding around 2,000 enemy prisoners.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.