Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday, February 19, 2003
In important ways, the Gulf War of 2003 has already begun. From armed attacks on opposing forces to covert preparations, both the United States and Iraq are heavily involved in military actions:
• Twice last week, American and British jets attacked Iraqi missile sites, part of stepped-up allied activity in the southern no-fly zone.
• On the ground, Special Forces soldiers and CIA operatives already are inside Iraq, working with Iraqis who oppose Saddam Hussein, preparing airstrips and communications facilities, and taking note of potential targets for air attack.
• Iraq, too, is on the move, taking steps that include dispersing its forces to limit the effects of an expected initial air attack.
More than anything, both sides are engaged in the behind-the-scenes efforts that can be crucial to military success: positioning troops, securing supply lines, scouting behind enemy lines, and probing the strength of a foe’s defenses.
Even as a diplomatic impasse on Iraq continues at the United Nations, these operations represent the early phase of military efforts that could shape how any war plays out.
The first phase of war also seems to be raising the curtain on a new US approach to defending itself around the world: preemptive attacks instead of just holding in check the source of a threat to national security.
There’s no doubt that the US – alone if it had to – could subdue Iraq in fairly short order. With nearly 150,000 troops and five aircraft carrier battle groups in the region, plus heavy bombers within easy flying range, the US is demonstrating its undoubted position as the most militarily powerful nation in history.
This is saber rattling on a very large scale, designed to demoralize Iraqi forces and compel Hussein to realize that he cannot survive with his weaponry – and perhaps his regime – intact.
Meanwhile, the maneuvering at the United Nations is likely to have the effect of changing the nature of any conflict in Iraq. Officials say it now looks likely that any full-blown military action won’t happen until later in March or perhaps even April, when temperatures will have begun soaring, making combat much harder for US soldiers.