Assessing the U.S. Campaign

Most experts agree that contrary to the sense that has been created in the last few days, including in the media, there have not been any particularly tough battles to date.

Amnon Barzilai, Haaretz Correspondent
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Amnon Barzilai, Haaretz Correspondent

There has never been a war with such a high level of disinformation about what exactly is happening on the battlefield as the present conflict in Iraq, according to Israeli researchers and senior military officers.

Former Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin Shahak, and Major Generals (res.) Yossi Peled and Ilan Biran, Brigadier General (res.) Avigdor Kahalani and Professor Martin van Creveld, are almost all in agreement on another point: Contrary to the sense that has been created in the last few days, including in the media, there have not been any particularly tough battles in Iraq so far, and the American military has chalked up a series of achievements.

Others in the IDF and the defense establishment agree with this assessment, and do not attach any great importance to the problems the Americans have encountered in the last few days. According to Shahak, Israelis are "frustrated that the Iraqi regime has still not collapsed, which would suit us. You don't hear such frustration expressed in the U.S. over the pace of the campaign. I didn't think that it was possible to win a war like this and bring about the collapse of a regime within three days. I would counsel patience. The Americans are very determined to go all the way."

Ilan Biran, the former GOC Central Command and ex-director general of the Ministry of Defense, says "the problems encountered by the U.S. Army, and which were captured on television, like the POWs, do not change the broad picture, which is one of the impressive capabilities of the American forces on sea and on land."

Most of those interviewed agree that, paradoxically, despite the unprecedented media coverage of the war, including the many correspondents who are embedded in fighting units, nobody knows what is really happening in Iraq. Yossi Peled, former GOC Northern Command, thinks the U.S. has shown great skill in its control of the media. "You have lots of television crews in the field, yet as someone watching TV you have no overall picture."

Military historian Prof. Martin van Creveld goes further: "Everyone is lying about everything all the time, and it is difficult to say what is happening. I've stopped listening. All the pictures shown on TV are color pieces which have no significance."

"There is a lot of disinformation," he concludes. "Every word that is spoken is suspect."

Shahak says that until now the American's have managed to conceal their true battle plan. "Do you know what the Americans have planned? I don't. They also never said (what they were planning to do). How do you topple a regime in 48 hours? In a week? Seventeen days? If we don't want to make fools of ourselves, we should wait patiently. It would just be arrogant to judge from what we see on TV."

Van Creveld supports the view that the we know little about the American war plan. "I have a list of questions for which I haven't found answers," he said. "Did the American forces cross the Euphrates on their way to Nasiriyah? How far are they from Baghdad? What is air division 101 doing? It is clear to me that the U.S. troops are advancing, but the significance of this advance is not clear. And are the achievements real or not."

Shahak points out that the Americans are engaging in psychological warfare, far more than they have in conflicts in the past 20-30 years. "It is not clear how effective it is," he says.

How is the overall operation going from the American point of view? Peled believes that, so far, it is proceeding well. "The commentators can say what they want, but to cross a distance of 500 km in the desert with such a (large) force, and while encountering skirmishes, is not easy. I think the Americans have managed to stick to their plan. They have faced resistance... but they are proceeding towards their main goal - Baghdad."

Peled emphasizes what he sees as the two main achievements by the Allied forces so far: their fast advance across the desert, and their success in preventing the oil wells from being set alight.

Kahalani agrees that preventing the burning of the oil wells has been one of the main achievements. He also points to the taking over of western Iraq, the decision not to get waylayed in the southern cities, and the preservation of the bridges.

Shahak also believes that the number of casualties sustained by the U.S.-led forces so far has not been high, in relation to the total number of troops the Allied forces have arrayed on the battlefield. In order to reach Baghdad, he says, it was clear that the Americans would have to invade Iraq.

Despite Turkey's refusal to allow the U.S. to move troops into Iraq from its territory - a decision which ruled out any invasion from the north - the Allied forces are advancing at a good pace, he says.

"They have not been drawn into major battles, and they have circumvented some of the Iraqi military forces so as not to get worn down. Their aim is not to wipe out every tank, but to bring about the collapse of the regime."

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