WASHINGTON — The battle plan for vanquishing the Iraqi army mapped out by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf was one of the most complex military campaigns ever devised, yet it rested upon a fundamental principle as old as human conflict--deception.
From the opening minutes of the air war in the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 17 to the climactic battle with the Republican Guard, the plan was to render Iraq's army deaf and blind, deceive it on the allies' true intentions, and then suddenly--and violently--encircle and annihilate it.
Like all successful military undertakings, the U.S.-allied strategy incorporated a set of calculated risks and employed a wealth of weapons--both seen and unseen--to overwhelm a reeling foe.
The plan relied heavily on air supremacy and massive bombardments--blunt tools for killing men and tanks.
But it also employed such subtle touches as well-publicized prewar amphibious exercises to convince the Iraqis that the allies were planning to mount a major seaborne assault; covert operations deep behind enemy lines, and phony radio transmissions that masked the gigantic movement of a seven-division allied force far to the west of the point in southern Kuwait where the coalition troops were expected to attack.
"Once we had taken out his (the enemy's) eyes," the ebullient Schwarzkopf said, "we did what could best be described as the 'Hail Mary' play in football.
"This was absolutely an extraordinary move," the American commander said. "I must tell you, I can't recall any time in the annals of military history when this number of forces have moved over this distance to put themselves in a position to be able to attack."
Summarizing the campaign on the eve of conquest, the obviously elated general suppressed an instinct to swagger and said, in an understatement: "I think it was pretty effective."
Military analysts are already calling the Schwarzkopf plan a masterpiece that will be studied for generations and change the way armies fight forever.
The strategy drew on the lessons of a hundred past battles, from Hannibal's deception and defeat of the Romans at Cannae to the D-Day landing in 1944, during which the Germans were so convinced that the allies were coming ashore at Calais that they did not reinforce their small garrison at Normandy until several allied divisions had already hit the beach.
Roger Spiller, director of the Combat Studies Institute at the Army's Command and General Staff College, compared it to the plan devised by German Count Alfred von Schlieffen, who swept his forces around the French army in the early days of World War I and crushed it against its own immobile defenses.
Similarly, Spiller said, the frontal assault against the Iraqi army in Kuwait was little more than a sideshow to the massive enveloping maneuver, in which a "tremendous wave of combat power moved in a very elegant and artful way."
The Army's AirLand Battle doctrine, on which the Gulf War plan was based, represents the collective wisdom of American generals and strategists, who concluded after years of study that successful military campaigns should be founded on a handful of clearly defined concepts.
Among the doctrine's guiding principles: Mobile armies almost always defeat static defenses; control of the air and the airwaves is crucial; "synchronization" of air, land and sea forces multiplies the attacker's natural advantages; force should be concentrated on the opponent's weakness; success should be exploited and failure abandoned; and planners should identify the "center of gravity" of the opposing force, determine how best to neutralize it, and plan backwards from that point.
The Schwarzkopf plan embodied all those tenets.
While the general's presentation highlighted the action of the land war that began just four days ago, the execution of the plan began with the arrival of the first cruise missiles and F-117 Stealth fighters over downtown Baghdad during the opening minutes of the war.
Their mission was to "decapitate" the Iraqi high command by cutting communications links, destroying key government ministries and leveling places of refuge of Iraq's civilian and military leadership. Attacks on Iraq's command and control network continued throughout the entire air campaign.
Simultaneously, Iraq's airfields and air defense network were targeted--to deny the enemy the opportunity to challenge the allied aerial onslaught. As a result, Iraq's air force was never a factor in the war, and allied warplanes operated with impunity from the Turkish border to southern Kuwait.
With much of Iraq's internal communications network destroyed, the allies could begin to plant false messages with Iraqi field commanders, leaving them confused not only about the allies' plans but also about the wishes of their own high command.