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Schwarzkopf's War Plan Based on Deception

February 28, 1991|JOHN M. BRODER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Allied forces had a chance to accelerate their attack and close in more quickly on the pivotal Republican Guard units north and west of Kuwait. But the various elements of the plan were so intricately meshed that pushing the attacking forces too fast would risk their outrunning their supply lines.

Schwarzkopf and his top officers, assessing the weakness of the Iraqi force, decided it was a risk worth taking--and accelerated the push by half a day.

Good generals take risks, and fools gamble, one senior Army planner in Washington said. A risk-taker can rescue himself if things go bad, he added, but a gambler bets the farm.

Schwarzkopf's risk paid off. Logistics units were able to keep up with the fast-running armor and airborne units driving toward their rendezvous with the Republican Guard. The general offered effusive praise for his supply troops, who kept fuel, water, food and ammunition close behind his advancing army.

Logistics were the province of Lt. Gen. William G. Pagonis, who said Wednesday that he borrowed his concept of constantly relocating supply bases by studying the World War II desert campaigns of North Africa fought by German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and Britain's Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.

The British won the campaign because their supply trucks could keep up with their armor. The Germans couldn't manage it, Pagonis said.

"Gen. Schwarzkopf told me, 'Don't get left in the dust,' " Pagonis said. "By that he meant don't get caught by a fast advance that would outrun the supplies."

By Tuesday morning, Iraq's army was disoriented, demoralized and unaware of what was about to befall it, Schwarzkopf said. Virtually the entire Iraqi force within Kuwait collapsed in the first 48 hours of ground combat.

"When we knew that he couldn't see us anymore, we did a massive movement of troops all the way out to the west, to the extreme west, because at that time we knew that he was still fixed in (Kuwait) with the vast majority of his forces, and once the air campaign started he would be incapable of moving out to counter this move, even if he knew we made it," Schwarzkopf said.

The allied main force--the armor-rich U.S. VII Corps, supplemented by British and French tank divisions and two U.S. airborne divisions--covered 200 miles in two days against little opposition to assume their attack positions early Tuesday against the Republican Guard.

The French 6th Armored Division set up a screen far to the west to prevent any escape or reinforcement--and also to leave the Iraqis wondering whether they might be the vanguard of a drive toward Baghdad.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. John Proctor, operations officer for the Central Command's support branch, called the armored sweep "the greatest tactical maneuver ever made."

Troops from the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division secured airfields and blocked egress across the Euphrates. The 24th Mechanized Division formed a further piece of the noose closing around the Republican Guard.

The allied troops paused to rest, refuel and rearm. Then they attacked.

The ensuing battle, which began Tuesday night, was the centerpiece of the entire campaign. U.S. strategists early on identified the Republican Guard as the backbone of the Iraqi military and the power behind Saddam Hussein's regime. They were the force that initiated the Iran-Iraq War and the troops that stormed into Kuwait on Aug. 2.

Schwarzkopf said ultimately that the war plan had as one single aim: "To put the Republican Guard out of business."

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