War in Iraq may last well into summer months

THE war on Iraq looks set to stretch into the summer as the United States switches tactics, focusing on building up its forces and launching pulverising air raids before going in for the kill with a massive ground assault.

In short, it looks like the military top brass is borrowing heavily from the war manual used in the first Gulf War.

Aerial and artillery bombardment on targets in and around Baghdad continued unabated yesterday even as American troops in central Iraq battened down for a prolonged engagement, digging trenches and laying mines around their camps.

While the word from the Pentagon is that there will be no operational pause, Reuters reported that US troops with one frontline unit had been told by their officers to expect a pause that could last 35 to 40 days because of overstretched supply lines and the need to overcome stiff Iraqi resistance in the south.

The air strikes yesterday zoomed in on military facilities.

These included Baghdad’s Abu Garayb presidential palace, the Karada intelligence complex and a paramilitary training centre.

Air raids also targeted the oil hub of Kirkuk, Mosul in the north and Basra in the south.

British forces encircling Basra reported yesterday the capture of two high-ranking paramilitary leaders.

An Iraqi general was also captured and a Republican Guard colonel killed. British military spokesman, Group Captain Al Lockwood, said of the captive general: ‘We’ll be asking him quite politely if he’s willing assist us to continue our operations against the paramilitary forces in Basra.’

Allied generals faced with guerilla tactics by Iraqi paramilitary forces have all but abandoned the early war plan premised on a blitzkrieg approach – a short, stunning aerial assault followed by a swift push towards Baghdad.

They are now more inclined to pursue a more conventional strategy employed in the 1991 Gulf War, with weeks of air strikes aimed at Republican Guard units ringing Baghdad, and resuming major ground attacks after the reinforcements come in.

Top Army officers told the Washington Post that in effect they would have to restart the war and that fighting could extend well into the summer.

When asked about the possibility, US Central Command chief Tommy Franks, would only say: ‘No one knows how long a war will take.’

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted yesterday that the current US military strategy was ‘excellent’ but he cautioned that the going would get even tougher for the allied troops.

A major concern now is protecting supply lines running 350 km back to Kuwait from suicide bomb attacks.

An Iraqi military spokesman said yesterday it had 4,000 potential ‘martyrs’ from across the Arab world.

US military planners also forsee tougher and politically risker tactics associated with siege warfare, such as cutting power supplies to cities.

Said one planner: ‘Do you want to see pictures on CNN of the baby who died because power to the incubator was cut off?’

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