UWAIT, March 30 — For an American military
on the offensive, there may be no more distasteful term than
"operational pause." The military prides itself on seizing the
initiative and applying relentless pressure to defeat its foe.
So it was not surprising that Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the
chief of the United States Central Command, insisted today
that the United States military was pressing ahead with its
campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Reports from commanders
in the field that they have been ordered to pause for a few
days, General Franks insisted, are "simply not the case."
The situation, in fact, does not appear to be that simple.
The unanticipated resistance from guerrilla forces in the
south and the limited size of the American force in the region
has slowed the tempo of the war plan.
Faced with threats in the rear, the need to guard supply
lines, the imperative to consolidate logistics and the
prospect of urban warfare in Baghdad, the allied forces are
finding themselves confronting a multitude of tasks. The
American military no longer has the luxury of concentrating on
the Baghdad fight. Most military experts agree that the allies
would be in a stronger position to advance on Baghdad had the
Bush administration sent more troops.
In one sign today that troop transport to the area was
being accelerated, a contingent of the Second Armored Calvary
was told to fly directly to the gulf region.
It is not the case, though, that combat operations have
ground to a halt. In fact, American land forces have begun a
new phase of their campaign by resuming their attacks on the
Republican Guard. These are limited attacks, but still a
continuation of the offensive and a prelude for the decisive
Baghdad battle to come. The goal is to force Iraqi troops out
of their holes and revetments so they will be easier targets
for the Air Force and to generally soften up the Republican
Guard units that are defending Baghdad.
In recent days, for example, Army forces have attacked the
Medina Division, the Republican Guard force guarding the
southern approach to Baghdad. Apache helicopters from the 101st Airborne
Division struck at Medina armor positions near the city of
Karbala on Friday night.
The Third Infantry Division, for its part, has advanced 10
more miles. The Marines have also joined the attack on the
Republican Guards. The Marines' Third Air Wing has bombed the
Baghdad Division, an infantry unit that is stationed southeast
of the city, and the Al Nida Division.
The Iraqis have responded to the attack by rushing more
forces to the battlefields. As the Medina Division has been
pounded from the air, Iraqi ground forces have been moving
south to fill the gaps in the division's position.
The Adnan Division, a Republican Guard unit that was moved
from Mosul to Tikrit, Mr. Hussein's hometown north of Baghdad,
has moved again. Most of the division has now taken up
positions close to Baghdad to strengthen the defense of the
capital, while a small element is still in Tikrit.
A central issue before American commanders is whether to
begin a major, all-out attack on the Republican Guards
defending Baghdad with the current force or to wait for
reinforcements to arrive. Eager to portray the American
campaign in Iraq as an unqualified success, General Franks
insisted that American forces were flowing to the region on a
previously determined schedule and that he had made no
requests for additional troops.
"The plan you see is the plan we have been on," General
That is generally the case, but it is not the entire story.
The Pentagon has planned to send the force in stages. The
several divisions that are to be sent in the next several
weeks or months were intended primarily to help stabilize Iraq
after Mr. Hussein is toppled. But it was also recognized that
the troops being sent were an insurance force that could be
used in the invasion of Iraq if the opposition was
By putting off the main attack on Baghdad, General Franks
could, in effect, build up the invasion force. But the
Pentagon would be able to say that it was simply sticking to
an earlier plan for placement of the troops and not making an
emergency request for additional forces, a move that would be
politically damaging and that would imply that American
officials had not planned properly for the war.
Such a move could give the allies more forces to take on
the Republican Guard, gain control of the cities in the south
and stifle resistance from paramilitary units there and guard
Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, left the door open for this possibility today. "We have
the power to be patient in this, and we're not going to do
anything before we are ready," he said. " We'll just continue
to draw the noose tighter and tighter."
An easy way to beef up the force, for example, is to wait
for the Fourth Infantry Division. The Pentagon had kept the
division off the coast of Turkey while it sought to win
Turkey's approval for the American plan to open a second front
from Turkish soil.
After weeks of fruitless waiting, the Bush administration
finally ordered the ships carrying the division's weapons and
equipment to steam for Kuwait. The Pentagon was so confident
that it would quickly prevail that it started the war without
the division, but now it may be needed for the fight in and