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US loading gun for blitz

Washington, Feb. 2: The Pentagon’s war plan for Iraq calls for unleashing 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles in the first 48 hours of the opening air campaign, an effort intended to stagger and isolate the Iraqi military and quickly pave the way for a ground attack to topple a government in shock.

The initial bombardment would use 10 times the number of precision-guided weapons fired in the first two days of the Persian Gulf War of 1991, and the targets would be air defences, political and military headquarters, communications facilities and suspected chemical and biological delivery systems, military and other Pentagon officials say.

Military planners said the immediate goals would be to break the Iraqi army’s will to fight, driving a large number of troops to surrender or defect — and offering them guarded sanctuary if they do — while cutting off the leadership in Baghdad in hopes of causing a rapid collapse of the government of President Saddam Hussein.

The air campaign would be carried out by about 500 air force attack, radar-jamming and support planes flying from bases scattered across the Gulf, as well as by navy planes from either four or five aircraft carriers, each carrying about 80 attack and support aircraft. About 300 American warplanes are already based at airfields north and south of Iraq. Two of the aircraft carriers are now stationed in the region, with two more scheduled to arrive within striking distance later this month.

The air war would be significant for what the targets will not be as much as for what they will be. Because the US wants to help rebuild Iraq quickly after any conflict, the air campaign is intended to limit damage to Iraqi infrastructure and to minimise civilian casualties.

“The challenges in this air campaign will be to achieve certain military and psychological effects at the outset, but have as much of the infrastructure existing when it’s over,” said General Ronald R. Fogleman, a former air force chief of staff who is a member of the Defence Policy Board, a panel that advises defence secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The ground war would be carried out by two army divisions and an expanded Marine Expeditionary Force. The army’s 3rd Infantry Division and a contingent of Marines would be assigned to punch north from Kuwait.

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