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Friday, March 21

'Shock and awe' combines destruction, protection

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - Never have so many bombs been dropped so quickly with the aim of sparing so many lives.

The vaunted "shock and awe" air campaign launched against Iraq on Friday is unprecedented in its intensity, precision and its seemingly contradictory ambitions of obliterating targets while preserving lives.

"What is taking place today is as precisely targeted as any campaign in history," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. "Every single target has been analyzed and is being appropriately dealt with. It is an enormously impressive humane effort."

The shock and awe campaign began shortly before 9 p.m. Iraq time (1 p.m. EST) as a U.S.-led coalition hammered military targets in and near Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk, lighting the sky with billowing red smoke.

Pentagon officials said throughout the campaign, which is expected to last a few days, U.S. bombers will be hitting hundreds of military targets, mainly around Baghdad with precision guided bombs dropped from jets and stealth bombers and cruise missile launched from B-52s.

Attack plans call for 3,000 air sorties launched from five aircraft carriers in the region and more than two dozen bases.

Early in the bombing, it was apparent how precise the coalition aircraft were capable of being.

Even after hours of blasting, the lights in Baghdad were still on, indicating the bombers were intent on leaving as much of the civilian infrastructure in place as possible.

"This is a far cry from the origins of air power 50 years ago," said Max Boot, an expert on national security and author of "The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power." "The collateral damage is going to be minimal compared to bombing 20 or 30 years ago."

Minimizing civilian casualties will be crucial for the Bush administration in winning support from Arab allies and minimizing anger in the Muslim world.

Much of the success of the campaign depends on military planners doing their homework and mastering their craft.

Target vetting

Target selection was an art in the early days of air campaigns, but in this campaign it's a highly precise science.

Military planners, navigators and special operation units secretly scouting Iraq have spent months selecting targets and taking precise grid coordinate readings to ensure bombs don't go astray.

At the same time, they've been carefully preparing a list of locations including mosques, hospitals, power plants, schools and residential areas that are off limits.

To help ensure accuracy, military target lists were developed in part using databases from aid organizations and other agencies that work in Iraq.

"Every target is a regime-change target, we?ve made sure of that," said retired Adm. Stephen Baker, a military analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Defense Information. "I can't think of a city in the world that has been more digitized than Baghdad. Every part of that city is on computer down to a very high resolution."

Air Force target analysts use a process called "bug splat" to determine what to hit and what weapon to use.

It?s complex computation that allows "targeteers," as they?re called, to determine how far a bomb blast and the accompanying fragmentation will spread.

For example, if a bomb explodes above the ground, there is nothing to muffle the blast and shrapnel so it travels farther and that must be calculated.

Adjusting the angle the bomb strikes from also affects its bug-splat profile.

"Keeping civilian casualties to a minimum has become a very refined process," Baker said.

Success or failure

Proof that process is working will come as much from survivors as from damage estimates.

"I think you'll find that success in this campaign will be determined by how many Iraqis come out with their hands up," Boot said.

As the bombing got under way, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sought to encourage Iraqi forces to surrender, urging them to "stop fighting that you may live to enjoy a free Iraq where you and your children can grow and prosper."

Rumsfeld said he was heartened by signs that the intensity of the attack was prompting many Iraqi military units and their commanders to consider a cease-fire or giving up.

He said that coalition officials have held talks with members of Iraq's elite Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard units about defecting or surrendering.

"Coalition forces are striking on a scope and scale that makes clear to the Iraqis that Saddam Hussein and his regime are finished," he said.

The next few days, however, could also produce reminders that even the world's best precision-guided bombs miss their targets 7 percent to 10 percent of the time.

"We'll know in the next couple of days how successful all this has been," said Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University. "If it didn't all go according to plan and we accidentally hit a hospital we'll hear about it, and there will be hell to pay."