Pentagon: attack will be short but awesome

President Bush and his top military and civilian advisers fine-tuned plans yesterday for the impending and seemingly inevitable attack on Iraq, which the Pentagon says would be overwhelmingly massive, designed to stun the Iraqis into speedy submission.

After reviewing his plans with senior field commanders at his regional headquarters in Qatar, General Tommy Franks, who would be in direct charge of the war, briefed Mr Bush at the White House. Also present were Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon's most senior uniformed officer.

Confirming that the US and Britain envisaged a blitzkrieg-style onslaught against Saddam Hussein, General Myers told American reporters the goal was "a short conflict".

That could be achieved by "such a shock to the system that the Iraqi regime would have to assume early on that the end was inevitable". In words which seemed to foreshadow a massive air and ground assault on Baghdad itself, General Myers said a new war would be very different from Operation Desert Storm in 1991, which began with a 40-day bombing campaign.

This time, Pentagon officials say, 10 times the quantity of precision-guided bombs and missiles will be delivered.

Ground and air attacks will open virtually simultaneously, analysts said, in what has been described a "shock and awe" campaign. This would see heavy precision bombardment of strategic and other "regime" targets, coupled with a rapid ground thrust from the south by American and British forces. Special forces, some units of which are already on the ground inside western and northern Iraq, would race to secure Iraq's oil fields and, if possible, destroy Iraq's Scud missile sites.

Addressing reporters who planned to cover the fighting from Baghdad, General Myers said: "I would just be very, very careful about how you do your business." His words were the most explicit so far from a top US official on the shape of a war.

General Myers also made clear that with or without Turkey's agreement, the US would launch a second front from the north ­ implying that thousands of US troops would be airlifted into northern Iraq, instead of driving overland.

Yesterday, despite a statement from the Turkish armed forces that it was in the country's best interests to support Washington, it was still unclear whether the Ankara parliament would be convened to vote again on the deployment of up to 62,000 American troops in Turkey.

More than 20 navy cargo ships, with equipment for the 4th Infantry Division, are still waiting off the Turkish coast. "It'll be tougher without Turkey," General Myers acknowledged. "But nevertheless it'll happen."

With a decision on war perhaps only days away, more than 300,000 US troops have now either been sent to the Gulf or ordered to go ­ well above the 250,000 regarded as the level giving General Franks a full range of options. Mr Rumsfeld has hinted Washington might go for a rolling campaign with extra units sent in.

* America expelled two members of Iraq's UN mission yesterday and told them to get out of the country within 72 hours for activities considered "harmful" to US security, the State Department said.

The two were described as diplomats but Iraq's UN ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri, said they were security guards.

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