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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coalition Plans 'Rolling Start' for a War in Iraq

CAMP DOHA, Kuwait -- The U.S.-led coalition that is preparing to topple Saddam Hussein's government is planning for a complex invasion of Iraq to begin even as allied troops are still arriving in the region, senior commanders say.

With three dozen ships carrying heavy tanks and equipment for the Army's Fourth Infantry Division waiting off the coast of Turkey because of a political standoff, the military is scrambling to put together a backup plan for the northern front of a war with Iraq.

In Kuwait, only a portion of the 101st Airborne Division's forces is ready to be sent into combat. If the invasion begins next week, the 101st would take part, but the division's major combat punch would come soon after.

"We recognized from the very beginning that we're going to be fighting and building up combat power at about the same time," said Lieutenant General William Wallace, the V Corps commander who would lead the Army's attack.

But there are military experts -- including experienced commanders -- who are worried by this plan, which has come to be called a "rolling start" to the impending war.

Assuming that no peaceful resolution is found to the confrontation with Iraq, the concept of the rolling start gives the coalition's commanders the option of starting at any time. As diplomacy delays military action, the coalition can continue to assemble a more threatening force.

Nevertheless, its adoption marks a sharp departure from the doctrine articulated by Secretary of State Colin Powell. During the Persian Gulf war of 1991, under his leadership, the military took six months to assemble an overwhelming force, which only stormed into Kuwait after a massive troop and logistical buildup was completed and allied warplanes carried out a 39-day bombardment of Iraq and its army of occupation.

The staggered arrival stems partly from the limited capacity of Kuwait's ports, but it also appears to reflect Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's view that large, heavy ground forces are not always needed. This time, the U.S. military is trying to get more firepower from fewer troops, supported with a heavy air campaign. The Iraqi Army is also much smaller and less capable than 12 years ago.

"When I look at the enemy, when I look at the terrain over which he's arrayed, I think we have adequate forces to do the job," Wallace said. "There seems to me to be perhaps a more coherent joint fight this time with the air, naval and certainly a very pronounced Marine presence."

Some former American commanders from the 1991 conflict, however, say the United States could keep risks to its troops to a minimum if it had more forces on hand.

"The key to success is rapid victory on the ground, and bringing stability as quickly as you can," a former senior officer who commanded land forces during the Gulf War said. "Based on what I know about the forces in the region, or flowing in, I am concerned they don't have enough to give high assurance they can do this quickly. If we did it so well last time, using the Powell doctrine, why would you do anything less than that now? Why take that risk?"