The rapidly increasing firepower of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf should be able to deal Iraq a fatal blow by early next year, military analysts say.
"This is an amazing force that they are putting in, and there is no doubt whatsoever that we would win," said Greg Grant, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.The cost would be high, however, especially for Iraq. "It will be rapid, more intense and bloody than the type of fighting in World War II," Grant said, because of the increased deadliness of the weapons on both sides.
Anthony Cordesman, an expert on Middle East warfare, said, "This buildup will double the armor, the armored vehicles and the artillery and give us the size to sweep through on more than one front in a way that will avoid casualties.
"That doesn't mean it will be easy, and it still depends on a significant air campaign," Cordesman said.
With three more heavy Army divisions expected to arrive by early next year, the United States will have more than 2,000 main battle tanks in Saudi Arabia - fewer than Iraq's 5,000 tanks but far better in capability.
Even with eight Army divisions in Saudi Arabia - out of a total of 18 active divisions in the entire Army - U.S. forces will still be outnumbered on the ground by Iraqi troops, which total 430,000 in the Kuwait area and nearly one million overall.
Including sailors, Marines and Air Force personnel, U.S. forces could approach 400,000 by next year, officials said, but that is not such a disadvantage because of the way the U.S. Army fights. A relatively small number of troops handle very powerful weapons, and the rest of the soldiers keep the beans and bullets flowing.
The Pentagon says that for every combat soldier in Saudi Arabia there are five support troops.
The real U.S. advantage is technology and airpower. The 1,000 planes in the area now, including fighters and attack planes, will increase by almost 250 with the addition of three more aircraft carriers announced Thursday by the Pentagon.
The combat power of U.S. forces in the area has been beefed up dramatically since the first units were deployed shortly after the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq.
On Aug. 10, the only U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia were a few thousand, lightly armed members of the 82nd Airborne Division. The think tank recently conducted a simulation that showed Iraqi forces on that day could have taken Dhahran, where the main Saudi oil fields are, in about four hours.
The principal Iraqi strength is that it has had months to dig in to protective positions inside Kuwait. The best Iraqi troops, however - the six divisions of the Republican Guard - are being kept near the Iraqi city of Basra to be ready for a counterattack.
The main U.S. weakness - apart from the obvious burden of having to ship so much so far - is the difficulty of commanding a multinational force. "It is a bonus to have the Arabs politically, but from a military perspective it would be easier if it were just Americans and maybe the Saudis and British," said Grant of CSIS.