Ground war has come a long way since the "Charge of the Light Brigade." If only the allied forces had nothing more potent than "cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left of them."
The kind of breach that American soldiers must make in Iraqi defenses makes the British Light Brigade's suicidal charge look like a game of Pac Man.An awesome array of millions of mines, barbed wire, deep trenches filled with flaming oil and radio-detonated napalm bombs awaits them. And that's not counting the possible use of chemical and biological agents or the pounding from more than 7,000 Iraqi tanks and artillery pieces, or the guns of hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers.
"It sounds like a certain kind of hell," one Marine told us in typical leatherneck understatement. The U.S. military is concentrating most of its efforts on destruction of mine fields, mindful of the fact, as one Marine officer said, that mines caused a majority of the casualties in Vietnam. Military intelligence officers in the region estimate that Saddam Hussein has sown more than 500,000 mines in belts two kilometers wide along virtually the entire Saudi-Kuwaiti border. And he is continuing to plant this deadly crop in an effort to turn Kuwait into one big booby trap.
Intelligence sources estimate that Saddam has a stockpile of 20 million mines purchased in recent years from France, the Soviet Union, China and even the United States and Kuwait.
With the approach of the ground offensive, or "G-Day" as they call it here, the biggest fans of the successful air assault were the Army and Marine Corps combat engineers. It is their job to create a path through Saddam's maze using mine detectors, bulldozers and special tanks equipped with plows and explosive cords shot by rockets across a mine field and then detonated.
Iraq's last enemy, Iran, didn't have those sophisticated devices. Instead the Ayatollah Khomeini used Iranian children, including some who were deaf and mute, to run through the Iraqi mine fields ahead of the soldiers.
The mines are not all that allied ground forces have to contend with. These are the other features in Saddam's hellish obstacle course, roughly in the order that U.S. soldiers will confront them:
- Hundreds of miles of razor wire; ditches filled with metal spikes, concrete blocks, burned-out vehicles; and 55-gallon drums of napalm that can be detonated by remote control.
- Trenches filled with oil ready to be set on fire as flaming moats; 12-foot-high sand walls; hundreds of thousands of infantry soldiers ready to fire on anyone who makes it that far.
- More than 2,000 fortified artillery pieces that will belch out an inferno if not stopped by air strikes and allied artillery.
- More than 5,000 tanks, many of them in triangular formations that allow them to fire on anyone coming at them head on or along their flanks.
It is all calculated, as one Marine officer put it, "to channelize us into what we call killing zones."