Although history may indicate that the size of the Iraqi forces was exaggerated by the United States, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf was not taking any chances. If the war came, it would be a winter war. The shamal, the sandstorms out of the northwest, and the season of rains might cause difficulties, but they would be less serious than a protracted conflict in the searing, energy-sapping, equipment-savaging summer heat.

Schwarzkopf had even decided on how he would change the name of the operation to reflect its purpose. When the moment arrived, Desert Shield would become Desert Storm.From the first days, Schwarzkopf and his officers had watched as the Iraqis moved their tanks into Kuwait and proceeded to spread them around the desert, digging them into revetments that in some cases left only the turrets showing. In this way they became pillboxes - fixed-gun positions rather than tanks. Armored personnel carriers and artillery pieces also went into revetments.Concealing such equipment in the middle of a desert might have seemed impossible, but the Iraqis had maintained a generally static defensive posture during their long war with Iran, and in so doing had become adept at camouflaging large pieces of equipment in the open.

Schwarzkopf's concept of desert warfare was decidely different. Tanks, he said, had wheels on them.

"Look at Rommel. Look at North Africa, the Arab-Israeli wars and all the rest of them," he said. "A war in the desert is a war of mobility and lethality. It's not a war where straight lines are drawn in the sand and you say, `I will defend here or die.' Most people who do that, die."

Schwarzkopf was quoted as saying he had based his plan for Desert Storm on British Gen. Bernard Montgomery's scheme for defeating the German "Desert Fox," Gen. Erwin Rommel, at the battle of El Alamein in 1942. "I figured that if Montgomery could make it work, I certainly could," he reportedly said.

But the plan had not sprung full-blown from some textbook on armored tactics. As the troop strength increased, the plan evolved. Schwarzkopf told interviewer David Frost that he had initially briefed President Bush on a contingency CentCom had put together months earlier, for the defense of Saudi Arabia.

At the Camp David briefing three days after the invasion, he said, he tacked on slides explaining the structure and strength of the Iraqi military. "We said, `Oh, by the way, if we should happen to change our objective from defending Saudi Arabia to taking him on offensively, here is his offensive capability, and it will take many, many more troops than we currently plan to deploy, and it will take a lot longer.' "

Bush did not respond immediately, but shortly, Schwarzkopf said, he was asked to assemble a plan for ejecting Saddam from Kuwait with the limited forces already at hand. He prepared "one we would go with if we had to do it." But he stressed in presenting it: "This plan is not what the commander-in-chief of Central Command is recommending. It is a weak plan, it is not the plan we choose to execute, and here are all the things that are wrong with it. If in fact we are serious about ejecting them from Kuwait, what we need is more force to be able to execute a proper campaign."

Some critics later compared Schwarzkopf to Civil War Gen. George B. McClellan, who postponed a much-ballyhooed offensive for a year while constantly badgering President Lincoln for more troops, Schwarzkopf had a history lesson ready. "McClellan had four or five times as many forces as Lee, and McClellan wouldn't attack," he told an interviewer. "I had one fifth of the forces of the enemy, and I alluded as how I could probably use a little bit more force."

Whatever the inspiration, the overall scheme was textbook simple.

Although Saddam and his generals were looking at maps very much like Schwarzkopf's, there was no indication that they saw what he saw. Their right flank lay exposed and ignored, while they reinforced their defenses along the Saudi-Kuwait border to the south and built elaborate beach defenses along the coast of the Persian Gulf, where Schwarzkopf's invasion fleet of 30 ships and some 18,000 Marines lurked, they knew, just beyond the horizon.

When on Wednesday evening, Feb. 27, Schwarzkopf appeared before TV cameras to explain the plan that he had devised and used to destroy the Iraqis in four days, he confirmed for the first time what some, though not the Iraqis, had long suspected - that the huge amphibious assault force in the Persian Gulf had been largely a diversion, to preoccupy the Iraqis and force them to build defenses against it.

The evidence showed how well his plan had worked. American troops arriving in Kuwait City discovered an Iraqi headquarters with a sand-table model of the battle zone, complete with miniature tanks, guns and flags marking the Iraqi and allied positions. The toy guns all pointed south and east toward the Persian Gulf.

Even as Saddam's high command was committing this most crucial of tactical blunders, Schwarzkopf was exploiting it. In a massive movement of forces that the American general himself said later was probably unprecedented in military history, he managed to shift 100,000 troops, mostly armored forces, 300 miles to the west, along with supplies for a 60-day campaign.

Once the bombing began, it was too late for Saddam's high command to do anything about the exposed flank. Pulling large numbers of tanks out of their revetments and moving them westward across open desert would have been suicidal.

In one of his postwar interviews, Schwarzkopf said he had told his component commanders in a meeting on Nov. 10, two days after Bush announced he was doubling the size of the forces in the gulf, that - barring some change in the Iraqi disposition of forces - his plan would be to move the forces to the west and launch a flanking attack.

"We still kept all our forces over to the east, and they had reacted beautifully to that. And now I knew that, number one, I could move the forces without his being able to see them, and more importantly, even if he saw them, he couldn't do anything about it. Because we were going to control the air, and had he tried to go out there, we could have gone ahead.

"So that's when I knew - we gotcha!"


Copyright 1991 Richard Pyle

Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Penguin Books U.S.A. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate