General's Desk: How Baghdad Will Fall

IRAQ: Explosion near Iraqi Information Ministry during US airstrike, Baghdad, Iraq, video still AP

CBS News Analyst General (Ret.) Perry Smith believes the Battle of Baghdad may not be as awful as predicted.


Some cities fall easily. Paris and Rome in 1944 are good examples.

Some fall as a direct result of a rising of resistance fighters -- Warsaw in 1945 is illustrative. Others fall only after a very tough battle -- Berlin in 1945 is probably the best example. Some fall, but are quickly recaptured -- Hue, which fell to the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army but was soon recaptured by the U. S. Marines in 1968, comes to mind.

And some cities never do fall despite extraordinary attacks -- Leningrad and Stalingrad during World War II are prime examples.

The capture of Baghdad in April 2003 will present many challenges.

However, the battle is not likely to take very long, cause many civilian casualties, or many casualties on the part of coalition forces.

Fortunately, America and its coalition partners enjoy many advantages that should make the fall of Baghdad less difficult than many pundits and experts predict.

American technology provides a huge advantage, not only on an open battlefield, but also inside any major city. For instance, as our soldiers move in on Baghdad and encounter armed resistance, it will not be prudent or necessary, in most cases, to continue the attack from the ground. The enemy target can be quickly pinpointed and, within a matter of a few minutes, attacked from the air.

The AC-130 gunship should be very useful in this regard. It has a long
loiter time, an enormous weapons load, excellent sensors and can hit a target using one of three types of very accurate cannon.

Bombs of various types can be used in the urban environment. If there are civilians very close to the enemy position, then a concrete bomb can be dropped. These bombs have no explosive power whatsoever. Yet they are precision guided and can knock out a target with just the kinetic energy of a 500 pound or 2000 piece of concrete that is shaped like a bomb. Civilians just across the street from the enemy position will be safe since these concrete bombs will not send out any explosive blast or metal shrapnel.

Also, the coalition air forces have bombs that can count the floors in a building and only explode when it hits the selected floor. Hence, if the enemy has taken up firing positions on the fourth floor of ten-story building, the bomb will penetrate, through an airshaft, the top six floors and explode only when it reaches the exact location of the enemy. This capability will reduce casualties of innocent civilians who may be in the building on the other floors.

There are also geographic and architectural factors that should reduce casualties on both sides during the final battle.

Baghdad has many wide avenues and relatively few narrow streets. In addition, it does not have many tall buildings for Iraqi snipers. But there are a number of river and canals that will provide excellent fields of fire for coalition snipers and special operators who use lasers to designate targets for airmen to bomb.

I fully expect that we will get support from some Iraqis who live within the city of Baghdad. Although they might not stage an uprising, there will be those who will help in locating enemy forces.

The information program of the coalition will also be helpful in informing civilians of how they can assist and of how they can best stay out of harms way.

How long will this battle take?

Since time is on the side of the American led coalition, there will be no hurry. On the other hand, the longer the battle lasts, the more humanitarian concerns will develop as food and water for the civilian population run short.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, I think the battle will take no more than a week and hopefully even less time.

In recent times, the fall of Kandahar offer the best comparison. Whereas Kabul fell is less than a day, the fall of Kandahar took nearly a week.

The fall of Baghdad will not end the war, but it will be a huge psychological defeat for the enemy and should accelerate the demise of the regime of Saddam.


Retired Air Force General Perry M. Smith is the author of "Rules and Tools for Leaders," "Assignment Pentagon," "A Hero Among Heroes" and "The Air Force Plans for Peace." He is a military analyst for CBS News.

By Perry M. Smith
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