General's Desk: Two-Week War

A U.S. aircraft security soldier looks at the skies over Iraq darkened with smoke from burning oil fields, from an airbase in Kuwait, Sunday March 23, 2003.
Major General Perry M. Smith, USAF (ret.) is a military analyst for CBS News.

Since the war plan is so complex and since much of the military activity is not visible, it is difficult for anyone to forecast the future. Nevertheless, I thought it might be helpful to readers of if I presented both my analysis and my best guesses on how the war will play out over the next two weeks. Although I have not read the war plan, I am most fortunate in having many friends in the military and my analysis is based on lots of discussions with military professionals on active duty who have been deeply involved in planning and supporting the operation.

Here are a number of factors which will help in ending the war quickly.

  1. Because the Special Forces have been so active throughout Iraq for many weeks, our forces have an excellent understanding of where the enemy positions are and what to expect as the forces of the coalition move upon Baghdad.
  2. The air campaign is being especially successful for a number of reasons. First, the air defense system in Iraq is very weak and soon it will be ineffective even in the Baghdad and Tikrit areas. This means that quite soon allied aircraft will have obtained total air supremacy and will be able to operate with impunity throughout Iraq. Second, because almost all of the bombs and missiles are guided by very accurate systems, each day airmen are being approximately ten times more effective than was the case during the Gulf War of 1991. This has allowed the air and ground campaign to be started at about the same time. (During the Gulf War, an air campaign of 38 days was needed before it was prudent to start a ground campaign.)
  3. Since America has fought three wars since the Gulf War of 1991 (Bosnia, 1995; Serbia/Kosovo, 1999; Afghanistan, 2001), we are much smarter and much more experienced than the Iraqi military.
  4. Since most wars are won by nations which possess the greatest intellectual resources and operational agility and flexibility, the coalition led by America has huge advantages.
So how long will the war last and how high will the casualties be on either side?

I expect that historians will probably label this war the Two-Week War — One week to capture all of the country with the exception of Baghdad and Tikrit and another week to root out the last vestiges of support in those two cities. Whereas the coalition which removed Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 suffered about 350 combat deaths, I expect that coalition combat deaths in this war will be somewhat less than that number. This will be true even though there will be much more ground combat in this war.

On the Iraqi side, in the Gulf War of 1991, about 10,000 soldiers and 2500 civilians were killed. I expect that both of these numbers will be much less in this war for many reasons. The high use of precision weapons will reduce civilian casualties considerably. Since the length of the war will be shorter (two weeks versus six weeks), casualties will be proportionally less. Also, many Iraqi soldiers will choose a quick surrender when they realize that the end is near and supporting Saddam is a losing cause. Finally, America and its allies will ratchet down the violence as the collapse of the Iraqi regime accelerates.

One of the unique aspects of this war is how much effort there has been to focus on the postwar goals. By doing so, American and coalition planners have an excellent chance of winning the peace as well as winning the war.

Maj. Gen. Perry M. Smith, USAF (ret.) is the author of six books including Rules and Tools for Leaders, Assignment Pentagon, A Hero Among Heroes and The Air Force Plans for Peace. His e-mail address is

By Perry M. Smith