As Truce Seems to Hold, Troops Think of Home : Gulf forces: Hundreds of thousands in anti-Iraqi coalition shift to defensive positions, stay on alert.
Despite isolated skirmishes, the suspension of hostilities in the Persian Gulf War held throughout the battered deserts of Iraq and Kuwait on Thursday as American soldiers turned their thoughts to going home--a process that could take months.
Hundreds of thousands of allied foot soldiers, tank crewmen and artillery troops deployed along southern Iraq’s Euphrates River valley and northern Kuwait shifted to defensive positions after being ordered to hold their fire at 8 a.m. local time.
The coalition forces remained on alert, braced for violations, while troops continued to sweep for mines and to destroy other Iraqi war materiel that littered the sands of the battlefield.
Ten hours into the suspension of the war, military commanders continued to report scattered incidents in which U.S. and British troops exchanged fire with remnants of the Iraqi army. Asked what the allies were doing to guard against further violations, Army Lt. Gen. Thomas A. Kelly responded:
“Have you ever seen a cat sitting outside a mouse hole?”
The one-sideness of the war and the enormity of Saddam Hussein’s defeat were underscored by some of the battle-damage estimates.
Iraq apparently lost about 4,000 of its 4,280 tanks, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John (Mike) McConnell, director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a briefing in Washington.
That compares to reports that the United States lost only two Marine M-60 tanks, with two Army M-1A1s damaged, according to Kelly, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs.
Coalition figures show that about 80,000 Iraqis have surrendered or been taken prisoner, compared to about 13 allied POWs. An Iraqi official said more than 20,000 Iraqi soldiers have been killed in the war; the allies say 138 coalition troops have been killed in battle, with another 66 listed as missing in action.
“If you put it all together, it’s astonishing,” Kelly said.
In other developments:
Pentagon officials said they want to bring U.S. troops home as quickly as possible, but the quick end to fighting has caught them without a way to do it. “The fact is,” said Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams, “there is no plan yet.”
Most American foot soldiers interviewed throughout the Gulf region said they want to return right away.
Contrary to Iraqi reports of destruction by allied bombing raids, reconnaissance photos show that the three holiest Muslim religious sites in Iraq--two of them at Karbala and the third at Najaf--remain intact, McConnell said.
Kelly said it is still too early to tell how the cessation of hostilities has affected the threat of terrorism. “The numbers are up, but the numbers directly related to the . . . war are not,” the general said. “For example, if the IRA shoots a mortar round at Number 10 (Downing Street), I don’t know that you can connect that with the war. . . . Some of the things going on in Turkey were being perpetrated by Turkish leftists who have been perpetrating terrorist acts for a long time.”
Jordan denied reports that it sent weapons to Iraq after the United Nations had ordered an arms embargo. A news pool report Wednesday said U.S. officers in Iraq had found boxes of Jordanian weapons marked with a January, 1991, shipping date. Another report Thursday said that an Iraqi had been captured carrying Jordanian weapons.
The incidents of violence following Washington’s unilateral suspension of hostilities Wednesday night were reported by the American command.
Some were attributed to Iraqi bewilderment and lack of communications.
In the largest incident, Iraqi T-55 tanks and multiple-rocket launchers fired on paratroopers from the U.S. 18th Airborne Corps shortly after noon, Iraqi time, a little more than four hours after Bush’s announcement took effect.
The American paratroopers were trying to recover the bodies of eight Americans killed when their Blackhawk helicopter was shot down during Wednesday’s climactic tank battle south of Basra. The paratroopers fired back.
They destroyed two Iraqi tanks and two rocket launchers, Marine Brig. Gen. Richard I. Neal said in a briefing.
“That’s the way it’s going to work,” Neal declared, matter-of-factly. “We are in strong defensive positions . . . (but) if they attack any U.S. or coalition positions, they are taken under attack.”
In another incident, American commanders said, unidentified U.S. units came under artillery fire. The fire was returned, and the Iraqi artillery fell silent.
“We are not relaxing our guard for one minute,” Neal said, adding that combat patrols and air reconnaissance would continue despite the cessation of hostilities. He predicted that there would be still more violations, simply because pockets of “hard-core” Iraqis would continue to fight.
Allied forces were broadcasting Arabic messages through loudspeakers urging all holdouts to turn themselves in. “There are some folks out there that are hard core and will probably continue to fight until they can’t fight any longer,” Neal said.
“I’m sure we’re going to run into instances of those.”
But, generally speaking, said Lt. Gen. Peter de la Billiere, commander of British forces, “the cease-fire is holding fine. “I don’t think there is much left of the Iraqis to have an incident with.”
Military commanders concede, nevertheless, that despite aggressive pursuit and relentless bombing, some Republican Guard infantrymen and a number of Iraq’s top-of-the-line T-72 tanks probably fled successfully across the Euphrates River during the brutal hours of combat when allied forces were crowding Iraqi positions in the Basra corner and closing off their routes of escape.
“The T-72s either fought and died, or they ran,” Neal said. “We were attempting to close the gate so that they couldn’t (run). Well, there were a lot of gates. . . . “
President Bush’s order to cease hostilities at midnight on Feb. 27 was “a unilateral action on his part,” Kelly said. “Apparently the other side agrees with it. But we haven’t made any arrangements with them that would have the dignity of something called a cease-fire.”
If Iraq does not agree to the allies’ terms in the negotiations ahead, Kelly said, “then we’ve got to think about going back to war.”
Gen. Kelly said at least six factors accounted for the overwhelming victory by the coalition forces:.
“First of all, there was terrible failure on the part of Iraqi intelligence,” he said. “They didn’t have eyes and ears out on the battlefield to see what was happening.
“Second, in my view, the air campaign was spectacularly successful. . . .”
Third, he said, the allies’ “high-technology weapons worked and actually changed the face of modern warfare.”
Fourth, he said, the Iraqi fighting force was under-supplied and demoralized.
“You see all the anecdotal stuff about Iraqis coming out without shoes--tired, hungry, underfed, scared to death about what’s going on back home with their families,” Kelly said. “I think it was said yesterday by Gen. (H. Norman) Schwarzkopf (commander of the allied forces in the Persian Gulf) that when you are in such dire straits that you have to put execution squads up on the front to make sure your troops don’t go AWOL, you have already lost. . . .
“And another thing that we’re all proud and happy about is the performance of all the coalition forces there,” Kelly said, ". . . just the plain, flat quality of the American young men and women who did the job.”
In addition, the general said, it’s important to have “a national leadership that gives a mission to the military with an objective, and that’s what President Bush did . . . right from Day 1. There were no sanctuaries. We didn’t have the Iraqis being supplied from the outside, the way we did in Vietnam. . . .
“I think the most important thing--the first principle of war, the most important principle of war--is the principle of the objective,” Kelly said. “What is it you’re after? What is it you want to do? And we decided that and then sent some very smart leaders and men and women over there, and they sure got it done.”
At the Pentagon, military officials conceded that the end of fighting caught them without a plan to bring American troops home.
“The campaign went so quickly that that surprised us a little bit,” Gen. Kelly said.
“We are as interested as the families are in getting the military out of the area and back home as quickly as possible,” he said. “Some will probably start coming home pretty soon. Others will take much longer. There are security considerations in the region.”
One, he said, is the problem of clearing mines. “Who’s going to do that needs to be decided.” Kelly conjectured that American emergency ordnance disposal units might be called upon to handle the task.
“One would assume that engineer units might have to stay late in order to do the kind of work that they do. . . ,” he added. “Individuals who are involved in civil affairs would assist, possibly, Kuwait on request, if they ask for it. Logisticians, certainly, because they’re the ones that have to make sure that the ships get loaded.
“It’s going to take about as many ships coming back as it took going over there--less the ammunition that we shot.”
The logistic task of returning American troops and equipment will not be easy, Kelly declared. “There are 539,000 troops there. There are probably millions of tons of equipment. We prestocked initially on the ground for 60 days of combat. I do not know what all that weighs, but it just takes a lot of ships and airplanes to do that. . . .
“It was a Herculean logistics task to get them there; and, thank God, because our casualties were so light, it’s going to be just about as Herculean to get them back. That’s going to take some time.”
Asked to be more specific about the time, Kelly replied:
“I am sure that . . . the length of time that they (troops) have been over there will be taken into account. . . .
“I think that what America needs to do is be more proud of itself, and I think we are going to be more proud of ourselves as our troops begin to come home,” Kelly said. “They’re going to get a greater welcome than the troops from Vietnam got. And, God bless them, they deserve it, and I’m glad it’s going to happen.”
The White House said American troops are likely to begin heading home in “a few days.” But a senior military official told the Associated Press that it would “take us longer to bring the troops home than to get them over there.”
At the U.S. command in Riyadh, Gen. Neal said that if things went well, “I think that you can see a quick return for some forces.” He refused to be more specific.
It is possible, Neal said, that some combat units would be replaced by units responsible for moving out equipment.
Although the lack of a return plan was not deliberate, all of this seemed designed to try the patience of the foot soldier.
Deep in southern Iraq, members of the 101st Airborne Division talked about going home as if it were impossible to wait. The talk was about the good things they miss.
“This whole experience has taught me how important my family is to me,” said Capt. Fred Gellert, 27, of Detroit.
“Now my wife and boy get the No. 1 slot. I can’t wait to get home, send the boy to the baby-sitter, and then she and I can have some fun.”
Pvt. David Hochins, 21, of rural Missouri, had visions of “a large pepperoni pizza and a six-pack of Budweiser” dancing in his head. “Of course,” he added quickly, “that would include my girlfriend, good friends and good times.”
Amid the rampant talk of a hasty return to the good life, Col. Hank Kennison, 42, a battalion commander from Lubbock, Tex., urged his troops to be patient. “It always takes a lot longer to clean up than you think,” he said.
In the allied-occupied town of Salman in southern Iraq, Sgt. Harley Settle, 37, of Fayetteville, N.C., a member of the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, said, “Some of the guys wanted to see some (more) action. “I got all the action I want to see waiting for me back home.”
On the outskirts of newly liberated Kuwait city, members of the 1st Marine Division stood in the rain and talked about going home.
“I’ll gladly pass up the victory parade,” said Master Sgt. Michael Thompson of Camp Pendleton. “I want mine in my living room.”
Jordanian officials flatly denied that their country had sent embargoed weapons to Iraq.
They issued the denial after a news pool report Wednesday said American officers had discovered boxes of Jordanian weapons shipped to the Iraqis long after the United Nations had ordered an arms embargo against Iraq.
The pool report, cleared by American military censors, said the cache included six rocket-propelled grenade launchers, hundreds of grenades, a dozen 120-millimeter mortars and many mortar rounds.
The weapons were said to have been found in a bunker along the Euphrates River, more than 100 miles north of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border.
The boxes were marked in English as coming from the General Military Command, Amman, Jordan, the pool report said. It said the shipment was dated January, 1991. That was about five months after the U.N. embargo was placed in force.
American military officials in Iraq said the shipment came directly from Jordan, according to United Press International.
According to the dispatch, officers also found hundreds of rounds of automatic weapons ammunition that they said came from Jordan after the embargo began.
“We’ve got bags and bags of Jordanian ammo,” one American officer was quoted as saying. “That stuff’s awfully fresh.”
In addition, UPI said, U.S. troops captured an Iraqi on Tuesday carrying about 200 pounds of weapons and ammunition. The weapons included AK-47 rifles, grenades and ammunition clips, the news agency said.
All of it was brand new and appeared to have originated in Jordan, the wire service said.
“This is totally wrong,” said Ibrahim Izzeddine, Jordan’s information minister, in response to the reports. “We can deny it in a very clear manner. . . . Jordan did not ship any arms after the war or during the crisis.”
Asked about the January date on the shipment, Izzeddine would say only, “Let’s see the documents first.”
At the Pentagon, Adm. McConnell told reporters: “What Jordan did to provide supplies to Iraq we’re looking at very closely.
“It remains to be determined exactly what the extent of that is, but we’re examining it very closely.”
Wilkinson reported from Riyadh and Healy from Washington. Times staff writers Edwin Chen in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and Mark Fineman in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this article.