Key assumptions underlying the military strategy being applied in the Gulf War this time differ considerably from those used in Gulf War I. And this makes the new strategy a risky one.

In this war, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is trying to “do more with less” — meaning that U.S. forces have only one heavy division on the ground and that one is using prepositioned equipment. The remaining divisions are lighter — either Marine or light Army units. By contrast, the U.S. used a massive, heavy force to throw Saddam’s forces out of Kuwait in 1991.

Granted, the Iraqi army is only a half to a third as capable as in 1991. In addition, the Marines are the most capable and are the best trained for urban warfare of U.S. forces. Also, the U.S. didn’t want the large logistical footprint that heavy divisions entailed — primarily to mitigate the risks of Iraqi attacks with missiles containing biological or chemical agents. The United States spends so much on defense compared to Iraq ($400 billion a year vs. $1.4 billion a year), and its forces are so much better that this strategy may work out.

But, that said, it is a risky strategy and does not reflect the traditional American way of war since Ulysses S. Grant’s tactics in the civil war, that is, using overwhelming force. Besides, built-up urban areas, not unlike the jungles of Vietnam, are a multiplier for the side on defense.

Given the budgetary, and hence, technological superiority, the United States will almost certainly win the war. Of course, the question has always been at what cost. The costs could still be great if the Iraqi elite forces fight in Baghdad. They have already shown that they will shield themselves with civilians, and they may be timing any use of chemical weapons or biological weapons (CW/BW) for maximum effect when the U.S. forces concentrate to surround Baghdad.

General Tommy Franks, head of Central Command, has implied that the U.S. will not engage in house-to-house urban warfare and will merely tell everyone to get out and then bomb Baghdad into oblivion. But assuming that the Iraqi regime will not willingly allow civilians to leave Baghdad, this tactic will be hard to carry out without killing many innocent civilians (which the administration is bending over backwards to avoid so as not to inflame the Arab “street”).

The initial U.S. advance was rapid, but that was to be expected. The real test will be to see whether the United States can get the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard to surrender in order to avoid the need for a bloody battle in Baghdad.

The importance of the neglected area of psychological operations (psyops) has been demonstrated already. Ultimately, this may end up allowing the U.S. to avoid a battle in Baghdad.

But if the United States has to go into Baghdad, all the transformational technology (e.g., unmanned drones with missiles) will pale in comparison to training for urban warfare. The Marines are the best at it, certainly in theory. But I went to an urban warfare training exercise a year or so ago in East Little Rock, Arkansas and was not impressed by the realism of the training. It is difficult for the Marines to find cities that will let them hold training exercises. And small and spread out East Little Rock was not comparable to a crowded city of five or six million — that is, Baghdad. So the psyops campaign is the key to getting the Iraqi elite units to give up before such an urban fight is needed. If that fails, and it looks like it might, one military analyst close to U.S. planning said that the Pentagon has not developed a plan to lure the Republican Guard forces out of Baghdad.

There are also questions about the readiness of U.S. forces to defend against a chemical or biological attack, according to a recent study by a retired Army Chemical Corps officer (now a professor in Louisiana). He went to CW/BW exercises or attended classes at all four military services and the National Guard. He reached the conclusion that the training is insufficient and neglected by the U.S. military leadership in all of the services.

So given deficiencies in training for urban warfare and defense against bio and chem attacks, the psyops role is really critical.

A greater percentage of precision guided munitions (PGMs) in the air forces may help reduce excessive damage in Baghdad (for the purposes of assuaging world public opinion), but will not take the town if the Iraqis decide to fight (and it looks like they might). Any effective use of human shields reduces the U.S. comparative advantage of air power (and preferred method of fighting) and even the efficacy of PGMs.

In addition, Special Operations forces have been important in securing air bases for the SCUD hunt in western Iraq. That may hinder the Iraqis from using SCUDs armed with CW/BW against Israel, but the Iraqis may instead be saving use of the SCUDs on U.S. forces for when they get close to Baghdad.

Predicting the outcome of wars is always fraught with risk. The United States will more than likely win this war, but it looks like the Iraqis may fight harder than expected and may continue to fight a guerilla war even after the main battles are over. This could greatly increase the cost and risk of an American occupation of the country. But such resistance is common when people are fighting for their country.