WASHINGTON – When U.S. bombs first pounded Baghdad,
Fox News and other TV media breathlessly declared that
the Pentagon’s promised “shock and awe” campaign was
“under way.” In fact, it never took place, nor will
it, U.S. officials say.
The Pentagon at the last minute pulled its telegraphed
super-punch, which was intended to quickly knock out
Saddam Hussein’s regime, officials say. And it still
doesn’t plan on delivering it as “Operation Iraqi
Freedom” moves forward.
F-14A Tomcat ignites afterburners just prior to launching off flight deck aboard USS Kitty Hawk
Shock and awe, as planned, was supposed to be a short
but ferocious and nonstop bombing campaign
simultaneously directed across a broad number of
targets – from command-and-control centers in Baghdad
to the Baath Party headquarters there to the
Republican Guard divisions in the field. More
firepower was to be unleashed on Iraq in just the
first few days of the operation than in the entire
38-day air campaign of the 1991 Gulf war – with the
goal being to stun Saddam’s regime into surrendering.
But there was no shock, and the Baghdad Butcher
apparently has not been awed.
“What we are doing now is not the plan I was reading
up to February,” said a U.S. official closely involved
in the operation from its inception last year. “It was
supposed to be four days of intense bombing followed
by ground fighting.”
Instead, the air campaign has progressed in fits and
starts, centering mostly on Baghdad, and has only in
recent days targeted Republican Guard columns outside
Baghdad – well after U.S. ground troops began
marching toward the main front. And securing the oil
fields in southern Iraq was their first order.
A member of 40th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron runs weapons-targeting check on B-52 during Iraqi bombing mission
“There was also supposed to be an attack into the
center of Baghdad, taking it over, followed by
successive takeovers expanding from the center of the
city,” said the official, who spoke on the condition
he not be identified. “Now they are talking about a
Harlan Ullman, the military adviser who created the
shock-and-awe doctrine, says he doesn’t recognize it
in action in Iraq.
“The current campaign does not appear to correspond to
what we envisioned,” said Ullman, principal author of
the 1996 book, “Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid
“This bombing campaign did not immediately go after
Iraqi military forces in the field, particularly the
Republican Guard divisions and political levers of
power, such as the Baath Party headquarters,”
explained Ullman, a defense analyst at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies.
He says that if the air campaign had destroyed a big
chunk of Iraq’s ground forces, it’s possible that
Iraqi resistance might have been softened, and U.S.
troops might already be in Baghdad by now.
Is it too late for shock and awe now? “We have not
seen it; it is not coming,” Ullman said flatly.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Pentagon
brass now deny giving the impression they planned to
shock Saddam into submission with an overwhelming
display of force, thereby ending the war quickly. Rumsfeld
blamed the TV media and their stables of hired defense
experts for raising expectations of a massive and
relentless bombing blitz and a short, decisive
But Ullman says that Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander
of all U.S. forces in the war, told President Bush’s
war cabinet in briefings before the war that “shock
and awe would combine to offset the numerical
superiority of Iraqi forces and stun their leadership
And just two weeks before the war, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers,
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested to a
select group of reporters gathered here at a breakfast
hosted by the Christian Science Monitor that a “shock”
to the Iraqi regime might result in a “short, short
WorldNetDaily reported March 26.
On March 4, Myers said: “If asked to go into conflict
in Iraq, what you’d like to do is have it be a short,
short conflict. The best way to do that is have such a
shock on the system, the Iraqi regime would have to
assume early on the end is inevitable.”
Then on March 20, the day before the scheduled
shock-and-awe air campaign, Rumsfeld vowed to deliver
a crushing first blow to Iraq, unlike any other
in military history. He warned Saddam and his henchmen
one final time to give up.
“What will follow will not be a repeat of any other
conflict. It will be of a force and scope and scale
that has been beyond what has been seen before,” he
said at the Pentagon. “The Iraqi soldiers and officers
must ask themselves whether they want to die fighting
for a doomed regime, or do they want to survive.”
Fox News announced ‘shock and awe’ at war’s outset
However, the bombing that lit up the Baghdad night
skies the next day, and in the following days, did not
match the force, scope and scale of the broad-based
shock-and-awe plan, Ullman and U.S. officials say.
So why did the Bush administration throttle back on
the Iraqi bombing?
Reasons are not immediately clear, but some Pentagon
officials say that political concerns over civilian
casualties factored into the decision.