WASHINGTON – U.S. forces would hit Iraq with 10 times as many bombs in the opening days of an air campaign as in the 1991 Gulf War in an assault meant to “shock and awe” Iraqi defenders, officials said Wednesday.

Many more of the bombs would be guided by lasers or satellite signals, too, adding to accuracy, one official said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, meanwhile, and the commander who would lead the war, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, met with President Bush to discuss war plans for ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Both said after the White House meeting that Bush had not yet decided whether to order an invasion. But Franks said the U.S. forces now arrayed against Iraq, said to number at least 230,000 with many more on the way, are prepared for the go-ahead.

“Our troops in the field are trained, they’re ready, they are capable,” Franks said at a Pentagon news conference.

Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated that little time remains for Saddam Hussein to meet disarmament demands.

“We will see in the next few days whether or not he understands the situation he is in and makes that choice,” Powell said.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, reported that the number of National Guard and Reserve members called to active duty for the war on terrorism, including the Iraq crisis, rose by 8,470 this week, to 176,553.

If war comes, U.S.-led airstrikes with thousands of bombs and missiles would be combined with quick ground assaults – a combination aimed at overwhelming Saddam’s defenses, preventing him from retaliating with chemical or biological weapons and crushing Iraqi morale.

Pentagon officials who discussed the matter Wednesday said part of that plan is to launch an initial wave of airstrikes using 10 times the number of precision-guided weapons fired in the opening days of the 1991 war.

Targets would include Saddam’s military and political headquarters in Baghdad and elsewhere, air defenses, communications facilities and systems that could be used to launch chemical or biological attacks.

As part of a psychological campaign aimed at weakening the Iraqi army and undermining support for Saddam, U.S. planes on Tuesday dropped 420,000 leaflets in southern Iraq. “Leave now and go home,” some leaflets said. “Watch your children learn, grow and prosper.”

If Bush orders an invasion, Franks will rely on unprecedented bombing accuracy, a factor U.S. officials say could shorten the conflict and limit casualties on both sides. It also could hold down the number of civilian casualties.

In the 1991 war, about 20 percent of the bombs dropped were guided by lasers or satellite signals. This time that percentage is likely to be about 70 percent, a top Central Command official said Wednesday.

The official, who discussed U.S. bomb targeting techniques on condition he not be further identified, contended that because of the greater reliance on precision-guided weapons, civilian casualties could be lower than the estimated 3,000 in the 1991 war.

Franks, however, said the number was unpredictable and would depend in part on Saddam.

Franks also said he could not estimate how many Americans might die in an Iraq war, but he expressed “incredible confidence” in their ability to fight and win.

Franks also declined to offer an estimate of how long a war might last, even in general terms. Many military officials have said they expect it to be shorter than the 1991 war, which began with a five-week bombing campaign followed by a decisive 100-hour ground war to liberate Kuwait.

In the 1991 war, 148 U.S. troops were killed.

Franks said that in the leadup to that conflict, there were predictions of many U.S. casualties and few people anticipated the ground phase of the war would be so short.

“Since we can’t know what the duration will be, we can’t predict, using some formulation, some mathematical model, what casualties might look like,” he said. “And so I won’t predict numbers of casualties, but I will say that we’ll continue to work to do the job at the least cost in terms of lives, both our own and Iraqi, and the least cost in terms of trade.”

AP-ES-03-05-03 1648EST


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