Career military officers work and sweat and bleed their entire careers just to occupy a position of command, and possibly make a difference at a critical juncture in their nation's history. The looming war with Iraq finds Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, the commander of the U.S. Army's V Corps, home-stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, at just such a juncture. Wallace is a West Point graduate and veteran of the Vietnam War and now commands all U.S. Army fighting forces in the Kuwaiti theater. On March 11, National Journal Correspondent James Kitfield interviewed Wallace in his headquarters at Camp Virginia, Kuwait.
NJ: Considering what has been publicly revealed about planning for a probable war with Iraq, this operation seems more complex than Desert Storm. Is it?
Wallace: There is a tremendous amount of complexity in our plans, at least intellectually, because we recognized from the very beginning that there would probably be five fights going on simultaneously, and we need to be cognizant of each one of them. The first fight was just getting here, and maintaining sufficient flexibility while doing so. I think we've done reasonably well at that.
A second challenge we recognized was the possible need to continuously deploy follow-on forces forward even while we are fighting at the front. That's different from what we've done in the past. That clearly poses challenges to the deploying forces. What guidance do you give to that commander who is just climbing off the boat, for instance, and who is still getting used to the time change and the new environment?
NJ: Are those forces just arriving designated primarily for operations that will follow hostilities?
Wallace: Partly, but I also see the possibility that as things unfold we could begin stability operations and post-hostility operations in portions of the country even while we are still fighting in other portions of the country. That constitutes another added complexity.
Another aspect of this potential operation that is different from Desert Storm is the logistics fight. We're conceivably talking about very long supply routes and the need for a lot of fuel and supplies. I can envision some rear-area security problems because we may not have the force structure to secure the whole rear area.
NJ: A quick look at the map also suggests that you may be asked to cross hundreds of miles of difficult terrain.
Wallace: One of our real fights may be with the terrain. There will be desert terrain and some broken desert terrain crisscrossed by wadis. Then you have the Tigris River valley, potential river crossings, and some possible flooding problems [should Saddam destroy any dams]. And only after you have solved the deployment, logistics, and terrain problems do you come to the actual fight with the enemy, and the problem of someone shooting at you. That's the fourth fight I referred to.
NJ: What kind of fight do you expect Iraqi forces to put up?
Wallace: In our best judgment, the closer we get to Baghdad, the more tenacious and determined the enemy is going to become. As I've said to my troops and anyone else who will listen, we cannot afford to underestimate this enemy. If we do so it will cause us to relax our guard a little bit, and not be as ready and decisive as we otherwise would be. That would put our soldiers at undue risk.
NJ: What is the fifth battle?
Wallace: The fifth battle kind of overlays the other four. It's the battle to maintain some degree of tempo that is consistent with our doctrine and the way we fight. Our fighting doctrine attempts to ensure that enemy formations are kept off balance at all times, and that they are being dictated by our tempo rather than vice versa. That means fighting the "deep battle" with long-range strike assets, even while our maneuver forces are fighting the close battle. That doctrine requires us to be patient when we need to be patient, but not overly patient. The main point is to do as many things simultaneously to the enemy as you can, horizontally as well as vertically-horizontally in terms of hitting him from multiple directions, and vertically meaning the joint fight with the Air Force, Navy air, Special Operations, etc. In my judgment, that's exactly the right plan to keep the enemy off balance.
NJ: There's a lot of speculation that with nothing left to lose, Saddam Hussein may use chemical or biological weapons. How prepared are your forces for that?
Wallace: We're prepared, and we have some of the best equipment money can buy in terms of protective masks and suits. But that equipment does slow you down. It reduces your stamina both personally and organizationally. That doesn't mean we can't fight in that gear, or that we cannot decontaminate it. We can. I would be bullshitting you, however, if I didn't tell you that there is also a psychological toll involved with the use of those weapons. Soldiers out here are anxious.
NJ: What are the downsides for Saddam in using those weapons?
Wallace: I can tell you that I'm almost equally concerned that if this knucklehead uses these weapons, he will probably have a far greater impact on his own people than on our soldiers. Of course, that would be in direct contradiction with the information campaign he has mounted to try and convince the world that he doesn't have these weapons. So in my judgment he has a very difficult choice to make. If he uses these weapons, Saddam loses whatever small advantage he has gained from that propaganda campaign. I also recognize that we're dealing with a gentleman who has proven himself irrational.
NJ: Your young troops and noncommissioned officers seem to have a quiet confidence about them that is striking, especially so close to an apparent war. Is that the result of all the experience they have gained over the past decade?
Wallace: I think experience has done a couple of things for us. First, it has sensitized a whole generation of soldiers to the difference between kicking down a door and handing out Band-Aids, and to the rapid transition you have to make when you kick down a door and find someone who needs a Band-Aid on the other side. That leads to kind of an interesting mind-set. It does not cause our soldiers to be less decisive, but rather it causes them to be more thoughtful.
NJ: The major weapons platforms you have assembled in this region look virtually identical to their Desert Storm counterparts, but your command-and-control officers talk about a technological revolution that has taken place beneath the surface. How important is that?
Wallace: The most dramatic change I have seen personally is the idea of collaboration among commanders. If you look at our command post, you will see all the officers watching the same screens simultaneously. And they are all obliged to understand what is going on using the same picture of the battlefield. They have to make sure their piece of the battlefield is compatible with the decisions being made, or about to be made. That's important.
There are also some important aspects of this profession, however, that have not changed. You still have to hit the target when you pull the trigger. You still have to move about the battlefield with authority. You still have to deal with obstacles, and react to enemy contact decisively. All of that is basic, sound, fundamental soldiering. So while you have this layer of technology assisting decision-making, it still rests on the fundamentals of sound soldiering.