1. Iraq and Hizballah under Assault
In total hush, the US has embarked on the next stage of its global assault on terrorism: the opening steps of the much-awaited Middle East war. Twin operations are reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly to be in their opening stages – the thrust into Iraq and Israeli elite units’ strikes inside Lebanon against the Iran-sponsored Hizballah group.
(More on Israeli action in separate article)
In both cases, the action is covert, pinpointing military, economic and political targets.
(See also DEBKA-Net-Weekly No. 70 of July 26 for article on accelerated military preparations in target region.).
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources have learned that the White House and Pentagon based their crucial go-ahead decision on conclusions reached at a comprehensive war game secretly run by the Pentagon in Boston last week. The players rehearsed optional military approaches for the offensive against Iraq. In consequence, new tactical decisions were reached in Washington as to strategy of the Iraq campaign, amid a flood of conflicting reports – some of them disinformation.
The war game and its lessons
According to our military sources, senior officers from the operational branches of the British, French, Turkish, Dutch, Egyptian and Jordanian general commands took part. On the US side were commanders from various branches of the US military, including the central command, counter-terror units, special forces, the navy, marines, air force and representatives of US intelligence services, including the national security council and the CIA.
The war game produced a crop of lessons and key developments:
1. American special forces units are now advanced deep in Iraqi territory, targeting the Baghdad area, important Iraqi cities, key military camps and troop concentrations, airfields and transportation routes. This operation is programmed for swift, sharp hits at simultaneous targets to inflict maximum casualties among Iraqi security forces and sap their fighting spirit and morale. Rumors of these pinpointed setbacks are intended to reach the civilian population and undermine national confidence.
The Pentagon has now plotted this stage of the offensive to be the softening up lead-in to the main action.
2. The war game in Boston showed that, despite the network of new air, naval and land bases the United States has built or expanded in Qatar, Kuwait, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Kenya, it will need after all ground facilities in certain Arab countries, to be assured of winning the war against Iraq. They are: the northern Jordanian air base at Mafraq, Egypt’s Cairo- West military airfield and the massive Prince Sultan airbase northeast of the Saudi capital Riyadh.
The war simulation also demonstrated that for the campaign to succeed, the US navy and air force cannot do without full control of the Suez Canal and its airspace.
2. Belying widespread reports that the United States was set to open its offensive from the north and push south directly to the Baghdad region, American war planners were persuaded by the war game’s outcome to chart flexible, optional permutations which may work independently or in combination:
A. Invasion from the south
This plan is built around an evolving main offensive launched from Kuwait in the south. Two US corps comprising six or seven armored divisions will head out in two directions: east and north, their mission: to seize control of the oil fields and Shiite Muslim regions of southern and central Iraq. (The Shi’ite community numbers slightly more than 16 million, or 65 percent of Iraq’s total population of about 23 million.
(See separate article in this issue on the US-Iran tug-of-war over the Iraqi Shiites.)
The first column heading east will make for Iraq’s chief port city, Basra, capturing the big land and naval base at Umm Qasar along the way. It will then seize the Safwan air base. In addition to taking control of the Iraqi shore of the Shatt al-Arab mouth, Iraq’s naval outlet to the Gulf, the force will advance towards the Iraqi side of the Khozistan oil fields and then capture them
(More about US-Iranian relations and role assigned the Khozistan Liberation Front in a later article.).
The advance softening up stage here has started with elements of the Khozistan Liberation Front, trained and commanded by American officers, already fighting alongside US special forces in sorties against Iraqi targets. It was these strikes that sparked the high state of alert declared this week in Iraqi army units along its Kuwait and Saudi frontiers.
When the main offensive begins, the second US force will head north toward the Shiite hub city of Najef, capturing en route the Iraqi airfields of Shaibah West, north of Zubayr, and Tallit. Here, too, the Americans are assured of local support from militias attached to the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, Iraq’s largest Shiite opposition group, whose leaders are based in Tehran.
The results of the war game have not altered a tactical constant of the war plan noted in the last issue of DEBKA-Net-Weekly, namely the decision to occupy key Iraqi air bases at an early stage of the offensive. This tactic will enable the US army to operate from inside the country. Engineering teams stand ready to upgrade Iraqi air installations at lightening speed and prepare them to serve as internal launching pads for American warplanes, helicopters and cargo planes to go out and expand the territory under American control.
B. The central front
This plan calls for a US force built around a backbone of armored and special forces to push into western Iraq along with Jordanian forces and seize the strategic group of air bases – H-3 northwest, H-3 northeast, H-3 main base and the H-3 landing strip, which consists of a stretch of highway running from western Iraq across the border into central Jordan. US and Jordanian forces will also capture H-2, northeast of the Iraqi city of Ar Rutbah.
As in the south, here too small units of US special forces have gone into action – this time with Jordanian special forces – for strikes at Iraqi command centers, transportation routes and military and supply convoys, thereby preparing the ground in this sector too for the main thrust. On this front, the United States will have the use of units stationed for some months in Jordan. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, they are stationed in two bases in close proximity to one another on the kingdom’s eastern border with Iraq and at the Jordanian air base of Ruwayshid, while a smaller contingent is located further north at the air base in Wadi al-Murbah. Formerly an airstrip serving light planes and helicopters tracking smugglers and minor Iraqi incursions, this base has been converted by US army engineers into a major air installation.
C. The northern front
This sector has so far seen more military engineering work than combat.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, US engineers and equipment are working round the clock in the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq to throw up a series of six to eight small airfields that will cater to the main body of American and Turkish forces when they cross over into Iraq. The new fields, some of which are no more than widened landing strips, will also serve the fighter planes and helicopters providing the special forces with air cover. The airfields are strung along three strategic axes.
Axis 1, or the western axis, starts in the northern Kurdish city of Zako and stretches southwest along the Iraqi border with Syria to the city of Sinjar, west of the oil city of Mosul.
Axis 2, or the central axis, stretches from Zako south to the Kurdish-controlled city of Irbil, located between the two main Iraqi oil cities of the north – Mosul and Kirkuk. The airfields now under construction are points on the axis.
Axis 3, or the eastern axis, stretches from Irbil to the Kurdish power and government hub in northern Iraq, Sulamaniya.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts report that work on the air bases is almost finished and the facilities are practically ready for limited use by US or Turkish warplanes and helicopters. They are going up behind the backs of Iraqi armored divisions deployed along the Lesser Zab and Greater Zab rivers. Although the American engineers pose as personnel working for Kurdish construction contracting firms, Iraqi air and ground reconnaissance units almost certainly know what’s up, but have so far made no move to interfere with the work.