1. Jumping off Sites Located on Red Sea

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Washington reveal that September 11, the day burned in the American psyche, is also US President’s preferred date for launching the awaited offensive against Iraq in 2002.

In another unique disclosure, those sources report that White House war planners have added the Turkoman minority of north and central Iraq to the Kurdish militias scheduled to fight alongside the Americans against Saddam Hussein, with both gaining autonomy at the end of the road.


The first, exclusive details of the advancing American preparations for its campaign against Iraq have reached DEBKA-Net-Weekly.

According to our sources, President George W. Bush has told a select group – secretary of state Colin Powell, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and General Tommy Franks, chief of the US central command and senior staff members – that he favors the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America as launch date for the US assault on Saddam Hussein.

He qualified this by making it clear that D-Day depends first and foremost on the military’s readiness to go. Everything must be in place, the command centers and forward bases, the troops’ training and placement, the advance preparations inside Iraq and precise intelligence on the whereabouts of the campaign’s primary target, Saddam Hussein. This intelligence must also evaluate the chances of capturing or killing the Iraqi ruler and the top military chiefs at his side.

Bush stressed that if September 11 is ruled out by operational considerations, he is willing to pick another date.

Our military sources say General Franks, who has been placed in command of the Iraq campaign, reported to the president that the chain of US command centers and bases was now in place. Without specifying field particulars that could jeopardize American lives, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reveals that the Americans managed to avoid calling on any Arab country, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to host forward bases. They quietly and speedily built their main command center for the Iraq offensive in Eritrea, together with jumping off points for the US air force and navy. Their new home now is the strategic Eritrean port of Assab, which is located near the Bab el Mandeb Straits linking the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the mouth of Persian Gulf. Travelers to this remote corner report that its dusty streets have suddenly filled with white American vans dashing around without license plates but recognizable as military vehicles from their sprouting antennae. In Assab’s harbor, docks and storage facilities have been renovated and closed off as a US military zone. Rooftop aerials and satellite dishes mark out a major US command post.

Just to the north of Assab, the Americans have whipped a small local airport into the largest air base in the Horn of Africa, partly compensating for the sophisticated Prince Sultan air force base denied them in Saudi Arabia. Its new, wide runways can cater to heavy bombers, transports and fighter-bombers taking off for missions against any target in southern Iraq or the Baghdad area with the help of in-air fuel feeds.

Still further to the north, another cluster of US air and naval bases has risen on the Dalak archipelago on the western side of the Red Sea, across from Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands.

The US presence on Dalak gives it control of the full length of the Red Sea and the eastern approaches to the Suez Canal and the Sinai Peninsula, linking up with the giant American air base at Sharm el Sheikh. From either base, the US air force reach extends to any point in Iraq – from Baghdad to the northern oil cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.

The largest concentration of US bases is located on the big island of Dalak Dist; some installations have gone up in the small eastern town of Deba Alawa and a town on the western side of the island of Jamil. In these locations, the US forces can avail themselves of Soviet port facilities, landing strips, headquarters and structures built there in the 1970s when the USSR maintained a large naval presence on the archipelago; later, the Israeli navy and air force used the sites as their forward base in the Red Sea.

Northern Iraq, including its oil cities, will be under the purview of US bases in southern Turkey and Tbilisi, Georgia. The new Red Sea bases, along with American aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean, will round off US coverage of all Iraqi airspace.

This blanket air control does not imply, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources caution, America’s intention of placing the brunt of its offensive on air assault, on the pattern of the 1991Gulf War and the Afghanistan campaign, where US air force planes dropped tons of ordnance, missiles and bunker-busting bombs. For the present, the plan is to employ the air force mainly as cover for American ground invasion forces, most of whom will be detached from US Oceania bases.

Our military sources describe the present plan as being for a US-UK force of up to 75,000 troops attacking in three synchronous bridgeheads.


Force One

This first contingent, also the smallest – no more than 30,000 to 40,000 troops – will attack from the north, setting out from US installations in southern Turkey, mainly the large air base at Incirlik. They will link up with US special forces already present in northern Iraq, US commando-trained Kurdish forces, Turkish special forces positioned near Mosul and Kirkuk and Turkish-trained Turkomans

(See separate article on the Iraqi Turkoman role in the offensive.)

Its primary mission will be to “cleanse” the Syrian-Iraqi Western desert on the frontier with Syria of Iraqi missiles, especially the ones capable of carrying chemical and biological warheads. Its second objective will be to seize all of northern Iraq and drive out Iraqi forces, before going on to capture the oil towns of Kirkuk and Mosul. After the fighting, two autonomous regions in northern Iraq are planned, one Kurdish and the other Turkoman.


Force Two

This one will drive across from Jordan. DEBKA-Net-Weekly was the first to report last year the presence of US and Israeli special forces in the Hashemite kingdom on a twin mission: to defend Jordan against an Iraqi invasion and to ready Jordanian bases and airfields for use in the US offensive against Iraq. Ferried in by airplane or helicopter, or parachuted in, the task of Force Two will be to seize three or four main air bases in western and central Iraq, after they have been thoroughly pounded in a US air-cruise missile blitz. The captured bases will be converted for the use of American bomber and fighter squadrons, some diverted from the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. This action comes under the overall plan for the US military to operate from inside Iraq – unlike the doctrine followed in Afghanistan, where the US army operated from outside bases. A large contingent of engineering units is standing by in Kuwait and Qatar ready to move in and prepare Iraqi installations such as H-3, H-4 and the massive al-Baghdadi air base for the influx of US warplanes and troops.


Force Three

This force will push into Iraq in two waves, the first, comprised mostly of US special forces, from bases in Eritrea, Jordan and the Sinai and from US navy ships, will fan out across central Iraq, including Baghdad; its paramount mission being to strike and seize the headquarters and habitations of Saddam Hussein, his family and close associates, as well as the country’s hidden depots of missiles and chemical and biological weapons systems.

The second wave, having captured and occupied bases inside Iraq, will advance from there to take on the heaviest and most dangerous combat assignment: destroying the Iraqi leadership and its military power base. Washington’s military planners calculate that Saddam, rather than throw in the sponge, will throw his entire arsenal, including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, against this force, an escalation that could bring forth an American nuclear response to take him out.


Persuading the Iraqi Army Not to Resist

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, General Franks has no intention of pouring 200,000 to 250,000 troops into the Iraqi campaign, as has been widely reported. On the contrary, he is thinking in terms of a far smaller invasion force numbering no more than 75,000 including several thousand members of the British armored brigades and Royal marines. Their mission will be essentially to capture five or six installations in Iraq and transform them into American bases of operation.

Above all, the US general is counting on the Iraqi army holding back from the battle to keep Saddam in power. US military planners have noticed that, with the exception of the 1980-1987 Iran-Iraq conflict, Saddam’s troops have rarely stood up to an invading army.

During the 1991 Gulf War, US intelligence recruited hundreds of American and European nationals of Iraqi descent who were in touch with relatives in Iraq. Those relatives were asked to persuade Iraqi officers from their hometowns to refrain from resisting the overwhelmingly superior US-led allied assault forces. This ploy worked. On January 16, 1991, Day One of the assault, whole Iraqi units with their commanders laid down arms and surrendered, offering pre-arranged signs to keep them safe from bombing and shelling.

This time, ethnic Iraqis were not employed, but DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that CIA undercover agents who entered Iraq managed to make contact with several unit commanders, including senior ranks of elite contingents of the Republican Guard stationed in and around Baghdad. The agents spread the word that the United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi army and would prefer to keep the Iraqi military out of harm’s way. Washington’s only objective was to displace Saddam and his regime. Unit commanders were promised handsome cash bonuses for themselves and their men for staying clear of the fighting. In fact, when the hostilities were over, America would replenish their equipment and earmark budgets to keep those units militarily operational.

This sensitive intelligence operation is believed by Franks’s staff officers and the CIA field agents who conducted it to have won over an important section of the Iraqi military, who agreed to sit on their hands when the fighting breaks out. They believe that no more than five or six Iraqi armored divisions, roughly one-third of the Iraqi army, will remain loyal to Saddam and fight to the last man. This discovery obviates the need for a large army of hundreds of thousands to defeat the Saddam regime.

Conversely, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources say Saddam is perfectly aware of the US divide and conquer plan and is weighing preventive steps. One would be to throw the US timetable and tactics out by taking pre-emptive action. Iraqi officers and soldiers would not dare to refuse to take part in such combat lest they be court-martialed and executed for disobeying orders or for treason.

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