1. Small-Scale Combat in Southern Iraq
The US-British special forces’ operations around Iraq’s southern oil fields, reported in our previous issue, continue. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources these forces are conducting limited operations to neutralize the Iraqi military and security strength posted in or near the Iraq’s southern and eastern oil fields in the Khozistan area along the border with Iran and near the Iraqi city of Basra. Their purpose is to keep them safe from sabotage or fire by hostile elements acting for Iraq – or even by Iranians or Shiites.
US Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, together with US warplanes based in Qatar and Kuwait, are lending the ground forces air cover. For the moment, US special forces are in command of the oil fields by keeping them surrounded – albeit under orders not to interfere with production.
At the same time, as inimical forces crisscross each other’s paths, southern Iraq is beginning to assumed a surreal patchwork aspect similar to that spreading over the northern region.
(See also separate article on the northern warfront and Turkish-Kurdish feud.)
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, convoys of Iraqi reinforcements, mainly from the 4th army entrusted with defending the region, constantly cut through territory controlled by US and British special forces. For now, neither interferes with the other.
The Iraqi convoys are making for the Iraqi city and large naval base at Umm al-Qasar and the Faw Peninsula, at both of which the Iraqi High Command estimates US and British forces will stage large-scale landings by sea.
In addition to pouring troops non-stop into Kuwait, the United States has in the last ten days consigned large fleets of aircraft to four bases in Oman – Masirah, Thumrait, Seeb and Al Musnana. The aircraft include the first B-52 giant bombers to operate directly out of Gulf air bases away from home in the United States, except for those flying out of the shared US-British air and naval refueling facility on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.
2. Northern Front Cannot Be Activated Yet
The US war command at Camp As-Sayliyah, Qatar, may have been somewhat premature in assuring Washington that the American war force is set to go to the last man.
US commanders in northern Iraq and Turkey, especially the 4th Infantry division, have put out word that their units will need another two or three weeks before they are ready to take on the battle for northern Iraq and the Kirkuk oilfields. Formidable political and diplomatic hurdles have held up the logistics of the war preparations.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, the 10 military camps US military engineers are erecting in southern Turkey to house troops in transit to Iraq have not gone beyond their preliminary stages of construction. Furthermore, only about eight of the 40 flights needed to ferry US troops to Turkey have taken off so far, and only on Monday, February 24, were the first of the division’s tanks unloaded at the southern Turkish port of Iskenderun.
Tanks, self-propelled artillery and other heavy equipment are coming into Ankara by train from US bases in Germany, via Eastern Europe. From Ankara, the trains and their cargo head south toward the still unfinished US camps. Since the tanks cannot ride into Iraq on their treads or negotiate Kurdistan’s mountain passes, US military planners intend to ship them to staging areas on existing Turkish and Iraqi rail lines. Some of those tracks will be upgraded or even rebuilt to handle the heavy armor.
In view of these and other difficulties, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report the Pentagon and Iraq war headquarters as weighing putting off the opening of the northern front. Instead of coinciding with the start of the offensive in the south and west, the north will most probably be left till last.
The most troublesome impediment slowing things down is the antagonism between Washington’s two leading war partners in the north, Turkey and the Kurds.