3. Final Preparations
Intense diplomacy in the last ten days in Ankara and Amman has enabled US war planners to recover much of the ground lost when Turkey and Jordan started sliding out of their commitments to provide bases for American invasion units. The initial stage can partially revert to the original three-front assault format, but will rely more heavily than first planned on America’s mighty fleet of floating bases – aircraft carriers and naval platforms for parachute jumps by air and amphibious landings by sea. But only one month remains for US and allied armies to collect assemble, prepare and interlock a fleet of aircraft carriers, four or more army divisions, much of the Air Force’s might, and around 180,000 US and allied troops.
Six or seven aircraft carriers along with their battle groups of attack submarines and destroyers are to be deployed by the president’s deadline dates in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and eastern Mediterranean Sea. Their role in the strike against Iraq has been enhanced by the limitations placed on the basing of ground troops by Iraq’s neighbors. The USS Truman, one of the newest US navy carriers which leads a 12-ship battle group that includes five destroyers, is in the eastern Mediterranean. It could be ordered to the Gulf, to join the USS Constellation. The USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Theodore Roosevelt will also be deployed within striking distance of Iraq. The USS Nimitz and USS George Washington are also being taken into account for the Gulf armada.
Each carrier carries 70-80 aircraft as well as surveillance, electronic warfare, search-and-rescue and command-and-control aircraft. Its escort includes ships capable of firing Tomahawk cruise missiles and at least one submarine.
America expects to field between 160,000 and 170,000 US soldiers, joined by 7,000 to 10,000 special forces commandos from other countries, mainly Britain, bringing the total number of allied troops in the campaign to 170,000 or 180,000 men.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, US armed forces will not be able to equip most of the 30,000-strong British force destined for the Gulf for lack of time and the stretching of logistical resources to their limit. The British contingent will therefore land in-theater without weapons, communications equipment, tank and helicopter engines as well as being short of desert clothing and combat gear. They will therefore stay in rear bases and undertake their defense against Iraqi air strikes or terrorist attacks. The only British troops to receive equipment from the US military command will be the 4,000 British special forces troops going into Iraq in the first invasion wave.
Amphibious Task Force Ironhorse
Far from the prying eyes of television cameras, Task Force Ironhorse, the largest group in the war buildup against Iraq – assigned to spearhead the first wave of the invasion – is training in closed areas in northern and western Kuwait. The backbone of the 37,000-strong force is formed by some 12,000 men of the US Army’s 4th infantry division from Fort Hood Texas, equipped with tanks, attack helicopters and anti-tank artillery. The task force includes soldiers from 10 other installations. An amphibious force, the men of Ironhorse are practicing landings from the sea and going over large water obstacles.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that the task force will make its first landings through the Shatt al-Arab tidal river area — Iraq’s only estuary to the Gulf. The mouth of the waterway is already commanded by US warships backed by British and Canadian naval units and Iranian Revolutionary Guards frogmen. The landings will take place at several points on the western bank of the Shatt al-Arab, west of the Iraqi port city of Basra, to capture the big Iraqi naval base of Umm al-Qasar with the help of airborne troops. Elements of Ironhorse will earlier converge on the giant hangars US army engineers and navy constructed on the Iranian side of the border near Abadan in the oil-rich Khozistan district last November. Their task is to pick up the amphibious tanks, armored vehicles, landing craft and state-of-the-art mobile bridges stored in those hangars, drive the loaded vehicles across the border into Iraq and join up with the US special forces deployed in the area these past two months. The commandos will guide the force to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for the advance northward to Baghdad.
The 82nd and 101st airborne divisions
American war planners realize there is no way of concealing the main Ironhorse task force landing in the south. Kuwaitis and Gulf coastal fishermen – some of them Iraqi or al Qaeda agents – are sure to spot the troops boarding ships or planes. Fears that Iraqi agents could sneak into Kuwait in the guise of fishermen returning from a night’s work led to a recent ban on Kuwaiti fishing boats from taking to the open sea after dark. But even if an invasion force were spotted shipping out of Kuwait, the exact date and time of the start of the attack on Iraq would still be anyone’s guess. However, should work leak out that troops of the 82nd Airborne Division were about to board transport planes, the Iraqis would know for sure the offensive was upon them. Therefore keeping their destinations secret was important and had a necessary side-benefit – protection from terrorist attack.
The troopers of the 82nd Airborne Division, who carry out regular practice parachute jumps at home base of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, have been shipped out to the war zone. Their division’s specialty is capturing airfields and setting up their artillery unit to defend it, as well as airborne assaults and traditional ground assaults.
According to our latest information, the 82nd Airborne has been assigned the task of capturing Iraq’s oilfields at the outset of the offensive.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report a large number of airborne troops will parachute into western and central Iraq, capture airfields and military bases and prepare them quickly for the arrival of reinforcements. Some units will capture the western oil fields; others take over the fields in the south. Elements of the division may be based in a country bordering on Iraq which for political reasons wants to keep its involvement in the war quiet.
It will be up to contingents of the 101st Airborne Division, flown in from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to seize control of Kirkuk, Mosul and the northern oil fields.
The 1st Cavalry Division, based at Ford Hood with the 4th Infantry was instructed this week to send over a battalion of Apache helicopter gun-ships and a chemical-detection company
The 4,000 men of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, have been conducting training exercises in the Gulf region for months. Another 10,000 Marines of Amphibious Task Force West, shipped out from San Diego a week ago, led by the US military’s two biggest amphibious assault ships, the USS Boxer and the USS Bonhomme Richard. Amphibious Task Force East left from North Carolina with 10,000 Marines on January 14, led by three amphibious assault ships. The smaller 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Pendleton, California, left from San Diego in the first week of January aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa.
In the month to come, there may be some shuffling round of the functions assigned the various units, not all of which have been finalized.