America, taking a leaf out of its own game plan for the Afghan War, has sent its advance units into Iraq – softly. Very quietly, a small vanguard of US Special Forces crossed from Turkey into north Iraq on Friday, February 15.
On January 4, DEBKA-Net-Weekly (in Issue No. 43) predicted the US military offensive against Iraq would begin in February. On February 20, Japan’s fifth largest newspaper, Sankei Shimbun was the only other media outlet to pick up the long-awaited deployment.
Five months ago, DEBKA-Net-Weekly and DEBKAfile broke the news of the first US Special Forces landing in Afghanistan on September 17, six days after terrorists struck New York and Washington and three weeks ahead of the main force. Now, a knot of commandos is again blazing the trail for the bulk of the US assault force to go in three or four weeks hence. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts therefore expect the main US thrust against Iraq in the second half of March or early April, barring unforeseen circumstances – much sooner than most other experts and media pundits suggest.
Our experts add that the Special Forces vanguard has been directed not to recruit Kurdish or other local opposition forces, but to make its way unaided into central Iraq. There, the commandos are to mark out and, in some cases, sabotage military and strategic targets, so as to cripple vital utilities in advance of the main offensive.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources add that a secret American airlift is ferrying into Turkey large army units, as well as air bomber and fighter reinforcements from the American Masirah air base in Oman. Extra anti-missile missile Patriot units are being deployed in Kuwait, Oman, Israel and Turkey.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources offer a four-point US rationale for the timing of the military move into Iraq and the heavy influx of men and weapons.
1. It was considered politic in Washington to get US military strength in place and poised for action before President George W. Bush sat down with President Jiang Zemin and the Chinese leadership in Beijing Thursday, February 21. The Americans counted on this fait accompli persuading the Chinese that the anti-Saddam offensive was inevitable and non-negotiable.
2. The advance guard of Special Forces needed massive backup on hand from the moment it entered Iraq in case of such trouble as:
A. Iraqi counter-strikes against US targets in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Turkey and Israel, an exigency requiring a large-scale troop entry to Iraq.
B. A major terrorist attack against a US target in the Middle East, Europe or inside America, carried out either by al-Qaeda men, Palestinian terrorists acting on behalf of Iraqi military intelligence, or a combination of the three.
3. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources reveal that when the Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf’s was visiting Washington ten days ago, quantities of weapons and war materiel, hidden in eastern Afghanistan by the Taliban and al Qaeda, began streaming to Iraq via Pakistan and Iran. This discovery was made by US spy satellites and intelligence sources in the Gulf. Convoys of unmarked trucks were spotted moving large consignments of surface-to-surface missiles – especially Scuds – various types of SAM anti-aircraft missiles, heavy artillery and mountains of ammunition, through the anarchic tribal regions of east Afghanistan and west Pakistan. Iran has been picking the goods up and offloading them onto trains that carry the weapons up to the Iraqi border.
US intelligence believes that Saddam handed over tens of millions of dollars to Taliban and some al Qaeda leaders in payment.
The clandestine arms route that has sprung up between Afghanistan and Baghdad was, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, the reason for the resumption of heavy American air attacks in eastern Afghanistan this week. The idea was to put the convoys out of commission before they reached the Pakistan frontier. Pentagon sources declined to account for the bombardments. However, Saddam is clearly building up his military strength from every source available and the Bush administration could not afford to delay its Iraq campaign much longer.
4. Saddam has found additional purveyors of weapons for fat wads of cash in the Balkans, Central Asia and the Middle East, from which planes and ships loaded with arms are streaming to Iraq. Deliveries are routed mostly through Syria and then across the border into Iraq. Syria thus puts itself, together with Iran, squarely behind the arms buildup Iraq is preparing for the US offensive.
These largely concealed developments, even before they surface, are nonetheless striking prefatory sparks in the world’s financial markets, just as the September 11 attacks and the onset of the war in Afghanistan on October 7 did – before they happened.