– Air War
– Leapfrogging into Heartland
– Cutting Oil Routes Via Syria
The Bush administration has assembled a potent military coalition for the US-led 2002 campaign against Iraq that is far more down to earth than the alliance which joined his father in Gulf War I. Whereas the 1991 campaign was prepared outside Iraq, mostly in Saudi Arabia, the second thrusts military fingers deep into the targeted country in advance of a formal declaration of war. The assault is thus an accomplished fact. Baghdad’s surprise offer on September 16 to re-admit UN arms inspectors thrown out four years ago came too late to slow America’s military momentum. Six days earlier, on September 10, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, and the head of the Central Command, General Tommy Franks, informed President Bush they had wound up the preparations for war and it was over to the president for the countdown to D-Day.
The latest date for the oft-postponed overt assault bruited in Washington is the first or second week of October – barring any unforeseen Iraqi pre-emptive move.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that special forces units from the United States, Britain, Turkey, Jordan are operational inside Iraq. A steel ring furthermore encloses Iraq by land and sea, some of its links formed by bases in such countries as Saudi Arabia (despite its ifs and buts – as first revealed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly No. 71 on August 2), Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, and, up to a point, Syria (about which in a separate item on the overall Arab stance).
Armed with authority from the US Congress, the Bush team easily brushed aside the diplomatic hurdles raised at the UN Security Council and continues to forge ahead in the field, stage by relentless stage. “It is a kind of modular exercise” – one high-placed Washington source put it to DEBKA. “It is structured so that when it is completed, the commander in chief can signal the transition to open war without further preliminaries on the ground.”
One of those last preliminaries was cleared out of the way this week.
MORE IRAQI COMMAND AND CONTROL KNOCKED OUT
Sunday, September 15, US and UK warplanes, inching closer to Baghdad, blasted another Iraqi anti-air force and air defense command center – this one at Talil, 160 miles south of the capital. DEBKA-Net-Weekly ‘s military experts say that this latest stage in the destruction of Iraq’s air defenses and air force command and control centers peels off another layer of protection from central Iraq. It lays its air space open to US flights all the way from Kuwait to Baghdad. Only two more command centers of this kind are left standing: Taj, in central Iraq and Kirkuk in the north.
The Taj command center lies only 23 miles north of Baghdad and 80 miles south of Saddam’s home town and hideout at Tikrit. Its function is to defend these two key cities against attack from the north. Its destruction will therefore leave both exposed, together with all of central Iraq where Saddam and his top government and military officials are concentrated.
Disposing of the Taj and Kirkuk centers will deprive Iraq of central and regional operational control for launching its missiles, leaving decisions up to each individual missile unit commander who will have to depend on limited local data. The Iraqi air force and air defense units will likewise be denied effective central command and control, operating largely in the dark without proper coordination from above.
Local command centers can be quite simply paralyzed by electronic means.
Once Saddam’s air and air defense forces’ command and control centers are demolished, US, British, Turkish and Jordanian special forces troops can strike deep into the country from the north, west and south.
US, British and Jordanian special forces disposed along the Iraqi-Syrian border and in the western desert will have three missions:
1. To sever Iraq’s illicit oil export routes via Syria – border crossings, roads and railways – thereby bringing down Iraq’s daily oil output from more than one million barrels per day to an estimated 700,000 bpd.
2. To block off the deliveries of Baghdad’s imported weapons and military spare parts through Syria’s Mediterranean ports. Iraq made these war contingency purchases over recent months and weeks, mainly in East Europe and the Far East. Denied access to Syrian ports, Baghdad will have to fall back on precarious overland routes from Iran or use smugglers’ planes and boats taking off from the Gulf, Central Asia or Pakistan to ferry supplies in. Already, Iraq is hard-pressed to locate big-time smugglers for this traffic, despite big financial rewards.
3. To seek out and destroy surface-to-surface missiles batteries and the sites of kamikaze planes and gliders loaded with chemical or biological weapons that Iraq has spread out across the Western Desert and other parts of the country. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources say the latest intelligence information raises the possibility that Iraq has subdivided its missile batteries into smaller units of only one or two missiles for simultaneous multiple firings from scattered locations. It also suggests that the aircraft loaded with WMD are concealed in caves or natural folds, ready to be flown out by their suicide-pilots on low-flying night missions.
Turkish Contingents: DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report the arrival of the command centers of at least three Turkish mechanized infantry in northern Iraq in the middle of last week. Over the weekend, they will be followed by the vanguard units of the main Turkish invasion force. The Turks aim to complete the transfer of their entire expeditionary force into Iraq by the last week of September, in full coordination with the US Central Command of General Tommy Franks, now in-theater. Their primary area of operation is central North Iraq, around the oil cities of Mosul and Kirkuk.
Western and Central Iraq
The recent bombing of the H-2, H-3 and al-Baghdadi airbases has opened the way, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, for US and Jordanian special forces’ landings on the Iraqi side of the frontier and their advance on the blitzed installations. Their first task is to cut off access to Iraqi reinforcements, including engineering teams, to repair the bases. (See also separate article on the information US FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen passed to the Iraqis via the Russians). Mostly they will be engaged in fighting their way into the bases and preparing them for large-scale allied landings for the next phase of the offensive. This will entail “leapfrogging” troops into the Iraqi heartland very quickly, in order to cut off Saddam’s twin power centers, Baghdad and his clan’s home town of Tikrit, from the rest of the country.
To accomplish this mission, General Franks intends fielding a division-strength US force, the largest US paratroop force deployed in battle since the Vietnam War.
British and Jordanian paratroops will also participate in the operation.
The force will be dropped complete with equipment over three centers.
The H2, H3, al-Baghdadi air bases, taking control of this complex.
The area around the three cities of al-Hadithah, al-Haqlaniyah and Bani Dahir, 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Tikrit and 85 miles (135 kilometers) from the giant Iraqi air bases at al-Habbaiya.
The city of Dawr, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) southeast of Tikrit. The unit, which will include crack US Navy Seals, has been assigned a three-fold mission:
1. To cut off the road links between Baghdad to Tikrit.
2. To capture an ancient aqueduct about eight miles (12 kilometers) east of Tikrit and some five miles (eight kilometers) east of Dawr that vanishes under the desert sands to the south. US and Israeli spy satellites and aircraft have discovered, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, that sections of the aqueduct may be camouflaging the communications, coolant and ventilation systems of underground military facilities, where Saddam and his family are believed to be holed up along with Iraq’s top political and military officials.
3. The Navy Seals will patrol the river Euphrates against military movement or any attempt by Saddam and family to escape by water to the north or south.
The prevailing view at Franks’ command center is that some Iraqi forces will not wait beyond the initial stages of the US drive into the country before switching sides and turning their guns on troops loyal to Saddam. Some of the officers of would-be rogue units are already in touch with the Americans in and outside Iraq, or with Jordanian army officers leading special units in the field.
The Southern Front
The US-UK air raids over al-Nukeib on August 5 – and Talil on September 16 – strengthen the estimate voiced by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts that the main American invasion thrust will come from Kuwait in the south and split up between two main routes – the eastern arm heading for Basra, the south Iraqi oil fields and Khozistan; the northern arm pointing north, first reaching the Shi’ite Moslem cities of Najef and Karbala, then on to Baghdad. US and British troops have plunged into intense activity along the eastern axis.
The Eastern Axis
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources say forward intelligence and reconnaissance units of the US and British special forces are scoping out this “Eastern Axis” route, cleansing it of the sparse Iraqi forces still there and preparing the ground for the main allied drive.
These commandos are occupied at three locations:
A. The environs of Jabiliah, south of the Hawr al-Hammar lake and marshes. As soon as the invasion force arrives, the commandos will rope off the southern Iraqi region and prevent Iraqi contingents deployed north of Najef and Karbala from heading south to arrest the American advance.
B. North of Basra, where US and British special forces have sectioned off the road at a point between al-Quranah near Aradah and the northern area of al-Uzayr, the traditional Moslem burial site of the Hebrew prophet Ezra, known in Arabic as Uzayr. This eastern region of Iraq is across the border from the Iranian cities of Khorranshahr and Hamid. US forces will be on guard against Iranian regular or guerrilla units slipping in and seizing Iraqi oil fields.
C. US and British special forces units are in position between the Iraqi cities of al-Quranah and al-Amarah opposite the Iranian city of Susangerd as a barrier against a potential Iranian grab for the large Shiite cities of Najef and Karbala before the invasion force comes in.
The comings and goings of these advance US-UK special force troops are watched with dismay by Iran’s leaders. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Tehran sources report that alarm on this score sent Iranian president Mohammed Khatami to Jeddah on September 14 to confer urgently with Saudi crown prince Abdullah. On September 16, former Iranian president Hashem Rafsanjani accused the Americans of embarking on their military venture for the purpose of seizing control of Iraq’s oil fields. Beneath this charge was the very real Iranian fear of an American attempt to snatch the oilfields of Iranian Khozistan as well.