Target: Denying oil fields to Saddam
Senior military sources in Kuwait, asked by debkafile, did not deny that special operations might already be underway in Iraq’s southern oil fields. The same sources said any assault on Iraq will have to carefully balance `hard strikes` with `soft overtures` to Iraqis most likely to capitulate and ally themselves with US-led forces. The key to this approach is to deny the oil fields and their revenue to Baghdad from day one of the war and possibly hasten regime change instigated from within the ruling clique.
Going in softly, which is taken to mean a short massive air campaign to prepare the way for ground troops, would also let the US make good on promises of fair treatment for any surrendering Iraqis. Such promises have been spelled out in massive leaflet drops over the south in recent weeks and also given to Iraqi unit officers in contacts established by US and UK undercover forces in Iraq.
By leaving as much of the civilian infrastructure as possible intact, war planners hope to minimize the cost, in time and money, of rebuilding Iraq`s` economy.
The source played down the role of climate considerations in battle plans. Contrary to press reports that US soldiers cannot fight in high temperatures expected between April and September, he claimed the force gathering in northern Kuwait is well equipped to fight in adverse weather. He also pointed out that thermal imaging devices give American and British troops a distinct advantage when fighting at night, when conditions are much cooler.
Preparations for war are gathering pace in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, the three main staging areas for American and British forces in the Gulf. The 101st Airborne Division of the US Army is training in a town ruined and later abandoned during the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait. The soldiers are honing their urban warfare skills in the streets and alleyways of As Zawr on Faylakah, a small island twenty miles from Kuwait City. The island was bombed extensively during Operation Desert Storm twelve years ago to dislodge Iraqi occupiers and the original Kuwait residents have never returned.
Staff Sgt. Paul Hart from Houston says Hollywood couldn`t have built a more realistic set on which to practice street-to-street fighting. Curious American soldiers found items of Iraqi uniforms and military journals in the ruins.
Capt. Gabe Barton from New Hampshire said, “It gives us a bit of an idea about what size of a built up area we can influence and control.”
The substantial town of mostly two story houses is thought to be typical of the kind of environment American troops could find themselves in should an assault on Iraq be launched. Staff Sgt. Hart put his platoon through the drill of moving quickly through its` grid of streets, scouring roof tops for snipers and covering their rear. He said, “A sniper would really mess us up if we run into one but, you know, we have battle drills which would protect us against that.” Hart wants soldiers who have not seen combat before to have plenty of training to fall back on when confronted with the real thing.