Among the roughly 210,00 troops the United States has piled up in the Middle East and Gulf within striking distance of Iraq, the estimated D-Day veers between March 10 and March 18. But, as one American officer in Kuwait put it: “The maneuvers in Washington, especially by the White House, are very hard to understand now.”
The coalition troop breakdown to date is: Britain, 35,000; Turkey, 90,000; Gulf emirates — deployed for defensive purposes in Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait — 15,000; Kurds – members of the two main tribal militias that govern Iraqi Kurdistan, the Patriotic Union of Kuwait and Kurdistan Democratic Party – 90,000; another 5,000 special forces commandos and army, air force and naval personnel from Australia, Spain, Italy, Denmark and other countries.
In all, a little more 500,000 troops are massed in the target region, ready to close in on Saddam Hussein.
Tuesday, February 25, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report allied commanders were placed on the ready for immediate action after US general Tommy Franks, the overall commander of the war on Iraq, arrived at his Camp As Sayliyah headquarters in Qatar. They were warned that invasion orders could come at any time between Friday, February 28 and March 18.
Franks arrived in-theatre from successful negotiations with Turkish leaders on the two thorny issues subsequently approved by the Turkish Cabinet and referred to parliament in Ankara: The use of Turkish bases as launching pads for the US invasion of northern Iraq and the deployment of Turkish forces in northern Iraq.
(See separate article below for more details.)
The second, imperative behind General Franks’s the arrival in Qatar was concern that the long wait for action might affect the morale of the officers and men standing by.
On this subject, a senior US military source in Kuwait had plenty to say to DEBKA-Net-Weekly:
“The media constantly harp on the Security Council and the governments stalling US military action. No one reports on the feelings and thoughts of the commanders and forces, who are actually going in to fight Iraq. They should be the focus, now that combat operations are taking place and the big offensive is on the way. It’s more important to understand what goes through their heads and emotions about the war ahead than to fixate on whether France or Russia will or won’t use their veto in the Security Council.”
“The war command is told that troop morale is high and the men are strongly motivated, eager to get going. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have questions or concerns – and it is only natural that as the waiting period drags on, they have more questions, especially – as we must admit – when the frontline men don’t always get answers.”
What are the most frequently asked questions?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources canvassed American and British officers and troops at forward positions in Kuwait in the south, moving north to the Kurdish Iraqi town of Zakho near the Iraq-Turkish frontier, to discover their most pressing concerns:
A. Why is the war delayed?
The men in the field ask if the psychological pressure on Saddam Hussein may not have outlived its effectiveness – which would mean that time is now on the side of the Iraq leader, his forces and the al Qaeda plotters in the Gulf and Iraq.
An officer told DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “We have been asked to hold until the first days of March or until the Daisy needs cutting.”
He was referring to the moment still in the future when US aircraft begin dropping 15,000-pound BLU-82 “daisy cutter” bombs – the most powerful in the American conventional arsenal — on the Iraqi army and Saddam’s hideouts.
The waiting is also affecting Iraq’s front line forces.
While convinced of the inevitability of the war and the downfall of their ruler by the millions of propaganda leaflets dropped over their field units and American “black” television and radio broadcasts, they cannot understand why the tyrant is still sitting in his palace in Baghdad. Where is the promised US offensive to bring him down, they ask?
US military commanders are beginning worry about the mindset of Iraqi combat troops. They are no longer as terrified as they were at first by the prospect of a mighty US offensive, but turning apathetic. The jury is still out on how they will behave when the action starts. Will they surrender immediately, as the US war command hopes, or be prepared to fight, even for a short period?
As time goes by, American troops are uncomfortably aware of being watched by Iraqi military and al Qaeda spies who study their training methods and tactics and take note of their units’ markings for future targeting. “These guys pop out of every hole; they are always around and with us,” said one officer. “Every move we make is under scrutiny – and it is not friendly. We urgently need to shake these guys off.”
B. Many US and allied troops wonder out loud whether assault by Iraqi chemical, biological or nuclear-radiological weapons is a real threat to them.
The odds of Iraq resorting to unconventional warfare are believed to increase the longer the UN Security Council deliberates and UN weapons inspections in Iraq drag on.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts say Saddam is up to his old tricks – only now he has come up with a new dodge.
Last week, Baghdad “found” for the UN inspectors 100 documents that appeared out of nowhere recording old stocks of chemical and biological agents. Iraq also suddenly “discovered” an R-400 bomb containing “liquid”, amid strong hints of the presence of biological material. Furthermore, Saddam agreed to a rare interview with CBS anchorman Dan Rather for “60 Minutes II”, in the same week also receiving Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal emissary, Yevgeny Primakov.
(More about the Primakov mission in HOT POINTS below).
The Al-Samoud-2 missiles which the UN inspectors gave Saddam until Saturday, March 1, to destroy, are seen by the US military waiting for orders to move as incontrovertible evidence of Iraqi violations. They know that fitted with a Russian-designed Volga SA-2 engine, the missile’s range jumps from 183 km (which too is in excess of the 150km range permitted by the UN) to 600 km, bringing Saudi oilfields and Tel Aviv well within its reach.
The Iraqi dictator is making a show of taking his time. He has also opted for the path of bald-faced admission, taking a page out of the tactics practiced by Iranian and North Korean leaders, both of whom have told the world openly that they are capable of manufacturing enriched uranium and nuclear weapons.
Like them, the Saddam government has unashamedly pointed the UN inspectors towards what appears to be an Iraqi biological weapon, the R-400 bomb filled with “liquid”. Although the Iraqi ruler has made the world community a gift of this coveted smoking gun, no one, including Washington, shows any sign of running with this proof and acting to halt the danger – any more than they counted the al-Samoud missiles as the last straw.
Some American and British officers and men waiting in the Gulf region for orders to attack ask if the international community’s passivity in the face of these proofs and threats will not ultimately place them at risk.
Those who read Arabic were also rocked back by the message contained in the millions of leaflets dropped on Iraqi forces in southeast Iraq, including Umm al-Qasar, the main city and naval base protecting the Gulf entrance to the Shaat al-Arab waterway and the Faw Peninsula. Marked with the international emblem for nuclear material, these leaflets warn Iraqi commanders who obey Saddam’s orders to launch nuclear, biological or chemical weapons against US forces
they will be caught and face trial as war criminals.
Members of the US-led fighting force see this message as further proof that Iraq has such weapons and the willingness to use them – a direct threat to their own safety. After all, they reason, if the threat was not real, why would the US military command bother to issue this warning?
C. Will Saddam be allowed to get away like Osama bin Laden?
“That is what worries me most,” said one officer. “Are we giving him time to get away? We must hope and pray that Saddam will not be allowed to disappear; after all, we’ve had plenty of time to make a study of his responses and his look-alikes.”
Clearly, US military minds have been indelibly marked by bin Laden’s escape with his family from the Tora Bora mountain cave complex in Afghanistan – as reported exclusively by DEBKA-Net-Weekly on December 12, 2001.
D. What military challenges await US and allied troops inside Iraq and its major cities?
Over and above the Iraqi army, US military planners and field commanders are preparing for extraordinary ordeals.
They are concerned about becoming embroiled in factional warfare in Iraq, such as vendettas among Shiites or Kurds, as well as being targeted by terrorists armed with unconventional weapons – operatives of Iraqi military intelligence, Kurdish extremist groups linked to al Qaeda and direct action by Osama bin Laden’s men.
Serious tests would be posed by a decision by Saddam or his sons to throw child soldiers, organized in “Saddam’s Children’s Units”, into the fray. US field intelligence has fresh data that Iraq has set up units deploying children aged from six to 10 at strategic battle sites, such as Baghdad and Tikrit. These children are said to have been trained and brainwashed from the age of four to attack any foe, regardless of origin, intending harm to the Iraqi leader or a member of his clan.
“If this is true,” one source told DEBKA-Net-Weekly, “We face something more agonizing and horrible than even weapons of mass destruction. How can we morally come to terms with killing children in line with our orders to capture a target?”
The troops have no such moral dilemmas with regard to the Western civilians who went to Baghdad to volunteer as human shields against Iraq’s enemies.
As one officer put it, “There’s no such thing as a human shield. Any humans standing between us and our objective can expect to be treated as a hostile force.”