Notwithstanding the harsh accusations and promised military action, the White House has still not set the date for launching the US assault on Iraq. The debate continues to swirl back and forth in the top presidential team. The current weight of the consensus leans towards the days immediately after the American half-term election in November. At any rate, none of the disputants want to delay beyond Christmas 2002. President George W. Bush, in his much-awaited address to the UN General Assembly Thursday, September 12, spoke with hard determination about America’s responsibility to remove the Iraqi regime and the danger it poses to the world. However, he gave no indication of when the action would start.
The wavering is caused partly by snags in the last details of the war preparations. For instance, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources have discovered, the US air command center has run into difficulties in setting up its computer network at the Qatar base of Al Udied. At the same time, the oblique hints thrown out by Washington of arguments over the timeline may be part of America’s war of nerves against Iraq’s rulers. Talk of November may also be a false lead to induce Saddam Hussein to lower his guard and then strike earlier in a surprise attack.
In any case, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources confirm that US war preparations are in their final stages. Massive consignments of military hardware — including tanks, missiles, heavy artillery and radar stations — as well as nuclear, biological and chemical warfare units, field hospitals and heavy engineering equipment are landing at Egypt’s Cairo West air base.
The air and sea lifts, ordered after the White House and Pentagon decided to make Cairo West its main supply and logistics base for the US military offensive against Iraq, are proceeding round the clock.
By using Cairo West, General Tommy Franks’ Florida-based US Central Command, which is running the global war against terrorism, can turn Qatar’s al-Udeid air base into its main regional headquarters.
As DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources have reported before (most recently in Issue 74, August 23), all the US forces necessary for the offensive will be standing ready in theater by the end of the first week of October. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources remark that the sky over Iraq will then be pitch black and moonless.
The sources also report that the United States has begun moving an additional 20,000 Marines to the Gulf, most landing in Kuwait and Oman. The troop transfer will wind down toward Thursday or Friday, September 12 and 13.
Our sources contradict the claims that the 4,000 US special forces troops in Jordan for a joint exercise, left the kingdom last week. Just the reverse: They are now deployed on the kingdom’s eastern border with Iraq, using Ruweishid as their main logistical base.
On the heels of the heavy US-UK air raid Friday, September 6 on Iraq’s H-3 air base complex and the big al-Baghdadi air base, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources reveal Gen. Franks put an unusual proposal to US President George W. Bush, vice president Dick Cheney and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In a throwback to the Vietnam War, he suggested following up the air raids by dropping a large contingent of paratroops on the blitzed bases. They would seize the installations and then move out to Central Iraq, landing at a point on the highway between Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s tribal home town, and Baghdad. The paratroops would thereby cut off movement between the two major government centers and disrupt the functioning of Saddam’s government
Franks was given permission to go ahead and prepare the paratroop contingent for the ploy, since when, our sources report, a division-strength paratroop force is being assembled from bases in the United States, Germany and Italy.
Large American engineering, aerial command and radar contingents have also been deployed in Jordan and in US- and Turkish-controlled bases in northern Iraq. The contingents will be flown in to these bases, to become the first US line of defense/offense inside Iraq – as soon as the bases are captured.
Despite public statements to the contrary, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, Qatar and Egypt have quietly agreed to let the United States use their naval, air and ground bases for its campaign against Iraq. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi crown prince Abdullah, in particular, have more than one strategic reason for extending this permission to Washington.