- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 17 (UPI) — Around a dozen Tomahawk cruise missile-capable ships and submarines have moved from the Mediterranean Sea into the Red Sea and are poised to unleash their satellite-guided weapons on Baghdad, Pentagon officials confirmed Monday.

A small number of U.S. special forces are in northern Iraq, to track down Iraqi Scud missiles and chemical and biological weapons. Around 3,000 are based in Jordan pending the start of the war.

Five aircraft carriers and dozens of ships are in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, ready to launch a furious but short air strike with precision munitions to provoke "shock and awe" in the Iraqi army, and cause mass defections.

"We're locked and loaded," a senior defense official said Monday.

The coming war will be very different from the Operation Desert Storm of 1991, when the goal was to repel Iraqi troops from its neighbor Kuwait.

It did so with 38 days of air strikes with 126,645 combat sorties, during which satellite-guided Tomahawks made their combat debut. It also saw the first use of laser-guided bombs. In all, the coalition dropped 96,000 tons of ordnance. The United States was responsible for 7,500 tons of it. More than 300 tons of the ordnance involved depleted uranium munitions, used to pierce heavy armor.

The war is expected to start with just over three days to a week of air strikes and missile launches, during which as many as 3,000 bombs and missiles will be fired, many of them at air defense sites around Baghdad. Others will target suspected chemical and biological weapons sites, surface-to-air missiles sites, communications facilities and military headquarters, including presidential palaces.

The force at the start of the 1991 ground war totaled 541,425 personnel — more people than are now in the entire active roster of the U.S. Army. There were also 257,900 coalition forces, including 45,000 Brits and 14,600 French. Saudi Arabia dedicated 100,000 troops to the effort, according to Pentagon documents.

Now 149,000 U.S. troops are in Kuwait. More than 100,000 military personnel are arrayed at other bases and on ships in the Middle East and in Europe, ready to participate in the strike to remove Saddam Hussein from power and rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

The Pentagon has not revealed the number of foreign forces that will be fighting with the United States if war is declared but the number is certain to be far lower than in 1991. The United Kingdom has about 45,000 troops in the Gulf region, including 25,000 troops in Kuwait, and Australia has sent around 2,000.

The Persian Gulf War and 10 years of no-fly and drive zone strikes have significantly eroded the Iraqi military. The coalition destroyed roughly 3,700 of 4,280 Iraqi battle tanks; 2,400 of 2,870 armored vehicles; 2,600 of 3,110 artillery pieces and rendered ineffective 42 Iraqi divisions, according to the Pentagon.

From an army that once numbered more than 680,000 in 1991, Iraq is believed to have a ground force now of roughly 400,000, with as many as 300,000 more reservists on a call-up status.

Using black market funds from the illegal sale of oil, Iraq has been able to rebuild its forces somewhat. Iraq now has an estimated 2,200 to 2,600 main battle tanks; 3,700 other armored vehicles and 2,400 major artillery weapons. It could have as many as 850 surface-to-air missile launchers and 3,000 anti-aircraft guns, according to Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Iraq's army includes six Republican Guard divisions, the best-trained and most loyal forces to Saddam. They number around 100,000 men and are expected to heavily fortify Baghdad. Four special Republican Guard brigades numbering 12,000 to 25,000 are dedicated to Saddam's personal and government security.

Pentagon sources say at least one of the Republican Guard units may have been equipped with chemical munitions in the event of an attack on Iraq. Pentagon officials say they have intelligence indications but no proof.

"We suspect it but do we have proof? No," an official told United Press International.

They do not believe Iraq is likely to launch a pre-emptive chemical attack as to do so would likely galvanize the world against Saddam.

"If he gets in a shot before something starts, the floodgates would open as to who would support what," the official said.

Iraq launched 88 Scud missiles during the Persian Gulf war, including 39 at Israel. One Iraqi Scud killed 28 U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia, the single largest loss in Operation Desert Storm.

A total of 146 Americans were killed in action in the Gulf War. There were 98 more casualties in the coalition. The total number of coalition soldiers wounded in action, including American, was 894. Thirty-five Americans died in friendly-fire accidents during the Gulf War.


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