- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

France has joined President Bush's list of unspecified "friends" who will aid a U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to a senior administration official.
France, a major ally in Desert Storm in 1991, has been one of the most cautious members of the U.N. Security Council in terms of supporting an attack on Iraq. But behind the scenes, the official said, the French are much more hawkish.
France has identified ground units that would be offered for the fight. The official also hinted French combat jets would take part.
"There are dozens of countries offering support," the official said.
Britain is already on board, saying it is ready to "shed blood" to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and may commit 20,000 troops. The U.S. war plan calls for about 250,000 ground, air and naval forces. There are other NATO allies ready to help, including Italy, Spain, Hungary, Poland and possibly even Germany, the most dovish alliance member.
NATO member Turkey has said that U.S. planes may use its Incirlik air base to launch strikes. Officials are confident that when "crunchtime comes," as one put it, Ankara will also agree to let American ground troops set up on Turkish soil for airborne incursions into forward operating bases north of Baghdad.
Washington is negotiating with Turkey over a plan to invest millions of dollars to upgrade local bases to house more aircraft and, most importantly, ground troops.
"I think we're quite comfortable with what we can do from the south," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said during a visit to Turkey, referring to Persian Gulf allies. "Obviously, if we are going to have significant ground forces in the north, this is the country they have to come through. There is no other option."
In the Persian Gulf region, the Pentagon has lined up a sufficient number of bases to launch both ground and air assaults.
Kuwait, overrun by Iraqi troops 11 years ago and liberated by the United States, has given broad freedom to the Pentagon to operate inside the country. Camp Doha is a year-round staging ground for U.S. soldiers. The U.S. Army's V Corps, whose 1st Infantry and 1st Armored divisions would spearhead any invasion, has built a permanent command post in Kuwait.
Rivaling Kuwait's strategic importance in the Gulf is Qatar. The tiny oil emirate has moved aggressively since the 1991 war to forge close military ties with the United States. It has allowed construction of a massive U.S. base that can hold hundreds of attack jets and thousands of troops. A recently tested command center is likely to be home for Gen. Tommy Franks, chief of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., to run an invasion of Iraq.
Even Saudi Arabia, which has become more restrictive on the use of Prince Sultan air base south of Riyadh, may allow some operations from that base in a war against Baghdad. In the last major attack on Iraq, the 1998 Desert Fox bombing ordered by President Clinton, the oil kingdom would not let strike aircraft use their bases. It did allow support aircraft, such as AWAC early-warning planes, to take off and land at Sultan.
"In terms of how many nations would join the coalition, I don't know," Gen. Franks said in a recent press conference. "And I have to leave it at that. I will say that my sense is that we have a great many friends, partners and allies who see the situation the same way we do. And I'll leave it at that."
The number of military allies may not rise to the level seen during the 1991 war, when Egypt and Syria joined in. But, says one senior official, it will be a substantial and more manageable group of participants.
Mr. Bush said recently, "Should we have to use troops, should it become a necessity in order to disarm him, the United States, with friends, will move swiftly with force to do the job."
The United States today has about 60,000 troops in the region and will soon begin moving thousands more to Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and perhaps Turkey.
In addition to the Army's V corps in Germany, the 1st Calvary Division in Texas is likely to be tapped. This would give Gen. Franks the combined firepower of Apache attack helicopters, M1A1 main battle tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles to carry infantry troops.
The 101st Airborne Division in Kentucky and special operations troops out of Fort Bragg, N.C., would deliver fast-maneuvering forces able to swarm around the enemy.
War planners have looked at February as the best time for an attack.


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