- The Washington Times - Friday, September 6, 2002

The U.S. military would need 60 to 90 days to put a full invasion force of troops, tanks, ships and warplanes in position to attack Iraq, if President Bush authorizes an assault to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

But the president could authorize a different kind of military buildup. Rather than following the World War II doctrine of positioning forces for months before attacking, the United States could begin an assault with forces now in the region, then bring in more troops.

About 100 U.S. and British aircraft yesterday took part in an attack on a major Iraqi air-defense installation, in the biggest single operation over the country in four years, the London Daily Telegraph reported. Twelve warplanes dropped precision-guided bombs in the raid, but scores of other support aircraft also took part in the attack in western Iraq.

The aim of using assault forces in the region before a full buildup would be to gain tactical advantage so that Saddam would not have time to order retaliatory strikes using chemical and biological weapons.

The Pentagon says it has an undisclosed amount of war-fighting equipment and gear, including M1A1 main battle tanks, pre-positioned in friendly Persian Gulf nations.

Army Secretary Thomas White said yesterday that some of that materiel was moved in July from Qatar to Kuwait on the Iraqi border. This is the area where any U.S. ground invasion is likely to begin.

"We have done a lot with pre-positioned stocks in the Gulf, making sure they're accessible and that they're in the right spot to support whatever the president wants to do," Mr. White told a group of reporters, according to the Associated Press.

"But we have done nothing specifically against any particular scenario," he said.

The Army secretary's remarks came the day after Reuters news agency cited a commercial shipping document in reporting that the U.S. Navy has booked a heavy transport ship to carry war-fighting gear to the Gulf.

In a build-first approach, the U.S. Transportation Command would need two months to move the tanks and armored vehicles on which Army soldiers would invade Iraq from Kuwait. More quickly, the Air Force would move fighter jets to bases in the Persian Gulf, including a new sprawling airfield in Qatar. The Navy would have to rearrange carrier commitments to ensure that Gen. Tommy Franks, who heads U.S. Central Command, would have two or more carrier battle groups to launch warplanes and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The Air Force and Army maintain bases in Kuwait to enforce a southern no-fly zone and to deter Iraq from invading Kuwait, as it did in August 1990. The Army recently increased its troop strength and stepped up exercises in the desert outside Kuwait City as a show of force, while the United States wiped out Taliban and al Qaeda terrorist positions in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Air Force runs four main bases in the region: Prince Sultan in Saudi Arabia, the base in Kuwait, the airfield in Qatar and a NATO base in Incirlik, Turkey.

During the 1990s, Saudi rulers refused to let U.S. warplanes use Prince Sultan for strikes against Saddam's weapons facilities. The royal family does, however, let U.S. fighters launch from the base to enforce the southern no-fly zone over Iraq and for support aircraft, such as Airborne Warning and Control System planes.

During Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 U.S.-led offensive that liberated Kuwait from Saddam's invading army, the Saudis opened their country to hundreds of thousands of allied ground forces and hundreds of aircraft. But this time, the United States must find other nations to house an invasion force.

For that reason, and other considerations, some military experts are advocating three days of quick air strikes using forces now stationed in the Gulf, bolstering them with other forces in stages on a regular rotation.

"If we do a buildup of any sort, it's most prudent to do so under the cover of what is already there for the war on terrorism," said a Desert Storm combat veteran, who asked not to be named. "If you do war buildup prior to any hostilities, the minute you start building up, it's a spear at Saddam's heart. This time he knows it's about him and not about Kuwait."

One big question being weighed by war planners is whether Saddam, with nothing to lose, would respond to an invasion by unleashing chemical weapons at Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Three days of lightning strikes using in-place forces would be designed to isolate Saddam, knock out his command and control facilities, and destroy any weapons of mass destruction he may have.

"If you sit around and wait for a deployment, then in this war, which would be about destroying his weapons, you are really asking for him to use them on you," the combat veteran said.

Senior Bush administration officials have repeatedly said it is U.S. policy to seek a regime change in Iraq. In recent public comments, Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Mr. Bush have made the case for invading Iraq to ensure that Saddam never obtains nuclear weapons.

Saddam oversaw a comprehensive nuclear-weapons development program before Desert Storm, when allied jets bombed a number of key installations, according to a report this year by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But the bombs did not kill his cadre of nuclear scientists and engineers or destroy Baghdad's nuclear-weapons designs. Experts say they believe Saddam has reconstituted much of his old program, moving it underground to escape U.S. bombs.

Without fissile material, Baghdad would need five years to build weapons, the center's report said. "Less time would be needed if sufficient fissile material were acquired illicitly," the report said.

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