Huge U.S. buildup in Gulf
By Joe Baker, Senior Editor
American forces are engaged in a mammoth buildup in the Gulf in preparation for a possible attack on Iraq, according to Londons The Guardian newspaper.
The paper reported U.S. Central Command (Centcom) will transfer its headquarters to Qatar in November and may remain there indefinitely. The relocation is the culminating one in a series of low-key moves to put all the pieces in place for a rapid American assault if the diplomatic course now being followed by Washington should fail.
Establishment of command posts and pre-positioning of heavy equipment in the region in the past year have put Centcom in a position to launch an attack on Iraq within hours once the order is given, provided the plan is to use a light force of 50,000 troops. Some 30,000 American troops are there already.
John Pike, head of a thinktank which monitors military movements, said: It would take 10 days to bring in the additional equipment, 10 days to airlift the troops and 10 days to get to Baghdad.
It also would not take a long time to assemble a larger force if that is the decision. An overwhelming assembly of 200,000 troops could be put together in two months, much faster than the six-months buildup it took in the first Gulf war.
Deployment of Central Command headquarters from Florida to Qatar is officially part of an exercise called Internal Look and is supposed to last for a week. It is very unusual, though, for Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of the invasion force and his staff of 600 to participate directly in such an exercise. The Pentagon said the move could be permanent.
In the past few months, the $1.7 billion al-Udeid base in Qatar has been expanded and improved to furnish an alternative to Saudi Arabias Prince Sultan air base near Riyadh. The Saudis, who granted access to that base in the first war on Iraq, have decided not to play this time.
Since spring the U.S. Air Force has been moving computer equipment and munitions to al-Udeid, which has the regions longest runway. Engineers also are duplicating the state-of-the-art air operations center, from which large, complex air raids can be coordinated. The U.S. already has 400 war planes in the region.
Another sign of imminent movement was a call from the air force to the Washington Kurdish Institute, seeking a crash course in the Kurdish language. An officer told the institute the training would have to start at once, and some students may have to leave on short notice.
The U.S. Third Army established its headquarters in Kuwait in November, and work has been in progress there to transform it into a hub for ground operations. A special Marine unit equipped to detect chemical, biological or radiological attacks, also is headed to Kuwait.
Marine headquarters was ordered to Bahrain last January to set up alongside the Navys 5th fleet, which has been there for years. Its also believed, the paper said, that special forces have been beefed up in the Gulf. The Navy Seals have established a headquarters in Bahrain with other units in Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.
A huge stockpile of equipment is warehoused in the Gulf in order to be instantly available when the order to invade is given. Pike estimated there enough tanks, armored cars and munitions to equip three heavy mechanized brigades.
The British also are moving into position. The Royal Navys flagship, the Ark Royal, is on exercises in the Mediterranean. It could act as a floating command and control center for British forces and a base for Royal Marine commandos and special forces.
Bombing in northern and southern Iraq continues and has been stepped up. Senior British defense sources told The Guardian both U.S. and British aircraft were increasing their patrols over southern Iraq to knock out the air defense system. The past weeks air strikes show they are striking targets over a wide area.
Those targets have included a large Iraqi military base 250 miles southwest of Baghdad and an anti-ship missile base near the port of Basra in the south. One reason the patrols have stepped up is that American Prowler aircraft, equpped to jam radar, have returned to the Gulf after serving in Afghanistan. Our aircraft and British Tornado bombers and fighters depend on these planes to jam Iraqi radar.