The United States has begun the massive military build-up required for a war
against Iraq, ordering the movement of tens of thousands of men and tonnes of
matériel to the Gulf region.
Despite the assurances of President George Bush and Tony Blair that 'no decisions'
had been made on how to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, compelling
evidence has emerged in the past week that the US has begun a military build-up
not seen since the last Gulf war. Among the troops arriving in the region are
an estimated 2,500 in Jordan. Although officially en route for an exercise, sources
claim their real purpose is to provide anti-missile protection in the Jordanian
desert to give Israel advance warning against any Iraqi attack launched in response
to a US invasion.
Last week Reuters reported that the US navy had chartered a large civilian
cargo carrier to take battle tanks to the Gulf at the end of September. However,
sources familiar with the ship's manifest claim that the cargo is missiles, ammunition
and tracked transport vehicles for a build-up of munitions for an air campaign.
In the next move up to 20,000 US Marines from Camp Pendelton in California are
to arrive in the region in mid-October.
There have also been persistent reports that US and British Special Forces
have established an operating base near Incerlik in Turkey, from which they have
begun mounting liaison missions into northern Iraq in recent weeks.
Sources say British military liaison teams have arrived in the Gulf. They claim
Britain is likely to agree to commit a 'division minus' - comprising two armored
brigades - to support the three US divisions expected to be deployed.
The slow but persistent build-up is reminiscent of the slow gathering of forces
prior to the Gulf war, which was characterized by blanket official denials that
the troop movements were related to preparations for war.
In a further sign that US and British forces are preparing for attacks on Iraq,
allied aircraft struck a ground-based Iraqi anti-shipping missile site at Basra
in the early hours of yesterday.
That strike followed raids against Iraqi air defense sites last week that sources
claim may have involved up to 100 planes. Similar attacks have been carried out
every few days this year. These types of attacks were common during the Clinton
administration but were discontinued by President Bush because they were thought
to be achieving little.
Their resumption is part of the military and political preparation for a larger
assault. Rather than starting a new war, an option for the supporters of 'regime
change' is to ratchet up attacks a step at a time, until a final drive to Baghdad.
'What is clear,' said one source, 'is that the US and Britain have begun the
air phase that would be required for a wider attack, launching raids under the
auspices of the existing no-fly zones. The intention is that Iraq will have no
air defense capability at all should the US and UK decide to attack. It is a pretty
strong message to Saddam.'
Since the Gulf war, the US has more than doubled the rate at which it can fly
and ship troops around the world; it can have close to 100,000 troops available
Despite all the talk over lack of regional allies, the US now has the use of
bases in Georgia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which it did not have at the time
of the Gulf war, as well as huge old Soviet airbases in Bulgaria and Romania.
Several thousand Special Forces troops are already in the Caucasus and Central
Asian states, while part of the 18,000-strong 82nd Airborne Division is at hand
Among other units, a 20,000-strong Marine Expeditionary Force will arrive in
the Gulf in October supported by 72 A-10 Air Force planes.
The US Army has part of its 3rd Infantry Division in Kuwait and weapons for
at least one armored division. B-52 bombers, carrier-based war planes and other
bombers based in Kuwait, Turkey and Qatar are also available.
In Iraq, the US is said to be preparing forward airbases in the Kurdish-controlled
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002