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Kuwait becomes an armed camp as US prepares to go back into action (INDEPENDENT UK) By Andrew Gumbel, in Los Angeles 12/09/02)Source: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=359901 INDEPENDENT UK INDEPENDENT UK Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
War may not have been declared, but the mobilisation against Iraq is already well under way.

The latest figures from US Central Command suggest that 60,000 American troops are already stationed in the Gulf region. A total of 12,000 are in Kuwait – twice as many as there were a few weeks ago. Others are stationed in Qatar ready for the computerised war games starting today, or on one of the vessels making up the 5th Fleet´s fully primed aircraft-carrier battle group.

And alongside the men is the hardware – tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and artillery pieces. Mostly, these have been taken into the Gulf by transport ship. Some of the lighter items, including satellite technology, prefabricated barracks and warehouses, have also been ferried in by cargo plane, with the daily requirements for food, toiletries and other essentials.

According to the latest eyewitness reports, Kuwait has been converted to a US armed camp. A total of 1,600 square miles – a quarter of the surface area of the country – is taken up by American military personnel and equipment.

And all this is but a foretaste of what will come if a general deployment order comes from Washington. The spectacle of the world´s most powerful military force on the move is likely to be a breathtaking operation. The best estimates of American plans suggest that between 100,000 and 250,000 men will have to be brought in by ship or plane, with heavy equipment and weapons. The US army has already begun piling tugboats and forklift trucks on to a cargo ship in Virginia in anticipation of the loading and unloading operations that might lie ahead.

The deployment would not be quite on the scale of the 1991 Gulf War, when the military build-up took six months and involved half a million men under arms – double the number being discussed this time around. The technology of military logistics has changed as well. Do not expect to see quite the same production-line movement of ships and men across the Atlantic, through the Mediterranean and into the theatre of war.

In the 1990s, the US acquired about 20 roll-on roll-off transport ships capable of carrying heavy tanks, artillery and other military equipment. New transport planes – notably C-17s – are also playing an important role in dropping troops into the region.

"We have aircraft that can carry more people and equipment further and faster than we had in 1990," said Charles Krulak, a former commandant of the Marine Corps. "We have ships that are far more capable [and] weaponry has gained even greater lethality, so the amount you need to transport has been cut down." Various experts, including Michael O´Hanlon of the Brookings Institute, who has regularly briefed Congress on the military implications of an invasion of Iraq, believe that it would take eight to 12 weeks to deploy a force of 250,000.

If, as recent Pentagon leaks have suggested, the bulk of those 250,000 men are held back until the invasion is well under way, the time lag between a deployment order and the outbreak of hostilities could be less than two months. With the troops already on the move, all sorts of enterprises are moving with them. During the previous Gulf War, the US Army Corps of Engineers built 23,000 latrines, 10,000 washstands and 16,000 field showers in the desert. A similar frenzy of temporary building – much of it done by local contractors – is likely this time and it has already begun.

Most of the new arrivals in Kuwait are living in tents supplied by army engineers. For the moment, all their necessities are being flown in, although the longer they stay the more likely it is that the military will turn to regional contractors for food and the construction of living quarters.

One unanswered question is how to fit everyone in. Last time around, the bulk of the anti-Iraq coalition was based in Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis have so far refused to be quite so accommodating. That leaves the small Gulf states – Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – to play host to a vast array of military visitors. The island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean is already a key staging post (as it was in last year´s war against Afghanistan), and Turkey is likely to be a valuable strategic partner to the north.

Several military strategists have emphasised the importance of unleashing the initial air strikes as quickly as possible – preparing the way for ground troops as soon as day three, according to some scenarios – so the bulk of the invading force can set up in Iraq.

The availability of air strips is, therefore, crucial. If Saudi Arabia were to open up its 31 military airfields to the US forces, the problem would be solved immediately. If it does not, the Americans will once again have to call on the smaller Gulf states, most of whom have at least two airfields with long runways – the UAE has eight. Mr O´Hanlon believes that the United States needs at least 15 airstrips, if not 20, to make the operation feasible. (© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd 12/09/02)

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