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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 09:30 GMT
Military stage set for war with Iraq

By Paul Adams
BBC defence correspondent in Kuwait

With the Pentagon talking in terms of a troop build-up now numbering 150,000 across the Gulf, war could just be as little as a fortnight away.

The complex jigsaw of military components is far from complete.

Some British heavy armour has not even left Germany, but this is almost certainly misleading.

The military assault on Iraq could well begin before some units arrive. Military planners call it a "rolling start."

US forces
US forces getting ready in Kuwait

"There's little alternative, if it's to be done before summer," one senior coalition officer said, while activity swarmed around him in one of a host of sandy makeshift camps north of Kuwait City.

The Pentagon says there are 70,000 US military personnel in Kuwait, including the army's Fifth Corps, 3rd Infantry Division and 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

Tens of thousands more are on the way.

Awesome firepower

At sea two more aircraft carriers will soon join three already within striking distance of Iraq.

Land-based combat aircraft have also been trickling into bases throughout the region for weeks. An awesome array of firepower is now poised to strike.

Highway 80, which runs dead straight to Kuwait's northern border with Iraq, has become the almost exclusive preserve of the military.

Convoys and single vehicles shuttle to and fro, ferrying supplies to vast, sprawling camps just visible behind sand walls on either side.

Civilian buses, curtains covering their windows, can be seen heading north from the city, escorted by military police, as troops continue to pour in.

Anti-tank missile launchers
Training with anti-tank missiles

Tanks churn up storms of dust as they exercise day after day, while troops familiarise themselves with this inhospitable landscape, walking for miles under heavy packs.

While the tanks are wearing their desert colours, much of the traffic here is still in its customary dark green camouflage. Officers say it is unlikely every vehicle will be repainted. It is simply not necessary.

"It's pretty green where they're going," one spokesman noted, a reference to the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates that point the way to Baghdad.

By midweek, the whole of Britain's 3 Commando Brigade will be in place.

Troops from the other major British formations, 16 Air Assault Brigade and the 1st Armoured Division, have also started to arrive.

Britain's military contribution is expected to top 40,000.

Hi-tech war

Whether it starts on a moonless night in early March or, because of last minute diplomatic manoeuvring, some time later, the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq is expected to be high tech and rapid.

With vast quantities of "smart" munitions and digital networks enabling near real time targeting and damage assessment, operations will be conducted at a much quicker pace than was possible during the 1991 Gulf War.

Far from waiting for the results of a lengthy air campaign, planners expect to get "boots on the ground" inside Iraq within hours.

Behind the invasion, the job of bolstering Kuwait's own defences will fall, in part, to a multinational force from Gulf states known as Peninsula Shield.

Protecting Kuwait

Around 4,000 troops from the United Arab Emirates arrived in Kuwait on Tuesday.

Others will follow from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.

The force is likely to include Apache attack helicopters and at least one warship.

Two Kuwaiti brigades have already been deployed to the northern border as the country's armed forces moved to their second highest state of alert.

Two small northern oil fields close to the border have also been closed for security reasons.

Preparations will continue until the political process is exhausted. But from a strictly military point of view, the stage would appear to be set.

The BBC's Paul Adams
"Camp Gibraltar lies at the heart of a vast concentration of British and American troops covering much of northern Kuwait"


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