War Preparations in Kuwait Nearing Peak
CAMP CHAMPION, Kuwait (AP) _ Plastic-wrapped attack helicopters wait in Kuwait’s oil port for unloading. Military convoys rumble out day and night on Kuwait’s six-lane highways relaying arms, vehicles, fuel and troops.
The final pieces are falling into place for any attack on Iraq _ and U.S. and British officers in the sprawling new desert camps around Kuwait City say they are only days away from full force if the order comes.
``We’re up to strength, and getting ready to go,″ U.S. Army Maj. Charlie A. Thorpe boasted, directing a rigging crew strapping parachutes onto a 17-ton earth-mover for any air drop into battle.
Nearby, members of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade loaded cardboard-cushioned pallets with war gear that arrived three or four days earlier.
They worked in a 40-feet high steel-beamed hangar with smooth concrete floors _ itself built by U.S. troops _ on desert floor where only thorny shrubs and wind-blown trash stood 10 days before.
An intense U.S. build-up in recent weeks has brought the U.S. and British troop strength in the Gulf region to nearly 300,000. The launch pad for any invasion of Iraq is here, in Kuwait.
Outside Kuwait City, the capital and home to the majority of the nation’s people, tiny Kuwait bustles like a countrywide military camp.
Trucks _ splotchy green camouflage for the United States, mustard-yellow for the British _ barrel constantly down sand-encroached highways. The convoys roll out with lines of earth-movers one day, fuel tankers the next.
U.S. Army women line the roadsides guarding dirt tracks that lead to overflowing U.S. military tent camps.
There, troops that arrived two, three or four weeks ago run through endless training in urban warfare and live-fire practice toward the Iraq border.
Sirens and barked orders signal near-daily drills in donning masks and suits against toxic clouds.
Soldiers race Bradley armored vehicles through the open desert, hopping out with assault rifles pointed to take mock prisoners, seize mock cities.
Kuwaitis _ in the oil-rick emirate’s capital of shopping malls, TGI Friday’s restaurant chains and Starbucks _ notice not a bit _ except when they leave the city for desert picnics.
``They are not a bother at all. We have to have them here,″ said Sameera Ibrahim, a 35-year-old Kuwaiti electrical engineer, shopping for vegetables and fruit.
Billboards thanking the United States for beating back the 1990-91 Iraq invasion still line the roads here.
Forces in recent weeks have poured in by military ships and jets and commercial flights. The force built up now is still well shy of the more than half-million U.S. troops deployed at the peak of the Gulf War.
And it remains under half the size of the total 700,000-strong deployment by the nearly three dozen countries in that coalition.
The United States and Britain are proposing a March 17 deadline for total disarmament by Iraq. If a U.N. resolution to that effect fails, U.S. administration officials say privately, the U.S. forces here could get the call to move out even before that date.
A few key elements for the arming are missing yet.
A fierce sandstorm delayed unloading and prepping of scores of crucial helicopters and vehicles for the 101st Airborne.
British commanders say they are awaiting at least two ships with more supplies _ again, a matter of perhaps five days, they say.
And U.S. military leaders have yet to disclose their plan for an entire infantry division, the 4th. Its soldiers remain in Texas while its equipment is on ships off Turkey, so far denied permission to pass through en route to northern Iraq.
The weeks-long unrolling toward the diplomatic end game has been an advantage for U.S. troops, they say. The lashing wind, abrasive sand and night cold has accustomed the forces to the desert. Training has accustomed them to desert fighting.
Airborne assault teams are coming on line only now _ with the arrival of the Army 101st, as well as the artillery, radar systems, and other heavy equipment of the 82nd Airborne.
Airborne assault teams were the first troops on the ground in the Gulf War. They stand as potentially crucial again in northern Iraq, since Turkey is denying access for ground forces.
``We could go right now with paratroopers and small arms. But in the next few days we can improve our combat capacity,″ 2nd Brigade commanding officer Maj. Gen. Chuck Swannack said.
Next to him, a crane lowered the armor-reinforced earth mover _ good for readying airstrips, the 82nd’s combat reason-for-being _ onto rollers for the parachute riggers.
``If the commanders pull the trigger,″ Swannack said, ``the gun’s going to be loaded.″