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Troops At Front See Khafji Clashes As Start of Ground War

February 2, 1991

HAFR AL-BATIN, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ Allied troops at the front are convinced that Saddam Hussein’s raids into Saudi Arabia will bring the war with Iraq to a climax - and a close.

U.S. armor and infantry personnel intently followed the clashes in the Saudi border town of Khafji - and many saw it as a bellweather of wider ground fighting.

Sgt. 1st Class Tom Arnold, commander of an M1-A1 tank platoon said the raid at Khafji showed weaknesses in the Iraqi army.

″His army got all that hype and it was just pushed aside,″ he said. ″If they’re going to come out and play, and bring their stuff forward, it lets us hit him from the air.

″I can’t believe he’s that stupid, but he may be that desperate.″

U.S. officials have said a full-scale ground war is probably weeks away, and that allied air missions will ″soften up″ Iraqi ground troops as much as possible first. President Bush said Friday that a ground war would ″only begin if necessary and when we decide that the time is right.″

But many soldiers expressed eagerness to fight. Arnold, 34, from Bethlehem, Pa., said a ground battle with Iraq is the only way to win the war.

″Our ticket home is north,″ he said, pointing toward the front as he sat on the deck of a mud-colored tank. It was parked on the side of a desert road crowded with supply trucks, tanks, Howitzers and other equipment going north.

Arnold said he believed the Khafji clash exposed the Iraqi army as ″substandard.″

″Hell, Iran fought them to a standstill and Iran is terrible,″ he said.

Further north, a small group of soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division made a rare foray through this Saudi town about 60 miles from the Iraqi border.

They were delivering mail and clothing to a colleague injured in a truck accident who was at a field hospital. On the way back, they passed through this town and stopped to call their families for the first time since Christmas.

Sgt. Lawrence Marin, 27, of Corcoran, Calif., said there is a growing sense that the allies are on the verge of an all-out ground war.

″We’re on the road home. We’ve just got to go through Iraq and Kuwait to get there,″ he said.

The three First Cavalry Division members said it was the first time they were in an actual town since they arrived in Saudi Arabia in September. They complained that troops in the rear, many of them living in five-star hotels, were treated better and got more media attention.

″I’m tired of those guys in the rear getting the glory,″ said Sgt. Jerry Whitt, 26, of Decatureville, Tenn.

″We’ve got no beer, no Super Bowl, no Bob Hope.″

″My wife wrote to me and said she heard Bob Hope visited Saudi Arabia and did I see him. Hell no,″ said Sgt. Anthony Deluca, 34, of West Orange, N.J.

Deluca said the division is facing numbing boredom because of its isolation and anxiety over when a ground battle might begin.

″I’ve learned to accept it,″ he said. ″If we’re not ready now, we’ll never be ready.″

Further south, Arab and American soldiers mingled as they were waiting in line at a bank of telephone by a truck stop.

Egyptian soldier Abu Bakr Rabi Mohammad grinned broadly, gave a thumbs up sign and said: ″Saddam Hussein.″

″No, no, you’ve got it wrong,″ said Army Staff Sgt. Edward Creedon, 28, of Minneapolis, as he turned his new friends’ thumb downward.

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