WASHINGTON Army plans to deploy troops to Persian Gulf
U.S. warplanes dropped thousands of leaflets over southern Iraq promoting American propaganda radio broadcasts.
WASHINGTON -- The Army said Thursday it is sending 800 engineering and intelligence specialists and about 300 air defense troops to the Persian Gulf over the next several weeks.
The deployments are part of an accelerating buildup of U.S. air, land and naval forces in the Gulf area as President Bush contemplates a possible attack to disarm Iraq and remove the government of President Saddam Hussein.
Britain is preparing to commit up to 20,000 troops to join U.S. forces, but it is not likely that the British forces will be in place until late February or the beginning of March at the earliest, according to defense analysts.
U.S. military planners are contemplating a somewhat earlier timetable, with Jan. 27 -- the date by which chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix must report to the Security Council -- frequently cited as a potential "trigger" day.
An estimated 50,000 U.S. troops already are in the region, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last week signed orders for the deployment of tens of thousands more troops in the next few weeks as Bush ratchets up the pressure. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein must understand that "his day of reckoning is coming," Bush declared Thursday in Crawford, Texas.
Which specialists are going
The engineering and intelligence specialists, based in Germany, are from the 130th Engineer Brigade, the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, the 22nd Signal Brigade and the 3rd Corps Support Command. The Army said they would deploy before mid-February but was not more specific.
Between 800 and 900 soldiers from Fort Bliss-based Patriot units are in Kuwait, including some who were scheduled to return home shortly but instead have been ordered to remain, Offutt said.
If Bush orders a U.S. attack on Iraq, Patriot air defense forces would be expected to play an important role in defending U.S. and allied forces in Kuwait and elsewhere from attack by Iraqi Scud missiles.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has told his armed forces to prepare for war, but he is not expected to give the order to deploy until after the Security Council acts on Blix's findings. Once the order is given, it will take at least three to six weeks for the troops and equipment to get into position and gear up to a state of full combat readiness.
"There's a political element to the timing. The U.K. government will have tremendous difficulties if it doesn't look as though it has exhausted the U.N. process," said Timothy Garden, director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a London research center.
"The British public is not desperately enthusiastic about this campaign, and if the United States wants Britain with it, which I think it does, it will have to take this into consideration," Garden said.
Britain's potential role
Blair wants Britain to be a significant partner rather than a bit player in any military action against Iraq. To that end, Britain is planning to contribute an armored division, an aircraft carrier battle group and a significant Royal Air Force (RAF) component to the U.S. buildup under way in the Persian Gulf.
Meanwhile, U.S. warplanes dropped nearly a half-million leaflets Thursday on southern Iraq asking Iraqis to tune in to American propaganda radio broadcasts.
The U.S. planes dropped about 480,000 leaflets over Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, and An Nasiriyah at about 5:15 a.m. EST, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
The leaflets tell readers the radio frequencies on which they can hear U.S. broadcasts from 6-11 p.m. each evening. The broadcasts, part of the U.S. military's psychological operations in preparation for a possible war with Iraq, come from EC-130E Commando Solo airplanes flying over Kuwait.
The Arabic-language broadcasts urge Iraqi soldiers to turn against Saddam's regime, accusing him of using soldiers as puppets for his own nefarious purposes. The broadcasts say Saddam builds luxurious palaces for himself while Iraqi people are sick and starving.
Britain has dispatched military planners to Qatar's al-Ubaid base, America's operational headquarters for the Iraq campaign, and the treasury has earmarked $1.6 billion for the anticipated conflict.
The United States has asked for and received permission to station long-range bombers at RAF bases in Fairfield, Gloucestershire and the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia.
But Britain's key contribution will be troops, the first of which could start moving to the region by the middle of January.
"We are in the middle of a major psychological operation against Saddam Hussein," said Charles Heyman, editor of Jane's World Armies.
"The pressure is being ratcheted up day by day. If Saddam suddenly collapses or goes off into exile, then this military buildup has done its job."
If the Iraqi leader hangs tough, Heyman predicted, the United States and its allies will then initiate a limited assault on a key target -- perhaps the southern port city of Basra -- to see whether that might encourage the Iraqi military command to revolt against the dictator.
If that failed, an all-out assault would follow, Heyman said.
Last week, NATO Secretary General George Robertson said that members of the alliance had a "moral obligation" to support the U.S.-led war effort. But thus far only Britain has been forthcoming with pledges of assistance, and experts expect to see little change in coming weeks.
"The Germans are not going to have anything to do with this operation. The French will probably involve themselves with a token force. We might see somebody from the Netherlands," Heyman said.