Further raids were launched November 18 in both the northern and southern "no-fly" zones established a decade ago by the U.S. and British military. Repeating their standard explanation, U.S. officers said they had responded to ground fire. They also claimed that Iraqi planes had "penetrated" the zones.
A White House spokesman claimed that such Iraqi self-defense measures were a justification to launch a war. "The United States believes that firing upon our aircraft in the no-fly zone, or British aircraft, is a violation--it is a material breach" of the UN resolution, said Scott McClellan November 18. The resolution outlaws "hostile acts," broadly defined, on the part of the Iraqi government and military.
"I do find it unacceptable that Iraq fires," Rumsfeld told a news conference in Santiago, Chile, the same day. "It is for the president of the United StLates and the U.N. Security Council to make judgments about their view of Iraq’s behavior over a period of time."
The Pentagon continues to build up its troop strength, already standing at tens of thousands of soldiers, and to accumulate ships, planes, artillery, and military vehicles in the Arab-Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula.
The U.S. Navy has stepped up its deployment schedule to have in place by January at least five aircraft carrier groups in the area--one possible deadline for a bombing war and invasion.
Two carriers, the USS Abraham Lincoln and USS George Washington are already in the region, with another three, USS Constellation, USS Nimitz, and USS Harry S. Truman, expected to arrive in December and January. The USS Carl Vincent has begun its training exercises well ahead of schedule and could be ready for deployment to the Gulf in January as well. Each carrier is armed with dozens of warplanes and is accompanied by a group of attack submarines and warships.
‘Locked and loaded’
"We’re locked and loaded and in the ready gun position," Capt. Michael Groothousen of the Truman told the New York Daily News as the ship sat parked at the U.S. naval base in Norfolk, Virginia. He described the vessel as "98,000 tons of diplomacy."
"Plans have also been activated to call up retired merchant marine sailors to fill gaps in what appears to be a huge logistical transport operation to the Middle East by the U.S. military that would involve around 50 chartered freighters," reports a November 14 article in the Asia Times. Washington has already stockpiled tanks and heavy equipment for more than 30,000 troops in several gulf states and ships nearby. Additional cargo ships are in transit to the area, with others being loaded at several West Coast ports.
Washington has declared a new "military zone" in Kuwait covering almost one-quarter of the country. The zone provides the U.S. military with a closed-off area for exercises in preparation for thrusts across the border. U.S. troops are spread out at tent encampments along the Iraqi border and in Camp Doha, which houses some 10,000 troops and acts as the army’s command base.
"Currently two armored brigades are known to be in the emirate," reports the Asia Times. Since June "the tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and other heavy equipment for one to two more armored brigades have arrived." This would provide equipment for another 10,000 GIs, who could be ready for battle within 72 hours of arrival. Plans are under way to have in place by December addititional military hardware for use by another U.S. division in excess of 18,000 troops.
Kuwait’s Ministry of Defense confirmed November 6 that a refueling depot for helicopters and fighter jets was being built within the zone, along with a runway for aircraft carrying military freight. The emirate has given the U.S. military the go-ahead to use airfields, ports, and warehouses throughout the country.
The Pentagon is readying other bases throughout the Middle East in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar. It will also make use of the British outpost of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
Foundation laid in Afghanistan
"The enormous infrastructure needed to supply and sustain today’s armed forces against Iraq is being constructed on the foundations of the system created for the war in Afghanistan," noted military analyst William Arkin in a Los Angeles Times article. This includes U.S. bases in Kyrgyztan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, in Central Asia.
Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer urged the White House to openly proclaim its buildup on the grounds that the November 8 UN resolution "creates a window of legitimacy" for the war option.
"Until now," Krauthammer wrote in his November 15 column, "we have been quietly expanding our air base in Qatar, moving troops into Kuwait, sending our bombers to Diego Garcia. No more need to tiptoe. We can pour everything in openly, indeed ostentatiously. It is, after all, the muscle behind the United Nations."
One invasion plan publicized by U.S. officials would involve deploying roughly 250,000 troops within 30 days of a presidential order. For its part, London plans to mobilize a force of some 30,000 in the area. This will include a 15,000-strong fighting force whose main base will be established in Kuwait.
The plan calls for U.S. forces to seize territory and operate out of forward bases in northern, western, and southern Iraq. In the northern Kurdish territories, Special Forces troops would set up staging and refueling bases. U.S. troops would seize the oil fields around Kirkuk in northern Iraq--a move that would deny these resources to the Kurdish people in the region.
U.S. army engineering units that might be sent to Iraq are receiving portable fold-out bridges, according to the Los Angeles Times. Such equipment would be needed for a ground invasion across the Euphrates River, which traverses Iraq.