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US Forces are 'Ready for a Land War Against Iraq as Early as December'

The United States already has a force of 60,000 within striking range of Iraq, and would be in a position to launch a land war as early as December, a military think-tank reported yesterday.
The past six weeks have seen intensive, and largely undisclosed, movement of American service personnel and material to the Gulf, and the Pentagon has secured the full complement of "roll on-roll off" ferries necessary to deliver heavy armour.

It was also disclosed yesterday that an airport near the military airbase at Incirlik in Turkey will be closed to civilian traffic "for renovations" from 4 November. Incirlik is the headquarters from which US and British warplanes enforce the northern no-fly zone, and is expected to play an important role in an Iraq war. Adana, the civilian airport in the same city, is believed to have been earmarked as an ancillary facility in the final stages of preparing for operations. The developments come the day after the British Army announced it was refitting 234 of its main battle tank, the Challenger 2, for a desert war at a cost of £90m.

The scale of the American build-up was disclosed by the International Institute of Strategic Studies when it published its annual Military Balance report yesterday. The IISS concluded that it would be possible for the US to conduct wars against both Iraq and remnants of al-Qa'ida and their allies, as the latter takes up little purely military resources. However, a confrontation with North Korea over its alleged development of nuclear arms would provide insurmountable problems.

The number of US troops in striking range of Iraq has risen from fewer than 20,000 in August and now includes 35,000 soldiers and airmen, as well as a 25,000-strong naval contingent including members of the Marine Expeditionary Force on ships nearby. Washington has also ordered further deployment of army and marine corps battle staff to the region, and is preparing smallpox vaccination for up to half a million troops.

General Tommy Franks, the US commander of the "war on terror", and a possible military administrator of a post-Saddam Iraq according to the latest leaked Pentagon report, is already in Qatar with senior officers. Al-Udaid base in Qatar has seen a steady build-up of American troops and equipment, as has Camp Doha in Kuwait.

According to the IISS, Saddam Hussein's regime is likely to move its best troops, two divisions of the Republican Guards – around 40,000 troops – into cities such as Baghdad and Basra, to draw US-led forces into potentially costly urban warfare. Individual commanders have already been given authorization to use chemical and biological weapons, it claimed.

IISS has been tracking the movement of US forces daily to chart the build-up. Christopher Langton, the editor of Military Balance, added: "Steady build-up, some of it by stealth, has ensured that the military is ready to go once the talking stops."

Steven Simon, a former member of the US Security Council, and now an assistant director of IISS said: "Military operations could start in December. The Marine Expeditionary Force would be especially valuable with their experience of urban warfare.

"The war could last 10 minutes or 10 months, all depending on whether or not there is a coup against Saddam when the war starts. If there is not, and he is dug in with Republican Guards in Baghdad, and the US and allies are unwilling to go in, there could be a stalemate lasting months."

The Military Balance report also stated that al-Qa'ida and other terrorist groups are forging links with criminal organizations."As al-Qa'ida propagates more widely around the globe and sheds its dependence on state support, it is likely to find the modus operandi of transnational criminal organizations more and more suitable to its objectives."



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