Sources: Pentagon to put troops on 'hair-trigger' alert
Response from Iraq could set off war
From Jamie McIntyre - CNN
WASHINGTON (CNN - 15 March) --Sources say the Pentagon is ready to put U.S. troops massed around Iraq on "hair-trigger" alert -- essentially ready to begin a war if Saddam Hussein attacks U.S. troops, his neighbors or his people out of desperation.
As part of the final preparations, the United States is hastily building a desert airstrip in the United Arab Emirates to base more than 100 fighter planes that Turkey won't allow on its soil.
Meanwhile, 10 U.S. warships and two submarines have been repositioned in the Red Sea.
The cruisers, destroyers and submarines can all fire satellite-guided Tomahawk land attack missiles, or "TLAMS," precision weapons with a range of about 1,000 miles [1,600 kilometers]. Those warships were moved from the Mediterranean because Turkey has refused to grant access to its airspace.
'Window of vulnerability'
Pentagon officials say they are most worried about a "window of vulnerability" between the time President Bush might issue an ultimatum to Iraq and the start of a war.
According to Pentagon sources, the United States is looking at options to neutralize three "nightmare scenarios" -- a chemical or biological attack on U.S. troops massed in Kuwait; detonation of the oil fields in the north and south of Iraq; and strikes on Israel with Scud missiles, which could also involve weapons of mass destruction.
Pentagon officials said they have "abundant and recent evidence" that Saddam is planning a repeat of the oil field fires he set in Kuwait 1991. Sources said large amounts of dynamite have been moved near the oil fields, but U.S. officials say overhead surveillance cannot show whether the wellheads have been wired.
Additionally, the official said reports indicate that Saddam plans to use chemical weapons in the south and blame it on U.S. forces.
A senior U.S. military official in the region said intelligence reports indicate that at least one type of Iraqi artillery can launch chemical weapons into Kuwait. Many of the approximately 125,000 U.S. soldiers in Kuwait are within range of such weapons.
A senior U.S. military official in the region said Iraqi commanders are moving antiaircraft artillery and troops into southern Iraq, near the Kuwait border. The official would not say how many had been moved into the area.
In Kuwait, ground units remain in staging areas near the Iraqi border, despite raging sandstorms. About 28,000 troops of the 101st Airborne Division are ready to launch assaults to protect oil fields, and chemical and biological sites. Small numbers of Iraqi troops are stationed near the U.S. forces.
Carriers to stay in Mediterranean
Meanwhile, the aircraft carriers USS Harry Truman and USS Theodore Roosevelt are likely to stay in the Mediterranean. Their combat aircraft would fly over Israel and Jordan in case of a war, which would shorten the distance to Baghdad, and require less support and fewer refueling missions.
While the United States is still pressing Turkey for overflight rights, there is no indication Turkey will agree. One fallout of Turkey's refusal is that some of the army's best equipment, including its newest M1A2 tanks, are stuck on ships floating off the Turkish coast and likely will not be available in a war.
Sources said a last-minute decision to shift the carriers is possible. It is unclear what the Pentagon would do if Turkey were to grant access to its airspace.
A wave of B-2 stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base is en route to the Persian Gulf.
The United States has built facilities at an air base on the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to accommodate the B-2s. That means the stealth bombers will require fewer midair refueling missions if ordered to bomb targets in Iraq.
Pentagon officials said 130,000 more U.S. soldiers could be sent to the region, ordered for either combat or peacekeeping roles. The United States-led coalition has sent more than 250,000 troops so far.