10 March 2003 2:50 PM
LONDON, March 10 (UPI) -- The U.S.-led operation against Iraq will be much faster than the 1991 Gulf War, more geographically spread, and more precise, senior British special forces sources said Monday. It will involve many more troops in airborne, special operations-type roles once reserved solely for special forces operating deep behind enemy lines.
"The only real certainty about this is that there will be a lot of surprises," said one just-retired British special forces officer.
United Press International has learned that British and American special forces have putting the final touches to a number of alternative invasion plans, that differ significantly from Gulf War I in 1991, the special force sources said.
One of the first public surprises may be that in spite of some published reports to the contrary only a handful of special forces are as yet operating inside Iraq.
The few there are believed to be a mixture of U.S. 5th Special Forces Green Berets, British Special Air Services and possibly CIA and British MI6 agents working as liaison and trainers to the Kurds in the north of Iraq and Shiites in the south.
They are under strict orders not to expose themselves to any possible combat or any situation that could lead to their capture.
The last thing the allies believe they need as they try desperate, last minute efforts to persuade key U.N. members to support their case is to have captured allied soldiers paraded on TV in Baghdad as 'proof' that U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are already committed to war.
"It's too risky to start moving the boys yet," said a senior SAS officer whose Saber Squadron crossed into Iraq in Operation Desert Storm on the first day of the air war.
Thus, spread across the Middle East, from Cyprus to Oman, Kuwait to northern Iraq and on ships in the Gulf almost every available special operations soldier from Britain's SAS and Special Boat Squadron, and American Delta Force, Rangers, SEALS and Green Berets is currently waiting for the order to move into Iraq, even if many of the armored forces are not.
A tiny force compared to the 250,000 Americans and 45,000 British troops amassing in the area, they will be the human eyes and ears of the striking allies.
Unlike the first Gulf War, however, special forces will not be so isolated and so far ahead of advancing allied troops, because this time large numbers of allied troops will themselves be advancing rapidly by helicopter.
According to British sources, the allied special forces main initial objectives are:
1. Working closely with the Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq to get their cooperation in attacking Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's forces and influencing them not to act in ways that could destabilize the country.
2. Helping to locate and bring down precision bombing onto key Iraqi command and control headquarters and personnel -- including Saddam.
3. Seizing key centers for weapons of mass destruction, without destroying the evidence so that it can be used in any post-war legal or political action.
4. Helping locate Iraqi Scud missiles and others to keep them from being fired against Israel and allied forces.
5. Seizing oil wells before Saddam can order them set alight.
These are all extensive objectives, and neither the United States nor Britain has nearly enough special forces to achieve them alone. Thus thousands of regular troops, from the Red Beret Paras of Britain's 16 Air Assault Brigade to the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions, plus U.S. and British Marines, will be 'special forces' for at least some of the time.
"Just look at Saddam's 'palaces' where we think some of the weapons of mass destruction are hidden," said the British source. "Some of them cover hundreds of acres. Saddam has built, what 50, in the last 10 years? We're going to need lots of troops to swoop down on them, not just special ops guys."
Among the first to see action is likely to be the famed Delta Force, the highly secret elite U.S. strike force that is believed to be assigned to seize Saddam, his top commanders, or locations where weapons of mass destruction may be primed for immediate use.
Neither British nor American special forces will help put laser markers on to Iraqi infrastructure targets, as they did in Gulf War I.
The aim is to have a fully functioning country after Saddam goes, not a destroyed one, according to British officials. Thus bridges will only be hit if they lead directly to or from a barracks, for instance, and electricity supplies will be hit by 'blackout bombs' dropping carbon filaments over power wires rather than blowing them up.
With the exception of Delta Force, however, very few special forces are expected to operate inside Baghdad, partly because of lessons learned from Somalia in 1993.
Baghdad, a city of some 4 million people into which Saddam reportedly plans to lure allied troops and destroy them, is not the kind of place where troops of any kind intend to fight house to house as Saddam appears to be preparing for.
"I doubt we will even go to Baghdad. There are plenty of other places to go," said the senior SAS source.
No. 22 Regiment SAS, totaling no more than 150 troops in their three Saber squadrons, with another 150 or more in immediate support, is currently at the SAS forward mounting base in Cyprus, from where the troops can be flown north across Turkey for operations in northern Iraq, or south across Israel and Jordan into western Iraq.
SAS forward operating bases are believed to be in Kuwait, ready to move into Jordan for operations into western Iraq, or are already in Jordan. They are being backed up by close air support from seven RAF Harrier GR7 jump jets, now in Kuwait. They are earmarked to move into directly to the sprawling H3 airfield in western Iraq, once it is seized early in the war.
The British Special Boat Squadron, about 120 strong, is believed to be in Bahrain and Kuwait, where specialist divers are preparing to tackle the underwater mines and obstacles expected to have been placed by Iraqis in an effort to stop an amphibious assault into the Basra area.
Other SBS units are preparing to be flown by helicopter deep inland to keep a close eye on enemy activity that could affect air and sea landings, and to sabotage key Iraqi defenses.
British special forces have abandoned the sexy little 'dune buggy' vehicles they once used because they had suspension problems, and are back to using desertized Land Rovers equipped with .50 cal machine guns. The Land Rovers can be transported in C-130 Hercules transports and CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
U.S. and British planners intend to create a number of forward air refueling points, or FARPs, first around the edges of Iraq, and then deeper into Kuwait. This will allow a huge number of helicopters to take troops deep into Iraq and Apache attack helicopters to take on Iraqi tanks before allied tanks can reach them.
Over the last few days the Americans have tipped their hand on some of their plans by moving troops into Tabuk airfield in northern western Saudi Arabia -- at 250 miles the closest point to Baghdad from outside Iraq to the south, and to a previously used helicopter base near Ar'Ar. Both are expected to be developed as FARPs.
In Gulf War I the most fabled SAS exploit was that of the eight-man Bravo Two Zero patrol, whose mission to track down Scud missiles in the western Iraq desert was compromised when the British team was discovered by a shepherd boy who raised the alarm.
In a story told and retold many times over the years -- and which has made several of the survivors rich and famous -- the patrol fought a running battle with Iraqi troops, killing scores and boosting the image of SAS soldiers as the 'toughest in the world,' even though three of the patrol died.
The patrol's main failure was its inadequate high frequency radios, which left it isolated and unable to be rescued. This time, according to a senior SAS source, British special forces will all use encrypted satellite communications and other 'network centric' systems that have dramatically improved the capabilities of both special and regular forces.
There are, too, new unmanned aerial drones, remote sensors that can detect passing vehicles and distinguish if they are tracked or wheeled, JSTARS battlefield reconnaissance planes and other new technologies.
The U.S. Marines will be testing out a new 'Dragon Eye' unmanned aerial vehicle, UAV, little more than a model airplane with a 5-foot wingspan which can send images of enemy positions 6 miles away back to a marine with a laptop computer.
A CIA-operated Predator UAV which remotely fired a missile and killed an alleged al Qaida terrorist driving in a car along a desert road in Yemen last November, reveals how far technology is enabling other forces to take on assignments previously only possible to special forces.
By Peter Almond From the International Desk
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