US Military Training in Kuwait on Iraq Border
- Note that US military now literally occupies one-quarter of Kuwait,
as giant training ground and staging area for war...
From NY Times, November 20, 2002
G.I.'s Train on Iraq's Border
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
CAMP NEW YORK, Kuwait, Nov. 19 The United States Army has quietly
doubled the number of its troops in Kuwait and is practicing
offensive operations against Iraq close to the border with Saddam
In exercises over the past two days, Army combat engineers trained to
blow paths through mine fields. They rehearsed erecting bridges under
fire so armored forces can continue their thrusts into enemy
territory. Troops conducted infantry assaults against mock
strongholds. Army howitzers and Apache helicopters blasted targets at
test ranges in terrain virtually identical to the desert American
soldiers would confront if President Bush were to order an invasion
"Even though Saddam Hussein has accepted the U.N. resolution, we
continue to maintain the mindset that we are going to war," said
Capt. James Schwartz, the commander of Battery A, a unit of 155-
millimeter howitzers from Fort Stewart, Ga.
"In order to keep ourselves mentally ready, that is the mindset that
we use," he added. "When I talk to my soldiers, I tell them to take
this training seriously because we are about 10 miles from Iraq."
The Army began training in Kuwait after the Persian Gulf war in 1991,
when the United States and its allies evicted Iraqi occupation troops
from Kuwait. The exercises were intended to deter Baghdad from
attacking Kuwait again, an unlikely prospect. But the mood is tenser
now that it is Washington that is considering whether to go on the
The Army has also quietly expanded its presence here. Over the past
year, the Army force in Kuwait has doubled, to about 9,000 troops
about 3,800 from the brigade now training there and the rest
headquarters and logistics staff.
There are two brigades' worth of tanks, infantry fighting vehicles,
artillery and other major weapons systems here, twice as much
equipment as a year ago.
The precise size of the American military presence in Kuwait is
classified, but it totals about 12,000, perhaps somewhat more,
including Air Force personnel, a Pentagon spokesman said.
This is just a sliver of what the United States would need to deploy
here to go to war against Iraq. But because many Army units have been
rotated through Kuwait over the past decade, many officers and
soldiers who might be called on to fight would be returning to a
"We have 10 years of experience working in this sort of terrain, this
sort of weather conditions and in working with our coalition
partners, all of which was fairly new to the Army in 1990," said Lt.
Gen. David McKiernan, the top Army commander in the region and the
officer who would be in charge of all American land forces in the
event of a war. "That has given us much more advantage if we ever had
to operate out of here."
Kuwait these days seems to be divided into two distinct regions: a
civilian area near the coast and a vast American training ground in
the desert interior.
The Kuwaitis have virtually cordoned off the western part of their
country so the Americans can concentrate on their war games.
Currently, 750 square miles of Kuwait, about one-fourth of the
country, has been set aside for American military exercises, the Army
The Americans have put the territory to good use. The Kuwaiti desert
now includes an array of semipermanent American military camps, which
are surrounded by sand berms and protected by heavy security. The
camps are equipped with sophisticated communications for classified
messages and television news reports, dining halls that serve hot
food and fortified shelters to protect against any attack by Iraqi
The Army has named the camps after the American states most affected
by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The largest camp, which has
a six-mile perimeter, is called New York.
To celebrate Thanksgiving, the mess hall is decked with paper
decorations. The soldiers will begin the day with a "Turkey trot," a
run around the base. With the soldiers involved in an intensive
training regime for a potential combat operation, there are no leaves
and few days off.
The troops are currently training here in a regular exercise code-
named Desert Spring. They come primarily from the Second Brigade of
the Third Infantry Division, which is based at Fort Stewart. The
brigade task force, which numbers about 3,800, arrived in September
and will reach its peak combat readiness in December, the commanding
The division is one of several major units that have been formed as
part of the Crisis Reserve Force under the United States Central
Command, units that the command could rush to the Middle East if the
United States was on the verge of war, the Army says.
While the Second Brigade is training in Kuwait, another brigade from
the division is practicing desert maneuvers at the National Training
Center in California. The last of Third Division's brigades has just
completed training in Kuwait, so the division is well versed in
If American ground forces are ordered to enter Iraq, they face many
potential obstacles: dried river beds (wadis), oil pipelines and
rivers. Iraq also has an ample and diverse collection of mines,
including plastic Italian-made mines that are hard to detect. So
practicing in such terrain is a high priority.
"We have been here the last 10 years to defend Kuwait, but you win on
the offense," said General McKiernan. "Even to defend Kuwait, we do
that by winning on the offensive."
On Monday, some of the brigade's forces practiced an assault. It
began when a column of armored vehicles under the command of Capt.
Andy Hilmes moved toward its goal.
"We are doing maneuver training," explained Col. Dave Perkins, the
brigade commander. "We are doing all the tasks we would have to
execute if we were going to war. Our plan was to train on those
regardless of the world situation. But the world situation has
changed, and so there is a better chance we will have to use them."
As the column raced toward a trench several feet deep simulating a
wadi or other obstacle Captain Hilmes maneuvered combat engineers
to the fore.
The engineers drove to end of the trench in a combat vehicle that
unfolded a giant metal bridge. The bridge, which can carry more than
70 tons, was quickly laid across the trench so M-1 tanks and Bradley
Fighting Vehicles could race across. To protect the engineers, the
column called in a mock artillery strike, including a round with
smoke to obscure the battlefield.
But that was just the first step in what was intended to be a
carefully synchronized armored advance. Next the column had to
navigate a narrow lane, then it zoomed up to a mock minefield. The
soldiers simulated firing a line-charge, a cable festooned with 1,600
pounds of explosive.
In actual combat, a rocket would be fired to pull the cable forward
and the explosives detonated, thus blasting a path through the
minefield. After that, a tank outfitted with a special plow would
drive through the newly created path to "proof" that lane, that is,
set off any mines that were not detonated or push them aside.
After pressing through the mine field in practice, the column soon
began to exchange fire with an "enemy force" four Bradleys and an M-
1 tank. Like a giant game of tag, the armored vehicles were outfitted
with lasers and target sensors so they could shoot at each other.
Retired military officers, who serve as observers, monitored the war
game, armed with laser devices, known as "God guns," that can "kill"
a tank or Bradley straying into the mock minefield.
After trading fire, the armored column rumbled toward the crest of a
hill. Infantry piled out of the Bradleys and charged a stronghold
defended by barbed wire and "enemy" troops. After the sappers blew a
hole in the wire, the infantry troops raced forward, threw themselves
against the ground and opened fire.
Observers and soldiers then huddled for a review.
"They moved good and need a little bit more practice," said George
Conrad, a retired Army sergeant major at the Infantry School at Fort
Benning, Ga. "Once the attack starts, you can't bog down. You got to
be able to keep on moving."
Mr. Conrad said the exercise would be good training for Iraq.
"The terrain is the same," he said. "And they are putting them in to
fight here the way they might have to fight in the next couple of
months. This is it. And they've done a pretty good job."