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New York Post August 6, 2002

Plans Advance for War Against Iraq

By NILES LATHEM

Al Udeid Airbase, Qatar
Al Udeid Airbase,
Qatar

Picture of the Week

Dramatic satellite photos show just how far U.S. preparations for war with Iraq have advanced.

They are images of the state-of-the-art al Udeid air base in Qatar, which has been significantly upgraded over the last six months and is expected to be used as America's base for military operations against Saddam Hussein.

The images, taken by the commercial satellite company Digital Globe, show that between January and June, Qatar - with the help of the United States - has quietly expanded the base to put it on a war footing.

It built a 13,000-foot runway to handle heavy bombers, as well as new ammunition dumps and large storage buildings for tanks.

Also under construction are hardened aircraft shelters that can hide hundreds of warplanes. And in recent months, a giant tent city has been erected to house as many as 3,800 troops.

The photos also reveal what appears to be a sophisticated command and control center.

Tim Brown of the defense think tank Globalsecurity.org which has published an extensive analysis of the latest satellite imagery on its web site, said the base "looks like it is being designed to replace the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia so we don't have to rely on the Saudis for this operation."

Pentagon officials last night refused to discuss details of the preparations at al Udeid. One added that planners are "not happy" the images are floating around on the Internet - "but [we] realize there's nothing we can do."

Pentagon sources also said al Udeid is one of a handful of bases in the Persian Gulf region where extensive work is being done in advance of military operations against Iraq.

Massive expansion and equipment pre-positioning is also taking place at a secret base in southern Kuwait as well as a NATO base in Incirlik, Turkey, the sources said.

Bush administration officials have insisted that final decisions on launching military strikes have not yet been made.

Military officials said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has recently rejected two competing plans for toppling Saddam: one, modeled on Operation Desert Storm, involves a massive invasion by 250,000 troops and the other, modeled on the war in Afghanistan, envisions extensive use of Special Forces troops alongside Iraqi opposition groups.

Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, is said to be nearing completion of a third option involving a quick-strike force of 75,000 troops aimed at separating Saddam from his armies, capturing Baghdad and preventing Iraq from launching weapons of mass destruction against U.S. troops or Israel.

Franks briefed President Bush on the war plans at the White House yesterday.

Although the timing of the operation has not yet been set, it is generally believed the Bush administration wants it to begin sometime in the spring.

Defense experts warn, however, that the widely reported timetable could be a deception so that Saddam has as little time as possible to prepare for the attack.

Meanwhile, Iraq made some diplomatic moves apparently designed to derail or delay U.S. war plans.

Saddam invited the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, to Baghdad for talks, hinting this might result in renewing the hunt for illicit weapons that was suspended in December 1998.

But the Bush administration rejected the offer. It also rejected an invitation to members of Congress to tour suspected biological, chemical and nuclear weapons sites, accompanied by arms experts of their choice, during a three-week visit.

"I can't think of anything funnier than a handful of congressmen walking around. They'd have to be there for the next 50 years trying to find something,' said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "It's a joke."


(c) Copyright 2002 NYP Holdings, Inc