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ABCNews.com March 18, 2003

Behind Enemy Lines

Soldiers Ready for High-Tech, Daring Assaults Deep in Iraq

- In a remote Army camp in the Kuwaiti desert, Travis Kettner is fine-tuning the machines that may carry U.S. forces deep behind enemy lines in one of the most daring and important early stages of war.

"If we do our jobs right we'll be putting people in the right spot and making sure we get there safely and make sure when we go pick them up they are safe," says Kettner, 22, a helicopter crew chief with the 101st Airborne Division.

The 101st's Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters could be sent far ahead of the allied force's heavy muscle, in any effort to destroy Iraq's missile launchers, radar facilities, and other key targets. These "air assault" or "air mobile" forces can put thousands of soldiers on the ground virtually anywhere inside Iraq.

Because they would operate hundreds of miles away from the allied heavy armor that is expected to roll from Kuwait toward Baghdad in any conflict, the 101st and other air assault forces rely on speed, surprise, and advanced technology.

"You could basically have a brigade of Americans show up out of a clear blue sky," says John Pike, a military analyst and director of GlobalSecurity.org.

Experts say airborne assault units could be key to establishing an American presence in the regions of northern Iraq controlled by the Kurds.

Elements of the 82nd and the 101st Airborne divisions could also be inserted in western Iraq in the opening hours of war, in order to destroy Iraqi missiles.

Air assault units could also help surround Baghdad in the west, secure bridges, and hold bypass points so allied armor can race up the Tigris and Euphrates rivers toward the Iraqi capital. They might also look out for a possible counter attack by Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, or try to prevent Saddam from using chemical or biological weapons.

Because military planners have not obtained permission to launch attacks from Turkey, allied air assault forces would likely be key in establishing a northern front in Iraq if an attack is ordered.

The 82nd Airborne, for example, specializes in seizing airfields where allied planes can then land to insert heavier equipment, like Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

In the Gulf War, the 101st Airborne's Apache helicopters attacked targets deep in Iraq without putting soldiers on the ground. More than a decade later, it may be necessary to drop large numbers of troops onto Iraq soil.

Thousands of Troops, State-of-the-Art Technology

If military planners choose to drop ground troops deep inside Iraq, there are thousands of air assault troops available.

Along with the 101st Airborne's 275 Longbow Apache Helicopters, 17,000 men and women, and assorted equipment and vehicles, there are thousands of 82nd Airborne soldiers ready, who have been trained to parachute into combat zones and engage enemy forces.

The 3rd Marine Air Wing also stands ready to move in advance of ground troops with scores of AV-8B Harrier ground attack planes, AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters and F/A-18 Hornet fighter-bombers.

Airborne assault - using planes and helicopters to insert troops in key positions in enemy territory - has been a key piece of America's military might, since 1944, when soldiers from the 101st first parachuted behind enemy lines on D-Day.

If they go to war this time, however, they will have state-of-the-art technology to bolster their capabilities.

"The big problem that these light forces have is that they don't have a lot of firepower," says Pike.

The 82nd Airborne primarily parachutes out of airplanes into target areas, carrying only light vehicles and weaponry, for example.

They expect to compensate by calling in precisely targeted airstrikes in place of support from tanks and artillery.

Apache helicopters of the 101st have been upgraded with advanced radar, communications and weapons technology. The new Apache Longbows can automatically launch 16 laser-guided antitank missiles at two-second intervals.

"There has been a major increase in technology as it relates to navigation and some of our armament systems," says George Heath, a spokesman for the 101st.

Ground troops will also be integrated into a high-tech communications and tracking grid designed to give commanders real-time control of their forces and prevent friendly fire casualties.

The "Force 21 Battle Command Brigade and Below system," also know as FBCB2, uses GPS tracking to friendly vehicles.

In many cases, the new technology will be wielded by combat-tested soldiers, another important advantage for allied forces.

"We have guys who are in the Gulf for the second time." The 101st also has more recent battle experience. A third of the 101st was part of Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.

Final Pieces Still Arriving

Some of the brigade's vehicles and larger weaponry were not scheduled to arrive until today, but commanders have said they are ready with what they have.

At Camp New York, the Kuwaiti camp where the 101st waits for orders to begin an attack, the pace has definitely quickened in recent days, and military commanders have been rushing to put the final pieces of equipment in place.

Soldiers there are under orders to wear their Kevlar helmets and body armor whenever outside as they make their final preparations. They have been loading ammunition clips, securing their assault packs, poring over the actual battle plans, and preparing to strike.


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