Some U.S. units near Kuwait several weeks from combat readiness, officers say WAR IN THE GULF

January 27, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Sun Staff Correspondent

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- 1om U.S. combat units positioned near the Kuwaiti border may be several weeks away from receiving all their equipment and completing final rehearsals for a massive land assault against Iraq, according to military personnel.

The 3rd Armored Division, the last major unit to be deployed to Saudi Arabia, has barely one-third of its heavy armor and attack helicopters ready for action.

Another German-based Army unit, the 1st Armored Division, was not expected to receive its Bradley fighting vehicles and other combat equipment until this weekend at the earliest.

Among U.S. Marines, the combat engineers who would be the first to breach the deadly defenses erected by Iraqi forces inside the Kuwaiti border started Friday to rehearse plans for clearing minefields and advancing against Iraqi fortifications.

In addition, several military units began only a few days ago to rehearse maneuvers realistically with live ammunition.

In many instances, the partial state of combat preparedness -- and the reason why a ground war may take longer than anticipated to begin -- may be attributed to transporta

tion and logistics problems.

Army officers also said late last week that key pieces of planning data -- such as aerial surveillance of bombing damage to Iraq's front-line troops -- were incomplete because of bad weather.

In interviews with several war correspondent pools, officers and troops who will be responsible for leading the ground assault expressed some uncertainty and frustration over their incomplete war footing.

"Everyone may have forgotten this with all the bombs falling and all," said one Army officer with the 1st Armored Division. "But we were never going to be fully up to strength by Jan. 15. And even if the war has started, we're going to need more time."

A soldier in another armored unit said he was worried that his platoon could be assigned to another Army division if equipment didn't arrive in time. "The last thing you want to do is move in with a new bunch of guys when a ground war is about to start. That's what really scares me."

More than a week after U.S.-led forces launched an air offensive against Iraq, convoys of 18-wheelers still stretch for miles along the highways that lead to Kuwait. Transport aircraft still arrive virtually every hour with high-priority cargo, including Hellfire missiles, ammunition, parts and medical supplies.

Some units, such as elements of the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, have advanced and taken new positions so far north that lookouts can see the glare of Iraqi windshields across the border, said Col. Ron Rokosz, the brigade commander.

But late last week, major combat units were still moving north, including other elements of the 82nd Airborne, the 101st Airborne Division, the 1st Cavalry Division and some French forces.

On Friday, Marine combat engineers began practicing their expected mission of clearing minefields, filling anti-tank trenches and clearing paths so that infantry and tanks can

move through them.

Their counterparts in the Army's 1st Infantry Division were practicing only a few days earlier, using replicas of the Iraqi defenses that Army engineers built with intelligence gathered by satellites and other sources.

Elsewhere in the northern Saudi desert, members of the 1st and 2nd Marine divisions began huddling over miniature battlefields drawn with chalk in the sand, reviewing how to attack Iraqi defensive lines.

Several officers told reporters that senior U.S. commanders were determined to wait weeks if necessary to get the troops and equipment fully prepared.

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