DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- The first hours of ground combat suggested that U.S. military planners calculated correctly when they made preparations to house and feed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi prisoners of war.
U.S. military planners spent months planning for the potential surrender of hundreds of thousands of prisoners. But allied commanders had warned before combat began that a torrent of POWs could force the allies to walk captured Iraqis south to Saudi Arabia under armed guard.
That would stretch the resources of the military police, so National Guard details are standing by to assist, said Maj. Rex Forney, MP deputy provost marshal for the 101st Airborne Division.
The Army has stockpiled tons of food in plastic packets and laid plans for housing Iraqi prisoners in Saudi soccer stadiums and barbed-wire enclosures in the desert. At least two camps have been built to house up to 100,000 prisoners.
The Army dispatched about 5,000 specially trained MPs to handle the POWs (the military now calls them EPWs -- Enemy Prisoners of War).
The U.S. plans were based on what was seen during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, when tens of thousands of Iraqis surrendered during confrontations with Iranian troops. In one battle in 1982, more than 35,000 Iraqis were captured by the Iranians. Iraq has more than 560,000 troops in and near occupied Kuwait.
MPs will search the prisoners for weapons, transport them to camps in the rear known as "cages" and then guard them until the war ends. Technically, the POWs will be under Saudi custody, but U.S. MPs are expected to provide much of the security.
Under Army doctrine, the "cages" will remain at least 15 to 20 miles behind the war zone to protect the prisoners from combat and to discourage escapes. The Saudis have announced that they are seeking gas masks for each prisoner in case of Iraqi chemical attacks.
About 150 MPs will be designated to guard every 1,000 prisoners.