An old saying on preparedness may sum up the Bush-Rumsfeld strategy on Iraq: "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst." A military buildup underway since at least October is expanding to strike strength the American forces that have long surrounded Iraq. In addition to Navy and Air Force jets patrolling (and dodging Iraqi missile fire) in the 11-year-old no-fly zone over Saddam's southern flank, U.S. troops man permanent bases in:
- Oman 2,000 Air Force troops and 224 aircraft
- Djibouti 1,000 Marines, plus a CIA control center for Predator drones
- Incirlik, Turkey 3,800 Air Force troops and 60 aircraft
- Bahrain 4,200, mostly Navy, personnel at 5th Fleet headquarters
- Diego Garcia an island outpost in the Indian Ocean capable of supporting six B-2 bombers
- Saudi Arabia 10,000 Air Force troops at Prince Sultan Air Base
- Kuwait 12,000 troops, mostly Army, now conducting live-firing exercises at Udairi Range
But the latter two countries, though staunch allies in the past, have waxed skittish over allowing U.S. forces to launch attacks against Iraq from within their borders. Not so with Qatar: The Connecticut-sized, oil-rich emirate--to the consternation of some of its Muslim neighbors--has emerged as a sturdy U.S. ally.
Last week, a thousand fresh troops, including U.S Central Commander and Taliban-beating General Tommy Franks, arrived there for a computerized battle simulation to test a new portable, high-tech war room. Gen. Franks may remain in Qatar for a potential nonsimulated battle.
Meanwhile, the Navy is amassing firepower in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea. The nine-ship, 70-aircraft USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group is already on station in the Persian Gulf. The USS Washington carrier group, with 13 ships and 75 aircraft, is on post in the Mediterranean. The carriers USS Constellation and USS Harry S. Truman, both en route to the region, will add another 130 warplanes to U.S. forces.