U.S. Military Builds New Jumping Off Base In Plans To Attack Iraq

by DEBKAfile

13 July 2002

America has secretly built a new central command center for its Iraq offensive in the Eritrean port of Assab. The new facility also houses jumping off bases for the US air force and navy. While way off the beaten track, Assab has the great advantage of being positioned strategically near the Bab el Mandeb Straits linking the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the mouth of Persian Gulf. The dusty streets of this East African corner have recently filled with white American vans dashing around without license plates but recognizable as military vehicles from their sprouting antennae. In Assab’s harbor, docks and storage facilities have been renovated and closed off as a US military zone. Rooftop aerials and satellite dishes mark out a major US command post.
Just to the north of Assab, the Americans have whipped a small local airport into the largest air base in the Horn of Africa, partly compensating for the sophisticated Prince Sultan air force base denied them in Saudi Arabia. Its new, wide runways can cater to heavy bombers, transports and fighter-bombers taking off for missions against any target in southern Iraq or the Baghdad area with the help of in-air fuel feeds.

Still further to the north, another cluster of US air and naval bases has risen on the Dalak archipelago on the western side of the Red Sea, across from Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands.

The US presence on Dalak gives it control of the full length of the Red Sea and the eastern approaches to the Suez Canal and the Sinai Peninsula, linking up with the American base at Sharm el Sheikh. From Dalak, the US air force reach extends to any point in Iraq - from Baghdad to the northern oil cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.

The largest concentration of US bases is located on the big island of Dalak Dist; some installations have gone up in the small eastern town of Deba Alawa and a town on the western side of the island of Jamil. In these locations, the US forces can avail themselves of Soviet port facilities, landing strips, headquarters and structures built there in the 1970s when the USSR maintained a large naval presence on the archipelago; later, the Israeli navy and air force used the sites as their forward base in the Red Sea.
Northern Iraq, including its oil cities, will be under the purview of US bases in southern Turkey and Tbilisi, Georgia. The new Red Sea bases, along with American aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean, will round off US coverage of all Iraqi airspace.

This blanket air control does not imply America’s intention of placing the brunt of its offensive on air assault, on the pattern of the 1991 Gulf War and the Afghanistan campaign, where US air force planes dropped tons of ordnance, missiles and bunker-busting bombs. For the present, the plan is to employ the air force mainly as cover for American ground invasion forces, most of whom will be detached from US Oceania bases.

Our military sources describe the present plan as being for a US-UK force of up to 75,000 troops attacking in three synchronous bridgeheads. The overall strategy is for the US military to operate from inside Iraq - unlike the doctrine followed in Afghanistan, where the US army strikes from outside bases. A large contingent of engineering units is standing by in Kuwait and Qatar ready to move in and prepare Iraqi installations such as H-3, H-4 and the massive al-Baghdadi air base for the influx of US warplanes and troops.