Our correspondent Ron Synovitz is among the more than 400 journalists currently embedded with U.S. troops. Today, Synovitz talks about last-minute preparations as troops in the Third Infantry Division wait for a possible call to action over the next several days. The division is currently based at Assembly Area Hammer, in Northern Kuwait near the Iraqi border.
QUESTION: What preparations are currently underway with the Third Infantry Division? What kind of activities are you observing?
Synovitz: I'm standing in Assembly Area Hammer now, near the northern border of Kuwait with Iraq, where U.S. medics are conducting training exercises for any injured troops they may come across in the case of war with Iraq. [They are using] a Blackhawk helicopter with Red Cross symbols on the side, and crews of medics are approaching the helicopter from a 90-degree angle with loaded stretchers, putting them on board the helicopter, bending down, crouching down so their heads aren't hit by the rotary blades of this Blackhawk helicopter.
This training mission here with the medics is illustrative to all of the soldiers in the camp about the serious consequences that could result in the case of war in the very near future. It's on everyone's mind here, but the troops are of the mind that they've been here in the desert for nine months out of the last year, and they just want to go home, and their quickest way to get home is through Baghdad.
QUESTION: What are some of the logistical challenges behind U.S. preparations for a war of this nature?
Synovitz: One of the difficulties of waging war in a desert like that of northern Kuwait and Iraq is the idea of logistical supplies. That is, bringing [in] supplies for troops such as fuel, food -- even ordinary, tiny things like batteries -- to keep some of their electronic equipment going. The issue of batteries is a critical issue for a computerized army like this one, the United States Army, at this point in history. With so [many] supplies flowing into Kuwait through the port at Doha, and with more than 100,000 U.S. troops in the country, it's been a very difficult task for the commanders to keep all of these supplies moving forward to their troops in the forward assembly areas like this one, Assembly Area Hammer near the border with Iraq.
Every night, the desert horizon is lit up like an urban traffic jam, even though we're in the middle of nowhere with very few people living outside of the troops in the field. Fighting the battles to provide the logistical supports to the forward troops in the field is a critical issue, but one that the military commanders here in the field say that they are now getting a grasp on. They say they feel that they are now ready, prepared, and have everything in place in order to conduct a war and an invasion into Iraq if the order is given by U.S. President Bush.
QUESTION: How are the troops prepared in terms of equipment and ammunition?
Synovitz: Another sign that U.S. troops are getting very close to fighting a war is that the troops have been uploading their ammunition for tanks, artillery, mortar shells, these kind of things. It's very expensive to repack a round of artillery or a tank shell once it's been unloaded, costing as much as a $1,000 per shell, so this is something that the military doesn't do until the last possible moment, when they feel sure the order is going to come for them to go into battle.
During the weekend, I visited a test-firing range near Assembly Area Hammer and watched the troops "zeroing" their guns and their weapons. That means that they're firing the weapons at targets and adjusting the sights to make sure that they're accurate after all the transportation that they've been through in recent weeks, to make sure that they will hit the targets they aim at in an actual battle.
One interesting point was that we saw units of British troops from the British "Desert Rats" [Seventh Armored Brigade, comprising Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Queen's Royal Irish Hussars and 1st Staffordshire Infantry] -- this is a motley collection of [Irish, Scottish and English] soldiers, both infantry troops and British soldiers in Challenger-2 tanks -- firing their weapons and making sure that everything's ready to go if they're called in to fight.
In the British Challenger-2 tanks, they were firing live rounds of depleted-uranium ammunition. This is something that is usually not done with any tanks on a firing range, but the difference between the depleted-uranium ammunition and normal test ammunition is one that makes it necessary to test using depleted-uranium ammunition to make sure that everything is truly in order for battle. It remains to be determined yet whether the British troops would actually join in a U.S.-led war against Iraq, but that should become more clear in the coming days.