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U.S. has 100,000 troops in Kuwait

'Ready to conduct an operation'

U.S. Army Reserve Pfc. Robinson piles up bags Tuesday as the 974th Quartermaster Company heads to Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas.

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U.S. attack helicopter crews are approaching their peak of readiness at Camp Udari, Kuwait. CNN's Aaron Brown reports (February 18)
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CNN's Bill Hemmer talks with Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan about U.S. preparations in Kuwait for a possible war with Iraq. (February 18)
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CAMP DOHA, Kuwait (CNN) -- The commander of coalition forces in Kuwait said Tuesday more than 100,000 U.S. troops are in the country ready to launch an attack if one is ordered against Iraq.

Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, who would lead U.S. and British land forces in any invasion of Iraq, told CNN's Bill Hemmer in an interview: "If we are called upon to execute a mission we are ready to do it."

McKiernan said his forces could maintain that level of readiness for "as long as it takes.

"You get to a certain point where you might consider rotating units or doing certain resupply actions, but I'll guarantee you we can stay here ready to conduct an operation for an unlimited amount of time."

If a decision to invade Iraq does not come until hot weather, McKiernan said the operation of equipment will be affected.

But he added, "If it's hot for us, it will also be hot for our adversary, and we will still accomplish our mission."

McKiernan said that getting weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remains the most important focus.

"If weapons of mass destruction come out of the hands of this dictator, that would be a wonderful, wonderful thing to happen," McKiernan said.

Standing in the 3rd Army's early entry command center, McKiernan said the biggest difference between today and the 1991 Persian Gulf War is the military's advances in technology.

Twelve years ago as a lieutenant colonel, McKiernan said, "I could not talk on the radio with all five divisions of the 7th Corps. The distances were too great."

Now, he said, he can be in contact with all five in multiple ways using satellite imagery and real-time video conferencing.

But he said, "Small units and individuals still fight battles, and that part of it hasn't changed."

Pentagon prepares Turkey backup plan

An American Humvee drives through the desert at sunset near the Iraqi border.
An American Humvee drives through the desert at sunset near the Iraqi border.

The U.S. military has at least two backup plans for a military thrust into northern Iraq, if the Turkish Parliament fails to approve a plan to stage 40,000 troops in Turkey, according to Pentagon sources.

If U.S. President George W. Bush orders military action and troops cannot be staged in Turkey, the United States may have to drive thousands of troops and equipment all the way north from southern Iraq and the Persian Gulf region, where troops are staging. That would require a period of some days, plus a "permissive environment," according to sources.

Another option under consideration would be for U.S. troops to seize control of an airfield in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Then the United States could potentially land C-130 aircraft and unload troops and heavy combat equipment. Or, the airfield could be used for airborne troops to parachute in, or air assault troops to come in by helicopter.

Administration officials confirmed to CNN that in the past several days a small amount of additional U.S. troops have crossed the border into northern Iraq. They joined a group already there that was acknowledged several weeks ago by Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The U.S. troops in northern Iraq are establishing communications and liaison with Kurdish groups in the north to get a better understanding of their military organization and combat and communications capabilities. The U.S. troops may also conduct reconnaissance on airfields in the region, if they find themselves near any.

Kuwait raises alert level

With preparations continuing for the potential war with Iraq, the Kuwaiti government raised its military alert level Tuesday. Air force and naval units went from a Level 4 alert to Level 2, one step below maximum.

Kuwaiti commanders said in advance that the increase in alert level did not mean they had any advance knowledge of what the United States and its allies were planning.

Troops from the United Arab Emirates arrived at Ali Al Salem air base Tuesday as part of the Peninsula Shield Force that the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council voted to deploy to help protect Kuwait. The loose political and economic alliance includes Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. Commanders have said the force will not take part in any U.S. attack on Iraq.

In addition, the Kuwait Oil Co. said Tuesday it had stopped oil production at two small northern Kuwaiti fields that produce about 25,000 barrels of oil per day. The company said it was closing the fields as a precaution in case there is a U.S.-led attack on Iraq. In 1990, Iraq set off an ecological and financial disaster by setting fire to a number of Kuwaiti oil fields.

The oil company will increase production at oil fields in the southern part of the country to make up for the lost oil. Kuwait produces about 1.6 million barrels of oil per day.

Meanwhile, U.S. and British diplomats are working on a new resolution that would declare Iraq in material breach of U.N. Resolution 1441. The resolution could be presented as early as this week but may be delayed until next week. (Full story)

A diplomatic source said officials were working on "many versions and there are many suggestions" for its language.

The hope, the source said, is to introduce it soon "unless judging by the basis of soundings" from other Security Council members that it is clear it is "going nowhere."

For latest developments, see's Iraq Tracker.

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