The Telegraph (UK) 03/09/03
If successful, it will go down in history as one of the most audacious battle plans ever devised and will end a war with Iraq in just 72 hours.
In a daring and risky attempt to defeat Iraq’s vast army, Allied commanders are planning to seize Saddam International Airport and use it as a base to bring the regime to its knees.
Once the airport is in Allied hands, British and American forces will be able to use it as a bridgehead from which to launch attacks into Baghdad. Supplies and additional personnel can also be brought more easily into the area.
Building a large force early in the campaign adds to the momentum against Saddam.
A senior military officer, said: “Airborne operations are very risky. The last time British paras jumped into battle was during the Suez Crisis in 1956.
“It is a shock tactic which, if used correctly, can have a huge impact on the shape of a battle. This is a bold operation that is not without risk, but with a bit of luck and good intelligence, it should be successful.”
Shock troops from America’s 101st Airborne Division – known as the Screaming Eagles – the United States 82nd Airborne Division and Britain’s 16 Air Assault Brigade have been earmarked for the task.
Once the airport, a few miles from the centre of Baghdad, has been seized, an enormous US and British armoured force will charge towards the city to link up with the airborne troops. The force will be composed of either the 3rd or 1st US Infantry Division, whose armoured units are equipped with the virtually unstoppable Abrams main battle tank, supported by the British 7th Armoured Brigade, equipped with the Challenger 2 tank. The capture of the airport would be part of a “blitzkrieg” attack that is being planned by Allied commanders once the order to start the war is given. The assault on the airport is likely to come very soon after the invasion of Iraq begins.
Hundreds of cruise missiles will target radar stations and command and control centres.
Stealth bombers, followed by US and British ground attack aircraft from bases in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and from carriers in the Gulf will begin destroying air and army bases and surface-to-air missile sites.
Simultaneously, the British 3 Commando Brigade and troops from the US Marine Corps will seize the city of Basra, which is just 19 miles from the Kuwaiti border. Those troops will also thwart any aggressive moves made by Iranian troops on the other side of the Shatt Arab waterway, where the Iranian and Iraqi borders meet.
In the ensuing confusion, the airborne assault on the airport will be launched. The first phase will see military barracks, tanks and surface-to-air missile sites in and around the airport destroyed by aerial bombardments.
Then, the assault on the airport itself will begin. Both the 101st Airborne Division and 16 Air Assault Brigade specialise in seizing enemy airports and would already have spent days, and possibly weeks, planning and preparing the operation.
The British paras are likely to be the first to assault the airport along with US paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division. The dropping zones will be marked either by the SAS or the Pathfinders, the brigade’s specialist reconnaissance unit. To avoid confusion, British and American units will be given different targets to attack. This will be the most vulnerable stage of the operation.
A single Iraqi soldier armed with a hand-held surface-to-air missile could shoot down a C130 Hercules aircraft or one of the troop-carrying helicopters.
The ground troops will, however, be supported by at least one of the three Apache attack helicopter battalions which form part of the American division.
Once the airport is secured, which could take several hours depending on the strength of Iraqi resistance, the next phase of the operation will commence.
Transport aircraft will reinforce the lightly equipped force with more troops, armoured vehicles and artillery batteries. At the same time casualties will be evacuated back to field hospitals inside Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The orders for the troops occupying the airport will be simple: to hold their ground until the armoured force arrives.
Even if they meet little resistance, the force will take at least 72 hours to reach the advance troops at the airport. If, however, the Allied armoured columns run into determined opposition from Iraqi armoured units, or if Saddam uses his chemical and biological weapons, the arrival of the force could be considerably delayed.
In either case, the Allies will still have a significant advantage: complete control of the skies. This means that commanders will be able to call for air strikes against any enemy armour or troop concentrations that are likely to pose a threat either to the troops at the airfield, or to those attempting to relieve them.