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U.S., British Troops Mass on the Iraqi Border

A blinding sandstorm in the Kuwaiti desert decreased the visibility of a convoy of tanks, troops and other equipment but did not stop more than half of the estimated 235,000 U.S. troops and some 40,000 British military personnel from moving to positions to launch an invasion of Iraq on a moment’s notice.

“We always watch the weather because it has an effect on flying conditions and really a lot of the activities you can see. Everything takes a little bit longer,” Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, told the Associated Press.

The troop movements come as Turkey’s government decided Wednesday to ask its parliament to allow U.S. planes to fly over its airspace but not to choose whether American troops can use Turkish bases to launch air strikes or a ground advance on neighboring Iraq.

The decision by Turkey’s leaders to only allow coalition forces to use its airspace represents a setback for U.S. military planners who had hoped to deploy thousands of ground troops into Turkey to add a “northern front” in a potential attack. The decision also means that debt-laden Turkey will not receive some $30 billion in grants and loans the U.S. had offered in exchange for letting U.S. troops use its bases.

At sea, combat pilots on the USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier were told to sleep through the day Wednesday so that they would be able to work through the night. In contrast, the crew of the USS Harry Truman was told to stay on day duty, ensuring a 24-hour combat capability among the six navy battle groups stationed in the Gulf region.

Military officials have said that some 3,000 satellite-guided bombs and cruise missiles will be launched from both the sea and the air on targets vital to Saddam’s government to start the war in a strategy called “shock and awe.”

At a military command center in Qatar, U.S. General Tommy Franks conferred with other top military officers to review final battle plans.

“He wants to make sure that the commanders have thought about every possible contingency that you can,” U.S. Central Command spokesman Jim Wilkinson said of Franks. “But he also is realistic enough, and has been around enough, to know that every military plan changes once the first bullet’s fired.”

According to media reports from the region, soldiers appeared apprehensive but ready to make the long awaited move into Iraq.

“I’m kind of excited, wanting to see if we go north. The faster we do, the faster we go home,” specialist Servando Diaz of San Jose, California said.

American and British aircraft continued to drop millions of leaflets over Iraq Wednesday advising Iraqis to stay away from military targets and warning the Iraqi military not to use chemical or biological weapons against the coalition.

“Coalition forces are prepared and well-equipped to defend themselves against chemical weapons attacks. Your comrades and innocent Iraqi people will be victims if Saddam uses chemical weapons,” one pamphlet said, according to a translation provided by the Pentagon.

Some 15 million similar leaflets have been dropped into Iraq this year as part of a psychological campaign that the U.S. hopes will persuade Iraqi forces to stand aside when coalition forces make their advance toward Baghdad.

Iraq’s military includes some 350,000 troops, an air force with limited equipment and pilots, and a small navy, Reuters reported. In addition, a 15,000-member Special Security Force Organization is expected to remain in Baghdad to protect Saddam from the U.S.-led force.

Coalition aircraft bombed military targets in Iraq’s southern no-fly zone Wednesday in response to Iraqi anti-aircraft fire, according to U.S. Navy officials.

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