Turkey forces Pentagon to look at Plan B
Shepperd: Alternative to using its bases 'a logistical nightmare'
(CNN) – The Pentagon had a Plan B ready just in case Turkey refused to allow its bases to be used by 62,000 U.S. troops during a possible northern strike against Iraq, officials say.
"I don't think it's absolutely a showstopper in terms of whether you have a northern front or not," Gen. James L. Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said in Stuttgart, Germany. "We're going to be successful regardless of what we're limited to."
Military experts, however, are not enthusiastic about Plan B, and more than 20 U.S. transport ships, heavy with troops and armored units, remain in the Mediterranean in hopes that Turkey changes its mind.
Analysts said the first choice was to send the 4th Infantry "Iron Horse" Division, a mechanized division with tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, into northern Iraq from southern Turkey.
That strategy would prevent Iraq from concentrating all its forces to the south and around Baghdad. It would also allow U.S. troops to act as a buffer between Turkish forces and millions of Kurds in northern Iraq and would likely allow U.S. troops to reach Iraqi oil fields in Kirkuk quickly enough to prevent their destruction or seizure by the Kurds.
But after Turkey shut the door on that plan, according to retired U.S. Air Force general and CNN military analyst Don Shepperd, the Pentagon was left with two options to deploy troops to the north.
"Bring them into Kuwait and move them up west of Baghdad, and circle them to the north. That's a bad option and a logistical nightmare," Shepperd said.
He said the other option would be to fly troops in from United States, Italy or elsewhere and use the 101st Airborne Division to get forces on the ground.
Under that option, the U.S. would put a premium on seizing forward air bases in northern Iraq and using them to stage troops in the area.
Pentagon planners decided weeks ago to send the entire 101st Airborne to Kuwait as a backup so commanders would not have to wait for the heavier-armed 4th Infantry Division to be allowed into Turkey or forced to move to Kuwait.
"The United States will go in with other means -- lighter forces -- to take down the targets in northern Iraq. Probably more paratroopers, air assaults with helicopters techniques," said U.S. Army retired Brig. Gen. David George.
But he said it will take longer to build up those forces, and there would be more risk.
"It provides a chance for additional casualties, both on the coalition side as well on the Iraqi side, not just the military but on civilians," George said.
Although the Turkish parliament has voted down a package deal of U.S. military access, sources say U.S. officials are still hoping to win approval of more-modest and less-provocative measures. They would like to base search-and-rescue crews in Turkey, something that would be viewed as more a humanitarian than an offensive move.
The United States is also seeking rights to fly through Turkish airspace.
Plan A called for two aircraft carriers in the eastern Mediterranean to send warplanes into northern Iraq by way of Turkey.
If Turkey does not allow access to its airspace, those carriers would have to move south to the Red Sea and send their planes to Iraq by flying over Saudi Arabia, as they did during the Persian Gulf War.
Sources said the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, which steamed from California on Monday and is expected to arrive in the region in early April, could make up for some of the loss of land-based planes that were to go to Turkey.