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Summer heat wouldn't keep U.S. troops out of Iraq, leaders say

CAMP NEW YORK, Kuwait—Some analysts have argued that the United States must launch an attack on Iraq by the end of February in order to wrap up a war before late May, when the scorching heat of a Persian Gulf summer sets in.

But senior U.S. military officers reject the notion that the hot weather—temperatures as high as 120 degrees—will impose a deadline.

Many of the troops in Kuwait who are preparing for war and others who are on their way to the region have spent summer months training in Kuwait or in the California desert, where summertime temperatures are just as hot. The 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade spent six months training in Kuwait last summer and fall. Each of the division's two other brigades have done at least one rotation through the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., in the past year, said Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, 3rd Infantry Division commander.

Fighting in the intense heat would impose some limitations on troops, Blount acknowledged. "But that would not be a reason for us not to do anything during summer," he said in an interview at Camp New York in the Kuwaiti desert.

For instance, it is more difficult physically to fight in summer, and equipment often becomes too hot to touch with bare hands. Fighting in gas masks and protective clothing also slows down movement on the battlefield. But U.S. forces would almost certainly fight at night, when desert temperatures are much cooler.

By fighting at night, U.S. troops can also maximize their advantages in night-vision gear, targeting mechanisms and other technology, Blount said.

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. Central Command, who would be in charge of a war in Iraq, also said his forces would not be tied to any timetable that takes into account the weather or any other comfort factor.

"We have gone beyond convenience and comfort many times in our history ... all the way back to Valley Forge. The United States of America is capable 24/7/365. If my boss wakes up and says it has to be done this way, in this timeframe, the U.S. armed forces will do it," Franks said in a rare interview exclusively for Knight Ridder last week at his headquarters outside Tampa, Fla.

"I can think of lots of places that are more comfortable, but I can't think of any places that are more important to my own country than those that threaten us. You can just bet it will be as cold or as hot on our potential adversaries as it will be on us," Franks said.

The 3rd Infantry Division is likely to spearhead any attack into Iraq if President Bush orders military action. The division's 3rd Brigade wrapped up a six-month training cycle here in the fall. The division's 2nd Brigade is already in Kuwait, and the division's 3rd Brigade from Fort Benning, Ga., and 1st Brigade, from Fort Stewart, Ga., are both in the midst of deploying to Kuwait as part of a massive buildup of troops and equipment. Troops are expected to be in place and ready for military action by the end of February.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Joe Galloway contributed to this article from Tampa, Fla.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.