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U.S. equipment held up in Kuwaiti ports

KUWAIT CITY—Stevedores and cargo handlers at Kuwait's ports and airport are struggling to keep up with the crush of military supplies and equipment flooding in as more than 250,000 U.S. and British troops prepare to invade Iraq.

U.S. military officials deny that the slow supply stream is affecting readiness. "We wouldn't say if it was," a spokesman said.

But privately, commanders say the ports and airport have become bottlenecks in the war effort. Many acknowledge that the war is likely to begin with some equipment still in containers, on ships, in the harbor.

Military cargo planes are sharing Kuwait International Airport with commercial airliners. Lines of ships queue up to enter the small port of Shuwaikh and the still smaller port of Shuaibah farther south. Army support units all over Kuwait are waiting for freighters to dock or be unloaded.

"It's been a reveille to taps operation," said Col. Matthew Blackledge, logistics chief for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Commando in the northern Kuwaiti desert. "Getting all the stuff in here has been like playing that game, Space Invaders. But you're never at Level 1. You're at Level 10 all the time."

"There are always two or three ships waiting," Blackledge added.

Only a portion of the 101st Airborne Division, originally scheduled to deploy from Turkey, is fully supplied. And three armored units—the 1st Cavalry Division, the 1st Armored Division and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment—are still in the United States or Europe and will not be in the Gulf region until mid- to late April. Their equipment may have to flow through Kuwait's cramped port as well.

"When Turkey wouldn't let us use their port, it screwed everything up," said Master Sgt. David Mills of Columbia, S. C., who has been trying to get supplies to his combat support units in the Army's V Corps.

Transport trucks are hard to come by. And even basic equipment such as satellite phones are slow getting to the troops. Some units are using cell phones they leased in Kuwait.

Commanders insist that despite the bottlenecks, the troops at the front are "98 percent" supplied and ready to go.


(Juan Tamayo and Meg Laughlin contributed to this report.)


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