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US, British Military Ready to Launch Massive Attack Against Iraq - 2003-03-19

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. and British soldiers in the Persian Gulf region are prepared to launch a massive attack against Iraq, as a U.S. deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave the country is rapidly approaching.

U.S. forces have made final preparations to launch an unprecedented air, land and sea assault against the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Hundreds of thousands of troops are now within striking distance of Iraq, backed by hundreds of warplanes.

U.S. and British troops and armor are in Kuwait and have massed near Iraq's southern border, ready to invade on short notice.

Once President Bush orders the war to begin, thousands of guided missiles and bombs are expected to rain down on Iraqi military targets in what Pentagon officials say will be the largest precision air campaign in the history of warfare.

Air Force Colonel Gary Crowder says the Pentagon hopes that overwhelming U.S. military superiority will convince Iraqi soldiers to surrender.

"I think the effect that we are trying to create is to make it so apparent and so overwhelming at the very outset of potential military operations that the adversary quickly realizes that there is no real alternative here other than to fight and die or to give up,' he said. "So they really are trying to ensure that everybody in Iraq understands what is coming. Because if they understand what is coming I think that there will be a greater likelihood that they might choose not to fight for the regime."

Hours before the expected start of hostilities, coalition aircraft dropped nearly two million leaflets over military and civilian sites in southern Iraq.

The leaflets explain how Iraqi troops can avoid combat by gathering in groups and displaying white flags on their vehicles.

Another message encouraged the Iraqi military to refrain from using weapons of mass destruction or burning oil fields.

Pentagon officials have expressed concern that Iraqi forces will use chemical and biological weapons, especially when allied forces are massed together at the beginning of the conflict.

A Pentagon source says Iraqi Republican Guard troops are not being allowed radios or civilian clothes, in an apparent effort to prevent them from hearing about U.S. surrender information or fleeing with civilians.

The source says there are now "lots of reports of desertion" and that some soldiers are hiding among refugees fleeing cities and moving toward borders.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has announced it has called up about 24,000 more reserves.

The military has now mobilized more than 200,000 reserve troops and members of the National Guard.