Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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November 22, 2002

Coalition Military Preparations Against Iraq Seen Escalating “On Schedule”

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS, with input from field reports. US-led Coalition military preparations for large-scale conflict with Iraq appear to be moving ahead on the basis of a timetable outlined by GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily on November 4, 2002. Indicators at that time showed the likelihood of a gradual escalation in the air war beginning in the latter part of November 2002, with the insertion of Coalition special forces into Iraq, leading to an ability to inject major ground force elements — supported by air and naval elements — starting in January 2003.

[See Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, November 4, 2002: Preparations Indicate US Readiness for Conflict With Iraq, Initiated by Air War, Starting Late November 2002.]

There were now indications that many of the major Coalition force elements were now in place, and that Coalition special forces were also now operating inside Iraq. Indeed, GIS has had indications that the Coalition special forces operations were running up against extensive Israeli special operations inside Iraq.

The sense of urgency has been reflected in the fact that Coalition special forces operating inside Afghanistan were now being replaced by regular forces in that country to free up spec.ops. teams for Iraq. 

Australian Prime Minister John Howard on November 20, 2002, said that Australian Special Forces — the Special Air Services Regiment — 
return from Afghanistan from the end of November 2002. The Australian Department of Defence (DoD) indicated that the SAS’s mission in Afghanistan was no longer required, because of the changing nature of the conflict there. However, less than one month earlier, Australian sources had indicated that the SAS team in Afghanistan would be replaced by another rotation of an SAS team. This was not now going to happen. 

Significantly, Australian SAS forces have a high degree of experience in the Middle East, and a significant number (at least 15 percent) native Arabic speakers in the ranks. Their average age — around 32 years — was also greater than that of US special forces, giving them greater experience.

Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill said Australian Special Forces soldiers had been on the ground in Afghanistan continuously as part of the international coalition against terrorism since November 27, 2001.  There had been three rotations of the Special Forces Task Group. 

Meanwhile, the NATO Summit in Prague, Czech Republic, on November 21, 2002, gave US Pres. George W. Bush the opportunity to wrap up the momentum toward a Coalition military approach to the war against Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein, with NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson indicating that the new NATO mission was the “war on terror”.