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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Swirling Sand, Troops Await Order to Attack

APBradley fighting vehicles heading toward Iraq on Wednesday after the 3rd Infantry Division's commander, Blount, ordered his troops to line up at the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border.
IN THE KUWAITI DESERT -- Long columns of U.S. troops, armored vehicles and trucks advanced through swirling sand toward the Iraqi border Wednesday, positioning themselves to invade on short notice.

With just hours left before U.S. President George W. Bush's deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq, increased air activity -- helicopters and jets -- could be heard near the border.

At sea, combat pilots and others on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt were ordered to snooze through the day so they could work through the night. Those on the USS Harry S. Truman remained on day duty -- thus providing round-the-clock combat capability.

Major General Buford Blount III, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, ordered his 20,000 soldiers and 10,000 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and fuel trucks to line up near the border.

One company commander led his troops in a Seminole war dance, and told the men to remove the U.S. flags that fluttered from the tops of the tanks because "we will be entering Iraq as an army of liberation, not domination."

The soldiers had slept under the stars and a full moon after packing their tents into the back of their convoy, where the tents will likely stay until the worst of the fighting is over.

The 3rd Infantry Division is the only armored force in the region and is likely to attack Iraqi defenses head-on in the event of war. Troops of the 101st Airborne Division are expected to be flown in on helicopters to seize key installations ahead of the 3rd Division.

At the Army's Camp New Jersey, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade summoned his officers for a "battle update" briefing. "We are one day closer to making history, everybody," said Colonel Michael Linnington.

A strong sandstorm swept in Wednesday, affecting several units and hampering movement and visibility. The winds later died down, but a lot of haze remained, with visibility a little over a kilometer and a half.

Blowing sand cut visibility to about 500 meters in the Gulf, where the United States and Britain have assembled an armada of carriers, guided missile cruisers and other warships.

Major General David Petraeus, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, said, "We always watch the weather because it has an effect on flying conditions and really a lot of the activities you can see. Everything takes a little bit longer.

"It'll slow things down somewhat, but our soldiers will get everything done in the end."

About 300,000 troops -- most of them from the United States, about 40,000 from Britain -- waited within striking distance of Iraq.

Backing them were scores of attack helicopters and more than 1,000 airplanes.

British troops girded themselves for imminent war. At an emotionally charged rally Tuesday night just 30 kilometers from the Iraqi border, British Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins instructed some 800 soldiers of the 16th Air Assault Brigade, 1st Battalion, Royal Irish, to wrap their fallen comrades in a sleeping bag, fight on and grieve for them after the heat of the battle.

"It is my foremost intention to bring every single one of you out alive but there may be people among us who will not see the end of this campaign. We will put them in their sleeping bags and send them back. There will be no time for sorrow," Collins said.

Commander General Tommy Franks hunkered down with other top military officers at the forward command center in Qatar, about 1,125 kilometers from Baghdad.

"He wants to make sure that the commanders have thought about every possible contingency that you can," U.S. Central Command spokesman Jim Wilkinson said of Franks. "But he also is realistic enough, and has been around enough, to know that every military plan changes once the first bullet's fired."

Equipment, supplies and troops continued to arrive in Kuwait, where most of the U.S. and British ground troops preparing to invade Iraq were awaiting their final orders. Military officials said there was no last-minute surge in activity at Kuwait's ports and airfields because front-line units were already prepared.

After driving in a convoy for several hours, members of the 3rd Infantry Division's A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment took up a defensive position along with two tank companies. Climbing down from the turrets, the men's faces were crusted with dirt from the sandstorm and the sand kicked up by the Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks.

"We've got a lot farther to go," said Captain Chris Carter. With infantrymen surrounding his headquarters vehicles on one side, and tanks on the other, he positioned them into a windbreak.

Earlier, the commander of A Company, 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, which is also part of the 3rd Infantry Division, rallied his troops before leading them to the Iraqi border.

Following a brief prayer, Captain Philip Wolford led the troops in a Seminole Indian war dance. After making sure their weapons were empty, the men started chanting, jumping up and down with their weapons in the air.

Wolford also told them to take down the U.S. flags from the tops of the tanks.

"We will be entering Iraq as an army of liberation, not domination, so it would not be right to go in with the American flag flying," he said.

British Corporal David Simpson, 33, of D Squadron, Household Cavalry Regiment, handed out machine gun rounds and grenades to the 10 men in his troop, repacked his personal belongings, and placed a last minute call to his wife and 7-year-old son back in England.

"You have got to put that to the back of your mind, all those feelings. I just brace myself up because that's not what you show as a leader of men. You have got to show you are a strong rock but it does give you a twinge," said Simpson, who fought in the first Gulf War in 1991.

The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk met with an ammunition ship, the USNS Flint, to load more 450-kilogram Joint Direct Attack Munition bombs and Phoenix air-to-air missiles. Crews waited to load the weapons onto the carrier's F/A-18 and F-14 warplanes.

U.S. officials also continued planning for governing Iraq after Hussein. The man who would be Iraq's civil administrator after the U.S. takes control, retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner, was in Kuwait as those preparations continued.