British troops prepare for offensive
NORTHERN SAUDI ARABIA — The move from northern Germany to the sands of Saudi Arabia has meant more than just a major-league change of scenery to the men of Great Britain's 7th Armored Brigade.
Lt. Col. John Moore-Bick, one of the unit's battalion commanders, said the brigade has had to scrap the defensive mindset that comes with duty on the edge of Eastern Europe and prepare to be the aggressor.
"We were oriented for a European war" against the Soviets, said Moore-Bick, who commands the 21st Engineer Regiment. "We trained to make good use of the terrain and buildings and fight a defensive battle. Here, we're not thinking too defensively."
The change, he added, suits his troops fine. "We have the initiative here, and that's something we really didn't have in Europe," he said. "Now we can dictate when and where we fight."
One of the original "Desert Rat" units from World War II's North Africa campaign, the 7th began arriving in Saudi Arabia from Fallingbostel, Germany, in early October. It brought two tank battalions and one battalion each of infantry, engineers and artillery as well as its support units.
There are some 30,000 British forces now in Saudi Arabia, and the 7th Brigade is under the operational control of the U.S. 1st Marine Division.
To get used to fighting from the other side of a defensive position, Maj. Evan Loudon said, the brigade staff designed live-fire exercises in which units simulated attacks through defensive positions.
Loudon, the brigade's chief of staff, said his staff took a look at Iraqi positions on the other side of the Saudi border and designed the objectives accordingly.
Since arriving here, he said, each unit has gone through eight or nine live-fire exercises. Moore-Bick's engineers will have the chore of breaching Iraqi defensive obstacles, and he said the job won't be an easy one.
"They're pretty good at defensive warfare," he said. "They've had a lot of time to build their positions and reinforce their units. They've got T-72 tanks, modern mines, modern anti-aircraft defense. Those are key things.
"Also, they've got good artillery and lots of it. The artillery, combined with good defensive works, will make it difficult to breach their positions and maneuver on the other side."
As Moore-Bick spoke, several of the brigade's armor and mechanized infantry units maneuvered through the Saudi night toward an objective that was being pounded by fire from Challenger tanks, Warrior infantry fighting vehicles and foot soldiers.
Such exercises, combined with months in the desert, have beefed up British confidence.
"I'd describe our attitude as one of quiet confidence," Moore-Bick said. "But we're very sober and rational about the idea of going to war. In some ways, Jan. 15 will be just another date on the calendar — everybody is too busy to be preoccupied with what might or might not happen then. But on the day itself, people will be thinking about it."
The British got an indication of how things could go a few minutes later.
As the night exercise ended, word began circulating through the camp that the meeting between Secretary of State James Baker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz had failed to lessen the possibility that Desert Shield would become Desert Sword.
"It doesn't look promising," a voice said from the darkness. "Baker is going to hold a press conference in a few minutes. The Iraqi foreign minister will go next."
"I don't know why he's bothering," someone quipped. "If he's smart, he'll get back to Baghdad and start digging himself a hole to crawl into — a deep one."