KUWAIT — Four F-16 fighter jets departing from this air base changed their posture from Operation Southern Watch to "10-03 Victory," the code name for war in Iraq. The pilots were told as they departed.
When the posture changed, it was at least in part symbolic, as the sites hit in southern Iraq were picked as part of Southern Watch, the long-standing mission to enforce the southern no-fly zone. The targets were located in and around the city of Basra. "From this date they are flying 10-03 combat sorties, but the air campaign is not yet begun," said a military spokeswoman on base. The wide spread belief here is that the full "shock and awe" campaign will begin tonight (Thursday), Kuwait time.
Many troops on base got their first clue that they had slipped into war when the giant voice-intercom system upgraded the alarm condition to "green." Alarm green requires troops to wear a helmet and flak vest when outdoors. The announcement came about 10 minutes before President George Bush gave his televised speech.
Some people slept through the green alarm because one of the intercoms in Tent City, a major sleeping quarters on base, apparently did not work. Base officials are looking into the problem.
This morning, troops are walking around camp as before, however with more purpose and considerably more gear. Everyone has a helmet, flak vest, and backpacks carrying chem-bio suits. The skies are mostly quiet. Jets take off intermittently, which is usually the case during sunlight hours.
The subtle shift to a war footing does not surprise everyone. "That's the way the military works. When the president gives approval for war, if there is an opportunity, we're going to take it," said Major Neal Murphy with the 190th Air National Guard.
Editor's note: csmonitor.com reporter Ben Arnoldy is on assignment in Kuwait as part of the Pentagon's program "embedding" journalists with troops involved in the expected invasion of Iraq. His reporting is collected in the web special project Assignment: Kuwait (http://www.csmonitor.com/specials/kuwait/).