In the desert kingdom of Kuwait, a country that is smaller than New Jersey, there are already more than 50,000 U.S. troops nearly at the ready, with thousands more pouring in daily.
Every couple of hours, hundreds of new soldiers arrive in military camps where the heartbeat of a giant force with no time to waste before war seems to pound out loud. Situated on Iraq's southeast border, Kuwait would be the main launching pad for a U.S.-led invasion, though for now, it serves as a rehearsal stage.
"Large parts of western Kuwait can be used to do things like fire practice, test our artillery, conduct small maneuvers," ABCNEWS military analyst Anthony Cordesman told Good Morning America. "We can't do that in places like Turkey or in most other places in the Middle East."
The U.S. military is maintaining 10 bases around the tiny emirate, including a command headquarters, a logistics center and two Air Force bases. More than a quarter of Kuwait has been cordoned off to make room for American exercises and troop movements.
Kuwait, the target of an Iraqi invasion in 1991, has not mended fences with its neighbor. By the end of February, 80,000 troops are expected to be in place there.
Training for Urban Warfare
American soldiers in Kuwait will have more training than soldiers in any other war in history. They have to figure out how to build and protect a 450-mile supply line through the desert, and they must train for the dreaded and deadly art of house-to-house combat.
In 1991, when the United States fought Iraq in Desert Storm, a total of 148 American troops died in combat, but 24 percent of the fatalities were the result of friendly fire.
This time around, the number of American casualties could be greater, particularly if Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his best forces, the Republican Guard, retreat into the cities, drawing U.S. forces into deadly house-to-house fighting, a type of warfare unknown to this generation of young soldiers. Saddam has said he will arm all civilians, meaning that urban fighting is more than just a dangerous possibility.
That leaves a terrible statistic in everyone's minds: a U.S. Marine Corps study showed casualties in urban areas have reached more than 30 percent.
But U.S. soldiers are preparing for that possibility. In a barren tract of land about a 40-mile drive north and west of Kuwait's biggest port and half an hour from the highway is Camp New York, where many of the fresh troops have come. Third Infantry soldiers out of Camp New York use live ammunition for their urban warfare training, for which they have built streets, mock houses and cut-outs of people to serve as targets.
"The danger level is pretty high because we place a lot of soldiers in a small space with targetry and live weapons, obviously, so the individual soldier has to make a lot of important decisions that affect the entire group," said Army Capt. Larry Burris, an eight-year veteran from Richmond, Va.
"This is what I joined the infantry for," said Garfield Thompson, 20, of Ridgefield, Conn. "Training. Live rounds. Nothing's better than this."
Experts say urban combat is one of the most arduous ways to do battle.
"The truth is, combat in cities is very expensive, and generally produces much higher casualties and becomes an extremely difficult challenge for any forces operating there," said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold.
A Decisive Gateway
Back in Desert Storm, American forces were able to rush into the country from positions in Saudi Arabia. But that's not an option this time — the Saudis won't allow it. That means Kuwait is going to be the gateway to either a quick victory or a long war.
Military experts expect a likely scenario for invasion would have U.S. and allied forces in Kuwait striking west into the sparsely populated Iraqi desert, and from there turning north for a drive into Baghdad.
The troops in Camp New York call themselves the "tip of this spear," poised to thrust into main Iraqi areas. Unlike Desert Storm, every soldier will be issued an individual global positioning system, a lifesaving tool for navigating across the unforgiving desert.
In preparation for war, Humvees mounted with guns, flatbed trucks bearing M-1 and M-2 Abrams tanks, and unmarked civilian-style Mitsubishi four-wheel-drives now clog Kuwait's main arteries. Bulldozers and earth-moving tractors build sand berms along the way. Mobile howitzers rumble off-road across the horizon.
At Camp New York, while some of the infantry practice urban warfare, the armored companies prepare for a day of testing their equipment.
"Pretty much we're indestructible, it feels like," said Staff Sgt. Lewis, of Warsaw, Ind. "Seventy tons of metal rolling across the desert is pretty empowering."