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WASHINGTON – The U.S. Army is stationing a minimum 9,000 soldiers at a “casualty replacement center” in Kuwait to swiftly replace troops lost across the border in Iraq combat, WorldNetDaily has learned.

Pentagon officials say the center is part of worst-case preparations for a ground assault on Baghdad, and they don’t expect American casualties to actually run as high as 9,000.

However, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed the Army did not set up a casualty replacement center in the last Gulf conflict, which resulted in few American casualties.

“There is no readily available evidence that a casualty replacement center was established for Desert Shield (or) Desert Storm” in 1990 and 1991, said Lt. Col. David Lapan.

Some military intelligence officials were told about the center in a briefing late last month by a high-ranking official from U.S. Total Army Personnel, or PERSCOM, headquartered in Alexandria, Va.

“They are establishing a minimum 9,000-man casualty replacement center in Kuwait,” said one official familiar with the briefing. “That’s where if a guy gets shot, there is a replacement for him in a combat situation.”

The PERSCOM official who gave the briefing, Lt. Col. Christopher Munn, declined comment.

Democratic politicians warn that a war with Iraq could become incredibly bloody if U.S. troops get bogged down in urban warfare inside Baghdad.

“I think we have to be ready for significant casualties, particularly if Baghdad becomes a battleground,” said Sen. Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I’ve seen enough of the challenge of Baghdad laid out in front of me by the military to believe that that will be – if it happens – a bloody battle with significant casualties.”

War planners hope to end fighting quickly with an overwhelming show of force in the early stages, which would minimize American casualties.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who would command U.S. forces in a war with Iraq, has said the extent of U.S. casualties is essentially “unknowable.”

But the 9,000-man casualty replacement center indicates the Army is anticipating more casualties than occurred in 1991. The Gulf War resulted in 148 U.S. combat deaths, 35 of which were caused by friendly fire.

Some defense analysts expect more casualties in this conflict because of the broader military goal of toppling the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and occupying Baghdad.

“We’ll probably know by the second day” of fighting if there will be more casualties in this war, said defense analyst Tony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who just returned from Kuwait.

“It all depends on intangibles. If they (Iraqi troops) collapse inwardly quickly, then there will be few casualties, though having as few as in the Gulf War strikes me as being very lucky,” Cordesman said. “If you get into chemical warfare and serious urban fighting, all of these numbers are totally different.”

Pentagon officials also worry about casualties from booby traps set in the tunnels connecting the bunkers and storehouses under Saddam’s many palaces.

A Gulf War veteran says she is more worried about casualties after the war, when U.S. troops occupy Iraq.

“I think there will be hazards, namely from land mines, but that the long-term hazards will take a larger toll on our forces as they start to mix in with a civilian population where you cannot determine friend from foe,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Cholene Espinoza, who logged more than 200 hours of combat over Iraq. “I worry about low-intensity conflict and terrorism, a la Lebanon.”

Espinoza, who is in Kuwait, says she doesn’t recall the Army setting up a casualty replacement center during the Gulf War.

But she says she has seen little planning for medical evacuations, which may be a sign the Pentagon is not bracing for heavy casualties.

“I do not think they are anticipating many casualties, as there is very, very little planned in the way of medivac,” she said. “Very few injuries means very few casualties, or at least that’s how I see it.”

Cordesman says the 9,000-strong casualty resupply unit may be more a military operations contingency than a realistic estimate of casualties.

“In preparing for casualties, you always max them up far beyond the level you really anticipate,” he said. “If you don’t, you end up with all kinds of military problems.”

He duly notes that projections of casualties in the run-up to Desert Storm were exceedingly pessimistic and led to the Pentagon ordering unnecessarily large amounts of body bags and other supplies related to battlefield trauma.

“The last time we anticipated vast numbers of casualties we ended up grossly oversizing every aspect of the medical (situation) and body bags and other issues,” Cordesman said.

Related stories:

Crews sent to disarm Saddam’s booby traps

Pentagon orders 273,000 bottles of sunblock

U.S. captures 2 Iraqis in Afghan raid

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