A small group of U.S. Army photographers called "combat cameras" has been documenting the Persian Gulf War shot by shot, frame by frame, and many expect to be shoulder to shoulder with front-line troops when the widely expected heavy ground offensive against Iraqi forces gets underway.
"Part of our mission, if battle does come along, is to go into combat and try to document what we can of the actual fighting," said Sgt. 1st Class James E. Cottle. In advance of that battle, Cottle said, the combat cameras -- assigned to Joint Combat Camera Detachment 10 in eastern Saudi Arabia -- have been documenting early bomb and artillery damage to Iraqi positions and problems with U.S. mechanical maintenance systems, living conditions and morale.
Their biggest problem so far, Cottle said, is the flour-fine Saudi desert sand and grit that gets into cameras, lenses, film packs and everything else mechanical. "The dust is a killer," he said. One member of the photo team, video camera operator Eddie Lee Oliver III, covers his microphones with condoms when he's not taping to keep them dust free.
Some film and tape of allied ground maneuvers has been released to civilian news organizations, but much of what the photo team has shot from the air over Iraqi-held territory remains classified, unit members said. The photographers send some film by satellite and phone lines to military command headquarters in Riyadh, while some is sent aboard planes directly to the Pentagon, they said.
Cottle said the detachment is trying to visit as many U.S. units stationed in the gulf region as possible before any full-scale ground war begins so that they came become acquainted with key personnel.
Members of the photo team have received extensive photographic field training at U.S. bases, but all agreed that experience has been the better teacher. "Comparing my work on Day One in October until now," said unit member Kevin M. Cone, "it's just so much better now."
Listen Here, Saddam
A member of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's secret police once tried to persuade Kuwaiti radio announcer Mohammed Qahtani to broadcast for Iraq by smashing him over the head with a gun. Now Qahtani is getting even.
As news director of Radio Kuwait in exile, he is part of a psychological war effort against Iraq that has galvanized and inspired the 230,000 Kuwaitis trapped in their occupied homeland.
For 21 hours a day from a secret site in Saudi Arabia, the station broadcasts hard news and messages of hope and advice to the captive emirate. "Don't go on the roofs to applaud allied bombers," is one such message, but there are also brotherly appeals to Iraqi soldiers urging them to surrender and not to sacrifice their lives for Saddam.
It is Qahtani who broadcasts these appeals, and he believes he is now so well known to his audience that he no longer bothers identifying himself, but begins simply by saying: "My Iraqi friends. . . . "
He says he aims his broadcasts at the average Iraqi soldier, a man he describes as a fellow victim of the war. "We talk to the cannon fodder of the war, the one who has no profit in damaging Kuwait, the one Saddam is trying to sacrifice to advance his schemes," Qahtani says, adding: "I think there will be a rebellion among Iraqi soldiers."
Qahtani is one of 38 Kuwaiti exiles who keep the station going with hourly news bulletins, discussion programs and emotional Arabic music. In the early months of the occupation, Iraqis had been able to jam the broadcasts, but allied planes destroyed the jamming equipment in the first days of the air war, and the station is now heard uninterruptedly throughout Kuwait and southern Iraq and Iran.
For years, Qahtani had been a prominent broadcast announcer in Kuwait and was so well known in Baghdad as well that he was hired last summer -- before the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait -- to appear on Baghdad television. But his first assignment there was to read a denunciation of the emir of Kuwait.
Qahtani could not bring himself to do it, he said, and he told Iraqi officials he was sick and could not report to work. An Iraqi secret police agent tried to beat him into "getting well" by hitting him in the head with a gun butt, he said, but he still refused.
Qahtani later fled Baghdad in the middle of the night, making his way back to Kuwait City -- just in time for the Iraqi invasion -- and had to escape again -- this time to Saudi Arabia.
In the Heart of France
Thursday is Valentine's Day, and florists in the southern French city of Limoges say they will help separated lovers to celebrate it by sending free bouquets to the wives of French soldiers from a nearby base now deployed in the Persian Gulf.
The florists said the bouquets, carrying cards reading "Far from the eyes, close to the heart," would go to the spouses of about 50 soldiers of the 15th Infantry Division based near Limoges.
The soldiers are now serving among about 20,000 troops France has deployed to the Persian Gulf region as part of the multinational force to drive Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.