The Pentagon Preps for Iran
By William M. Arkin
-- -- Does the United States have a
war plan for stopping Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons?
Last week, President Bush dismissed news reports that his
administration has been working on contingency plans for war --
particularly talk of the possibility of using tactical nuclear
weapons against Tehran -- as "wild speculation." Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld chimed in, calling it
"fantasyland." He declared to reporters that "it just isn't
useful" to talk about contingency planning.
But the secretary is wrong.
It's important to talk about war planning that's real. And it is
for Iran. In early 2003, even as U.S. forces were on the brink
of war with Iraq, the Army had already begun conducting an
analysis for a full-scale war with Iran. The analysis, called
TIRANNT, for "theater Iran near term," was coupled with a mock
scenario for a Marine Corps invasion and a simulation of the
Iranian missile force. U.S. and British planners conducted a
Caspian Sea war game around the same time. And Bush directed the
U.S. Strategic Command to draw up a global strike war plan for
an attack against Iranian weapons of mass de struction. All of
this will ultimately feed into a new war plan for "major combat
operations" against Iran that military sources confirm now
exists in draft form.
None of this activity has been disclosed by the U.S. military,
and when I wrote about Iran contingency planning last week on
The Washington Post Web site, the Pentagon stuck to its dogged
position that "we don't discuss war plans." But it should.
The diplomatic effort directed at Iran would be mightily
enhanced if that country understood that the United States is so
serious about deterring the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons
that it would be willing to go to war to stop that quest from
Iran needs to know -- and even more important, the American
public needs to know -- that no matter how many experts talk
about difficult-to-find targets or the catastrophe that could
unfold if war comes, military planners are already working hard
to minimize the risks of any military operation. This is the
very essence of contingency planning.
I've been tracking U.S. war planning, maintaining friends and
contacts in that closed world, for more than 20 years. My one
regret in writing about this secret subject, especially because
the government always claims that revealing anything could harm
U.S. forces, is not delving deeply enough into the details of
the war plan for Iraq. Now, with Iran, it's once again difficult
but essential to piece together the facts.
Here's what we know now. Under TIRANNT, Army and U.S. Central
Command planners have been examining both near-term and out-year
scenarios for war with Iran, including all aspects of a major
combat operation, from mobilization and deployment of forces
through postwar stability operations after regime change.
The core TIRANNT effort began in May 2003, when modelers and
intelligence specialists pulled together the data needed for
theater-level (meaning large-scale) scenario analysis for Iran.
TIRANNT has since been updated using post-Iraq war information
on the performance of U.S. forces. Meanwhile, Air Force planners
have modeled attacks against existing Iranian air defenses and
targets, while Navy planners have evaluated coastal defenses and
drawn up scenarios for keeping control of the Strait of Hormuz
at the base of the Persian Gulf.
A follow-on TIRANNT Campaign Analysis, which began in October
2003, calculated the results of different scenarios for action
against Iran to provide options for analyzing courses of action
in an updated Iran war plan. According to military sources close
to the planning process, this task was given to Army Gen. John
P. Abizaid, now commander of CENTCOM, in 2002.
The Marines, meanwhile, have not only been involved in CENTCOM's
war planning, but have been focused on their own specialty,
"forcible entry." In April 2003, the Corps published its
"Concept of Operations" for a maneuver against a mock country
that explores the possibility of moving forces from ship to
shore against a determined enemy without establishing a
beachhead first. Though the Marine Corps enemy is described only
as a deeply religious revolutionary country named Karona, it is
-- with its Revolutionary Guards, WMD and oil wealth --
unmistakably meant to be Iran.
Various scenarios involving Iran's missile force have also been
examined in another study, initiated in 2004 and known as BMD-I
(ballistic missile defense -- Iran). In this study, the Center
for Army Analysis modeled the performance of U.S. and Iranian
weapons systems to determine the number of Iranian missiles
expected to leak through a coalition defense.
The day-to-day planning for dealing with Iran's missile force
falls to the U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha. In June 2004,
Rumsfeld alerted the command to be prepared to implement CONPLAN
8022, a global strike plan that includes Iran. CONPLAN 8022
calls for bombers and missiles to be able to act within 12 hours
of a presidential order. The new task force, sources have told
me, mostly worries that if it were called upon to deliver
"prompt" global strikes against certain targets in Iran under
some emergency circumstances, the president might have to be
told that the only option is a nuclear one.
Contingency planning for a bolt-out-of-the-blue attack, let
alone full-fledged war, against Iran may seem incredible right
now. But in the secretive world of military commands and war
planners, it is an everyday and unfortunate reality. Iran needs
to understand that the United States isn't hamstrung by a lack
of options. It needs to realize that it can't just stonewall and
evade its international obligations, that it can't burrow
further underground in hopes that it will "win" merely because
war is messy.
On the surface, Iran controls the two basic triggers that could
set off U.S. military action. The first would be its acquisition
of nuclear capability in defiance of the international
community. Despite last week's bluster from Tehran, the country
is still years away from a nuclear weapon, let alone a workable
one. We may have a global strike war plan oriented toward
attacking countries with weapons of mass destruction, but that
plan is also focused on North Korea, China and presumably
Russia. The Bush administration is not going to wait for a
nuclear attack. The United States is now a first-strike nation.
The second trigger would be Iran's lashing out militarily (or
through proxy terrorism) at the United States or its allies, or
closing the Strait of Hormuz to international oil traffic.
Sources say that CENTCOM and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have
developed "flexible deterrent options" in case Iran were to take
One might ask how these options could have any deterrent effect
when the government won't talk about them. This is another
reason why Rumsfeld should acknowledge that the United States is
preparing war plans for Iran -- and that this is not just
routine. It is specifically a response to that country's illegal
pursuit of nuclear weapons, its meddling in Iraq and its support
for international terrorism.
Iran needs to know that the administration is dead serious. But
we all need to know that even absent an Iranian nuke or an
Iranian attack of any kind, there is still another catastrophic
scenario that could lead to war.
In a world of ready war plans and post-9/11 jitters, there is an
ever greater demand for intelligence on the enemy. That means
ever greater risks taken in collecting that intelligence.
Meanwhile, war plans demand that forces be ready in certain
places and on alert, while the potential for WMD necessitates
shorter and shorter lead times for strikes against an enemy. So
the greater danger now is of an inadvertent conflict, caused by
something like the shooting down of a U.S. spy plane, by the
capturing of a Special Operations or CIA team, or by nervous
U.S. and Iranian forces coming into contact and starting to
shoot at one another.
The war planning process is hardly neutral. It has subtle
effects. As militaries stage mock attacks, potential adversaries
become presumed enemies. Over time, contingency planning
transforms yesterday's question marks into today's seeming
William M. Arkin < firstname.lastname@example.org >writes the Early Warning
blog for washingtonpost.com and is the author of "Code Names:
Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the
9/11 World" (Steerforth Press).
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