U.S. Says Attack
Plans for Iran Ready
By Associated Press
- -- -WASHINGTON - U.S. defense officials have signaled that
up-to-date attack plans are available if needed in the
escalating crisis over Iran's nuclear aims, although no strike
The Army and Marine Corps are under enormous strain from years
of heavy ground fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, the
United States has ample air and naval power to strike Iran if
President Bush decided to target nuclear sites or to retaliate
for alleged Iranian meddling in neighboring Iraq.
Among the possible targets, in addition to nuclear installations
like the centrifuge plant at Natanz: Iran's ballistic missile
sites, Republican Guard bases, and naval warfare assets that
Tehran could use in a retaliatory closure of the Straits of
Hormuz, a vital artery for the flow of Gulf oil.
The Navy has an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf area with
about 60 fighters and other aircraft that likely would feature
prominently in a bombing campaign. And a contingent of about
2,200 Marines are on a standard deployment to the Gulf region
aboard ships led by the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault
ship. Air Force fighters and bombers are available elsewhere in
the Gulf area, including a variety of warplanes in Iraq and at a
regional air operations center in Qatar.
But there has been no new buildup of U.S. firepower in the
region. In fact there has been some shrinkage in recent months.
After adding a second aircraft carrier in the Gulf early this
year - a move that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said was
designed to underscore U.S. long-term stakes in the region - the
Navy has quietly returned to a one-carrier presence.
Talk of a possible U.S. attack on Iran has surfaced frequently
this year, prompted in some cases by hard-line statements by
White House officials. Vice President Dick Cheney, for example,
stated on Oct. 21 that the United States would "not allow Iran
to have a nuclear weapon," and that Iran would face "serious
consequences" if it continued in that direction. Gates, on the
other hand, has emphasized diplomacy.
Bush suggested on Oct. 17 that Iran's continued pursuit of
nuclear arms could lead to "World War III." Yet on Wednesday, in
discussing Iran at a joint press conference with French
President Nicolas Sarkozy, Bush made no reference to the
"The idea of Iran having a nuclear weapon is dangerous, and,
therefore, now is the time for us to work together to
diplomatically solve this problem," Bush said, adding that
Sarkozy also wants a peaceful solution.
Iran's conventional military forces are generally viewed as
limited, not among the strongest in the Middle East. But a
leading expert on the subject, Anthony Cordesman of the Center
for Strategic and International Studies, says it would be a
mistake to view the Islamic republic as a military weakling.
"Its strengths in overt conflict are more defensive than
offensive, but Iran has already shown it has great capability to
resist outside pressure and any form of invasion and done so
under far more adverse and divisive conditions than exist in
Iran today," Cordesman wrote earlier this year.
Cordesman estimates that Iran's army has an active strength of
around 350,000 men.
At the moment, there are few indications of U.S. military
leaders either advising offensive action against Iran or taking
new steps to prepare for that possibility. Gates has repeatedly
emphasized that while military action cannot be ruled out, the
focus is on diplomacy and tougher economic sanctions.
Asked in late October whether war planning had been ramped up or
was simply undergoing routine updates, Gates replied, "I would
characterize it as routine." His description of new U.S.
sanctions announced on Oct. 25 suggested they are not a
harbinger of war, but an alternative.
A long-standing responsibility of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is
to maintain and update what are called contingency plans for
potential military action that a president might order against
any conceivable foe. The secret plans, with a range of timelines
and troop numbers, are based on a variety of potential scenarios
- from an all-out invasion like the March 2003 march on Baghdad
to less demanding missions.
Another military option for Washington would be limited,
clandestine action by U.S. special operations commandos, such as
Delta Force soldiers, against a small number of key nuclear
The man whose responsibility it would be to design any
conventional military action against Iran - and execute it if
ordered by Bush - is Adm. William Fallon, the Central Command
chief. He is playing down prospects of conflict, saying in a
late September interview that there is too much talk of war.
"This constant drumbeat of conflict is what strikes me, which is
not helpful and not useful," Fallon told Al-Jazeera television,
adding that he does not expect a war against Iran. During a
recent tour of the Gulf region, Fallon made a point of telling
U.S. allies that Iran is not as strong as it portrays itself.
"Not militarily, economically or politically," he said.
Fallon's immediate predecessor, retired Army Gen. John Abizaid,
raised eyebrows in September when he suggested that initiating a
war against Iran would be a mistake. He urged vigorous efforts
to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but failing that,
he said, "There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran." He also
said he believed Iran's leaders could be dissuaded from using
nuclear arms, once acquired.
The possibility of U.S. military action raises many tough
questions, beginning perhaps with the practical issue of whether
the United States knows enough about Iran's network of nuclear
sites - declared sites as well as possible clandestine ones - to
sufficiently set back or destroy their program.
Among other unknowns: Iran's capacity to retaliate by unleashing
terrorist strikes against U.S. targets.
Nonmilitary specialists who have studied Iran's nuclear program
are doubtful of U.S. military action.
"There is a nontrivial chance that there will be an attack, but
it's not likely," said Jeffrey Lewis, director of a nuclear
strategy project at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan
public policy group.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press.
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