The United States has no plans to invade Iraq or any other country, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday, but he refused to discuss the Bush administration's thinking about how to deal with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Saying it would be "dumb" to publicly discuss military planning, Rumsfeld declined to address news reports that top military leaders had expressed strong reservations about launching a large military operation to oust Hussein.
Those concerns, according to reports in The Washington Post, USA Today and The New York Times, included worries that the U.S. military is already being stretched thin by operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the war on terrorism.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, played down those concerns in a Pentagon news conference with Rumsfeld.
"Your military is ready today to execute whatever mission the civilian leadership asks us to do," Pace said.
Bush and his cabinet members have made no secret of their desire to see Hussein toppled, calling the Iraqi leader a dangerous tyrant trying to arm himself with a chemical, biological and nuclear arsenal. But Bush said during a visit to Germany this week that he has no Iraq invasion plans on his desk.
Four U.S. warplanes struck an Iraqi surface-to-air missile system and an aircraft and missile control center in southern Iraq on Wednesday, and American warplanes bombed another air defense site in Iraq on Monday. The U.S. military said the attacks were in response to Iraq's firing three surface-to-air missiles at coalition planes patrolling the "no-fly zone" in southern Iraq during the previous 15 days.
Pace said Friday the latest Iraqi actions did not seem to show any increase in belligerence from Hussein.
"It's consistent with what's been going on for the past several years," Pace said.
Iraq frequently tries to shoot down coaltion planes patrolling in the southern and northern "no-fly zones" over Iraq, calling them a violation of its soveriegnty. The air patrols were enacted after the 1991 Gulf War to prevent Hussein from attacking dissident Iraqi elements.