WASHINGTON – The Joint Chiefs of Staff are unanimously behind a U.S.-led military mission to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, reports revealed Wednesday.
The six-member team has not signed off on a plan for military action, but their backing of a war represents a sea change from previous discussions on what to do with the despot and his threat to the Middle East. The generally cautious group of military leaders is responsible for advising the administration on U.S. war strategy.
"The chiefs have come over because they can read the handwriting on the wall," an administration adviser told The Washington Times. "Now the senior leadership is on board."
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers told Fox News that he couldn't speak about specifics of an Iraq operation, but said, "You have to be concerned with those countries. The question is 'What should we do about that?'"
Senior Defense officials told Fox News that there was some dissension among the six chiefs about using military force in Iraq, but the Times report said the chiefs are past that now.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff is comprised of six military generals -- Chairman Gen. Myers, Vice Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, and the secretaries of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. For years, they have been the last word on whether it is wise or not for the country to conduct a military operation.
But several civilian leaders at the Pentagon and White House, most notably the president's national security advisers and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, have wielded considerable influence with President Bush, and the military has lined up behind the secretary, according to the Times.
Pentagon officials say they have specific evidence of Saddam reinstituting his chemical and biological weapons programs, and he is working hard to finish a nuclear bomb. They say to leave him in power opens the region to an unacceptable threat.
Any military action, covert or overt, will require the assistance of the surrounding countries, specifically Kuwait, which would be a staging ground for U.S. troops. Turkey, to the north of Iraq, has also signed up to allow U.S. forces to operate in its space. Saudi Arabia, however, said Wednesday that U.S. troops would be prohibited from launching an attack on Iraq from Saudi soil.
Myers said that a significant military build-up for the mission won't be on the front pages of the newspapers.
"Because you don't see something going on doesn't mean there isn't a lot of activity -- it's like looking at the lake out there. You know that there is a whole society of fish down there doing whatever fish do. It's really busy -- you look at this placid lake and say it's a pretty calm day at the lake. Well, it may not be just a foot below the surface so it'll be that kind of thing that's going on."
While there are a lot of time frames being suggested for an attack, The Washington Times quoted two administration officials saying that it won't happen until the beginning of next year. The paper also quoted the sources saying that a military action would likely involve "about 200,000 air, ground and naval troops, as well as wide-ranging air strikes and aid to indigenous anti-Saddam forces."
Military sources told Fox News that the size and timing of an attack will depend on which plan the president chooses to undertake. In case of a limited attack, the military could be ready in 30 days after an order is given.
Fox News' Bret Baier contributed to this report.