WASHINGTON – A Pentagon plan for invading Iraq, should the new U.N. arms inspection effort fail, calls for a land, sea and air force of 200,000 to 250,000 troops, officials said Saturday.
President Bush, who has publicly acknowledged having received a war plan without mentioning details, approved it prior to the U.N. Security Council's vote Friday to force Iraq to disarm, The New York Times reported Saturday on its Web site.
The president has not, however, ordered the Pentagon to carry out the plan. He will wait to see whether Iraq accepts and abides by the terms of the U.N. resolution. If arms inspections go forward without interference, a decision to go to war could be put off for several months, officials have said. War planning goes on, however, to ensure that the military is ready to act if commanded to do so by Bush.
Several White House officials reached Saturday declined to comment on the Times report that Bush has approved the plan, or on other details.
Pentagon planners had considered an approach that would have used 100,000 or fewer troops, but they settled on a much larger force favored by Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the Central Command that would run any war in Iraq, said defense officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Bush said Friday he prefers a peaceful approach to disarming Iraq but if that proves futile the military is prepared to "move swiftly with force" to ensure the regime of Saddam Hussein is stripped of its weapons of mass destruction and its ability to produce more in the future. The Times report said Pentagon officials are still working on some details of the war plan, but the basic approach is to begin with an air campaign, then quickly seize bases in northern, western and southern Iraq from which U.S. and allied forces could operate. A key early objective would be to cut off the Iraqi leadership in Baghdad in hopes of a rapid collapse of the government.
A major uncertainty, however, is whether Saddam would order the early use of the chemical and biological weapons that American intelligence believes he retains in defiance of previous U.N. disarmament demands.
As previously reported, a major strategic aim of a war in Iraq would be to avoid causing major damage to civilian infrastructure such as water and electricity supplies. The United States hopes that by focusing the war on Saddam's ruling elite it can avoid an anti-U.S. backlash.
The Times reported that Saddam is preparing thousands of civilian volunteers to fill "martyrs' brigades" and sacrifice their lives to bombs and advancing troops. Some of these volunteers would hope to slow the American-led offensive by acting as homicide bombers or fighting in neighborhood defense squads, but their true strategic goal would be to generate anti-American feelings in the region.
The Pentagon already is moving forces into position to ensure that it will be capable of launching swift strikes into Iraq, should Bush decide on war. The Navy has two aircraft carriers within striking range of Iraq and two more are scheduled to arrive in the area next month.
The Air Force says it is preparing to deploy B-2 stealth bombers to the central Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, where they could operate from special hangars now under construction. Other Air Force warplanes are in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and elsewhere in the Gulf.
In addition to thousands of Air Force and Navy personnel active in the Gulf region, the Army and Marine Corps already have thousands of ground troops in the area and additional equipment and supplies are heading there.