WASHINGTON – Defense officials have already come up with a strategy for military force against Iraq if Saddam Hussein tries to lie or deceive his way out of disarming his weapons of mass destruction, U.S. officials acknowledged on Monday.
The air, land and sea plan involves 250,000 American troops in an effort to make sure that there is enough military force to topple Saddam's forces should they actually pose a threat to U.S.-led soldiers.
Already, a steady stream of materiel has been flowing to the Gulf region, where equipment is already stationed on land and aboard several dozen large transport ships stationed near the island outpost of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks refined the plan approved by President Bush with input from the National Security Council, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Retired Maj. Bob Bevalaqua, a Fox News military analyst and former Green Beret, said he is surprised that any information would come out on a plan to invade Iraq.
"We're probably feeding information that we want to be fed. I have worked with the guys in the Pentagon, I've worked in the war plans department. Those folks don't leak secrets so I would tell you that I think this is planned. I think that we're running a really good misinformation campaign," Bevalaqua said.
Later this month, a forward Centcom command post will be established at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. After that exercise ends, the post will be left behind to be used by Franks to direct any war the president orders.
The president has the prerogative to launch a war on Iraq even if the U.N. Security Council does not specifically authorize action. On Friday, the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the return of weapons inspectors and a complete declaration of weapons on hand or in production in Iraq.
Officials say the policy now, which is harder than getting a resolution, is to make sure Saddam complies. The administration is adopting a "zero tolerance" policy for Saddam and says he will face "serious consequences" if he is caught cheating.
One senior administration official said that's why the United Nations resolution is structured the way it is.
"You notice [the resolution] says the next time — that the next failure of compliance will be a material breach ... The next time the facts are reported that he is not complying or interfering, then he's in material breach. And serious consequences have to follow from that."
The official explained that any noncompliance "will require an assessment by the Security Council about what to do." In the meantime, the United States has license to act alone if it wishes to use force to gain compliance.
Defense officials in recent weeks have discussed in general terms several themes that they believe can be exploited against Iraq if that were to occur.
While they are no secret to anyone, including Iraq, they are sure to shape the campaign.
Among the cracks that may be exploited is geographic weakness. Iraqi airbases in western Iraq, separated from Baghdad by hundreds of miles of unpopulated desert, are indefensible to U.S. airpower.
Control of the western approaches to Baghdad is also key for preventing the launch of SCUDs with potential chemical, biological or nuclear payloads that can reach Israel. Saddam also cannot launch unmanned drones on Israel if the western portion of the country is shut down.
Officials are also hoping that the Shiite Muslim population in southern Iraq will assist U.S. forces in an approach toward Baghdad from the south, near the city of Basra. Shias are a downtrodden majority that may feel emboldened if U.S. troops decide to strike a decisive blow from the south. In addition, if the population in Basra does aid coalition forces, it will enable allied soldiers to attack via Shaat al Arab, a deep water channel that proceeds hundreds of miles inland.
The Pentagon is also hoping that disaffected Kurds in the northern part of the country will cooperate with coalition forces in setting up forward operating bases in the north. Allied forces will need to gain complete control of the air — not just the northern and southern no-fly zones — to prevent Saddam from attacking Kurds or coalition forces in the north.
Turkey's cooperation in providing continued use of Incirlik Air Base from which to launch air attacks has been strengthened with recent discussion of a $1 billion arms package for Turkey.
"I think it's feasible to say that we could secure an area in the south, secure an area in the west and secure an area in the north," Bevalaqua said. "I don't think it's feasible that that's going to cause Baghdad to fall in itself. I think what we might end up having is a large city that is under siege."
Airpower will once again be key, but will be employed simultaneously with land and naval action — not in a sustained multi-week air-only effort as was conducted in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Leadership targets, air defense and communications posts will be targeted throughout the country, including in Baghdad, though defense officials say they will attempt to avoid imposing any hardships on the millions of civilians concentrated in the greater Baghdad area.
Fox News' Jim Angle, Bret Baier and Chris Wright contributed to this report.