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U.S., Allies Have 'Ample' Forces in Region to Handle Iraq

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21, 2003 – The United States and its coalition allies have "ample" forces in the Persian Gulf region to take on Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Feb. 20.

Appearing on PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," Rumsfeld said the United States and its allies have been flowing forces into the region in the event diplomacy to disarm Saddam Hussein doesn't work.

"We are at a point where, if the president makes that decision (to use force to disarm Iraq), the Department of Defense is prepared and has the capabilities and the strategy to do that," he said.

The secretary downplayed media reports of a rift between the United States and NATO ally Turkey. The U.S. military would like to place troops along Turkey's border with Iraq. In the event of hostilities, the troops could attack from the north, while others attack from Kuwait. The secretary said the U.S. military will defeat Iraq another way if Turkey doesn't allow the basing of U.S. troops on its soil.

Rumsfeld said Turkey has been a good ally in the war against terrorism and hosts U.S. aircraft enforcing the Northern No-Fly Zone over Iraq. He said Turkey has already given U.S. forces overflight rights.

Even without basing troops in Turkey, though, enough are in the region to handle Iraq, he said. DoD officials said more than 150,000 U.S. troops are in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Some of these forces are deployed in Afghanistan or supporting operations there.

Rumsfeld scoffed at the idea that the United States is against a peaceful solution to the Iraqi disarmament crisis. He said the presence of coalition troops in the region does not mean the United States has to use them. "Everyone's first choice would be to not have to have a conflict," he said.

If military force becomes necessary, however, the U.S. missions in invading Iraq would be to change the regime and disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. He said a disarmed Iraq must remain as one country, and U.S. and coalition partners would work to ensure factions there don't use the time of crisis for their own ends.

The secretary said U.S. Central Command war planners are taking under consideration every contingency, including how to defend forces from chemical and biological attack.

Rumsfeld once again addressed charges that the United States is pursuing "unilateral" action against Iraq. He pointed out that the U.N. Security Council voted 15-0 on Resolution 1441 to give Saddam Hussein one last chance to disarm. He pointed out that many countries have already signed up to help a coalition of the willing against Iraq.

"I can't make a prediction, but I'll bet anything there is at least a 50-50 chance that there would be more countries supporting the United States and the coalition of the willing than there were in the Gulf War in 1991," he said. "So the charge of 'unilateral' just isn't right."

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