Cohen Says U.S. Will Contain Iraq
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 5, 1999 America’s will to contain Saddam Hussein remains strong, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said enroute to the Persian Gulf. “Our containment policy remains intact,” he said.
Gulf state partners strongly support U.S. efforts to constrain the Iraqi dictator, Cohen told reporters traveling with him March 4. “They understand the threat that he poses … they understand this is the appropriate policy,” he said.
Cohen departed Andrews Air Force Base, Md., aboard a C-32 jet bound for a 9-day trip to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. Enroute to a refueling stop in Naples, Italy, Cohen talked about the latest developments in the effort to counter Iraqi aggression.
“Saddam has been consistently violating the no-fly zones – some 100 violations since December,” he noted. “Some 20 SAMS have been launched against our aircraft. It’s a very dangerous mission flying over the north and south, so we intend to take whatever measures we can to ensure the safety of those pilots.”
More than 24,400 U.S. troops, 30 ships and 189 aircraft are stationed in the Gulf. U.S. Central Command conducts Operation Southern Watch from bases in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and ships in the Persian Gulf. Coalition aircraft enforce the U.N.-mandated no-fly zone over southern Iraq. U.S. European Command conducts Operation Northern Watch from bases in Turkey.
Since the end of Operation Desert Fox in late December, Iraqi forces have repeatedly violated the no-fly zone and challenged patrolling coalition aircraft. On nearly a daily basis, U.S. and British fighters have responded, launching attacks on Iraqi missile sites and anti-aircraft artillery batteries.
As violations continued, U.S. military officials expanded the rules of engagement. They began targeting Iraq’s integrated air defense system. The latest coalition attacks have been aimed at Iraqi command and control and communications facilities.
U.S. pilots now have “more flexibility to go after those sites that put them in jeopardy,” Cohen said. “It’s not going to be a one-for-one situation where Saddam can continue to fire SAMS or AAA at them with the hopes that they’re going to take down an American aircraft. We’re going to send a message that there will be a penalty associated with that.”
Coalition pilots target only facilities that pose a threat, Cohen said, not oil pipelines or pumping stations. He said U.S. forces do not want to disrupt oil flow to Turkey, an ally that supports Operation Northern Watch.
During his swing through the Gulf, Cohen planned to assure local officials that the United States remains committed to protecting partner nations and U.S. interests in the region. “This is all part of the effort of reminding them what we’re doing, and seeing to it that they’re kept fully abreast of our policies.”
If Saddam Hussein is not contained, Cohen stressed, the Iraqi leader would flout the rules of the international community and reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction program. The immediate goal is containment, he said, but the long-term goal is to help free the Iraqi people “We will continue to talk to our Gulf friends about our long-term goal of helping to bring about a new government, that would be fully integrated in the international community.”
Cohen said reports of civil unrest in southern Iraq appear to concern Saddam. “Whenever he sees any expression of discontent, he moves with absolute brutality to suppress it. This reaction by Saddam, said the secretary, is ultimately going to generate even wider discontent among the people of Iraq
As long as Saddam threatens his neighbors in the Gulf, Cohen said, the United States will stand in his way. “He has a way to avoid all of this,” he added, “and that’s simply to comply with the Security Council resolutions and not violate the no-fly zones.”