WORLD

RAISING THE STAKES

TENSIONS RISE AS WASHINGTON ANNOUNCES PLANS TO SEND LARGE REINFORCEMENTS TO THE GULF

JOHN BIERMAN November 19 1990
WORLD

RAISING THE STAKES

TENSIONS RISE AS WASHINGTON ANNOUNCES PLANS TO SEND LARGE REINFORCEMENTS TO THE GULF

JOHN BIERMAN November 19 1990

RAISING THE STAKES

WORLD

TENSIONS RISE AS WASHINGTON ANNOUNCES PLANS TO SEND LARGE REINFORCEMENTS TO THE GULF

We don’t want to fight, but by Jingo if we do! We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money, too.

There was no jingoism in the low-key manner which George Bush used to make his major announcement last week, but the words of the Victorian-era British music hall song seemed appropriate. The President said that he is sending large-scale reinforcements to join the 230,000 U.S. military personnel already in the Persian Gulf. And as in Queen Victoria’s rule, the world’s mightiest power was warning an invading foreign leader that the time for the use of overwhelming military force was fast approaching.

Bush and Defence Secretary Richard Cheney withheld the precise number of additional troops that are leaving for the Gulf. But at least 150,000 more land, sea and air personnel were involved, many of them drawn from NATO forces in Europe. Their presence will bring the

total of U.S. forces facing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s occupying army in Kuwait to nearly 400,000. Washington will also send 1,200 tanks to reinforce the 800 already deployed. The navy will get three more aircraft carriers and battle groups, along with the battleship Missouri, doubling the naval strength currently in the Gulf. As well, an

undisclosed number of attack planes will join the 500 already on the spot. Bush declared that the reinforcements will give the multinational force “an adequate offensive military option” if Hussein continues to defy United Nations resolutions demanding his immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait.

Hussein seemed to be preparing for war. Western intelligence sources said that he issued sealed battle orders to the commanders of his estimated 430,000 troops in Kuwait. The written orders, the sources said, were supplied in case surprise U.S. air strikes knock out conventional military communications. As well, Hussein dismissed his army chief of staff, Lt.Gen. Nazir al-Khazraji, and replaced him with Lt.-Gen. Hussein Rashid, formerly commander of the crack Republican Guard. Intelligence sources said that Khazraji had openly opposed the Aug. 2 invasion. By contrast, they said, Rashid, a hard-liner and hero of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, will firmly support Hussein’s actions.

While both sides moved closer to war, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker embarked on a whirlwind international campaign to strengthen the cohesion of the multilateral force in the Gulf. He met Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, then flew to Ankara to meet President Turgut Ozal of Turkey. The Turks have no forces in the Gulf, but they have strongly reinforced their troops along the southern border with Iraq.

Later, Baker met Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in Moscow and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in London. His final stop was Paris, where he met President François Mitterrand. Like Britain, France has deployed significant ground forces in the Gulf, but analysts say that it is still not clear whether the traditionally independent-minded French would allow their troops to take part in a U.S.-led offensive.

In Saudi Arabia, Baker obtained King Fahd’s agreement to new command arrangements. U.S. forces will remain under joint U.S.-Saudi control as long as they are helping defend Saudi

Arabia against the danger of an Iraqi attack. But U.S. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf will assume sole command if they attack the Iraqis.

In Cairo, Mubarak reaffirmed his support for the Americans’ uncompromising stand against Iraqi aggression. But he urged Washington to delay any offensive for two or three months to give diplomatic and economic pressures a chance to force Hussein to withdraw. Military analysts pointed out that it will take that long to complete the U.S. reinforcement operation.

Baker enjoyed his greatest diplomatic success in Moscow. There, he persuaded Shevardnadze to declare publicly that the allied contingent could not rule out the use of force. That appeared to be a significant change from previous Soviet statements that the use of force was

“unacceptable” or “undesirable.” Underlining the shift, Shevardnadze declared, “I would advise against looking for some differences in the position between the Soviet Union and the United States.” Most analysts said later that the Soviets are signalling that if the Bush administration asks the UN Security Council to authorize military action, they will either approve or refrain from using their veto.

Sources said that the Chinese had given Washington a similar undertaking. In Cairo, Baker met with Beijing’s visiting foreign minister, Qian Qichen, who reportedly told him that his government would not veto a Security Council resolution. But on Saturday, after Qian had visited Baghdad, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz said that Qian had given assurances that Beijing would not be rushed into a decision. Bush administration officials say that they have not decided when to seek UN authorization, or in what terms. According to administration sources, however, Washington is likely to request blanket authority to attack at a time of its choice.

After Baker completed his mission and the Nov. 6 midterm elections were over, Bush announced the Gulf reinforcements. Newspaper accounts indicated that he had authorized the action about three weeks earlier. Analysts estimated that the additional forces will almost double U.S. military strength on land and in the sea and air. One of the most significant improvements will be in the area of American armored capability, which is an essential ingredient in desert fighting. According to ex-State Department and Pentagon war planner Anthony Cordesman, with 1,200 more Abrams Ml tanks, “we will, in effect, have more modem, first-line tanks in the area than Iraq.”

Most military analysts now o predict that U.S.-led forces m will delay an offensive until January, when all the reinforcements will be in place. They would then presumably have until midMarch to mount a military attack. That period stretches over the relatively cool winter months and ends with Ramadan, the holy month when about two million Moslems traditionally stream into Saudi Arabia on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Washington may simply be trying to lull Hussein into calculating that there is no danger of an imminent attack—before it launches a lightning strike. But it seemed more likely that Bush will indeed wait until he assembles an overwhelming military force before going on the offensive. Regardless of timing, for Washington there is clearly no turning back.

JOHN BIERMAN with correspondents’ reports