- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

The commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf has told senior Pentagon officers that a new war against Iraq would likely take five divisions and 200,000 troops.

Gen. Tommy Franks "wants to do a Desert Storm II," said one official, referring to the 550,000 troops deployed to the region in 1990-91 to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Two defense sources said the briefings by Gen. Franks, who heads the U.S. Central Command that oversees U.S. forces in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, came as the Bush administration is moving closer to deciding on a general military campaign to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Officials say it likely will rely on fewer ground troops than suggested by Gen. Franks and call on extensive use of air power and indigenous rebel forces.

"Less ground-centric and more air-centric," is how one official described the emerging consensus.

Sources said that several weeks ago Gen. Franks provided face-to-face briefings on his ideas for combating Saddam.

The sources said Gen. Franks believes four or five divisions of ground troops are needed, with a total strength of about 200,000 land, sea and air forces.

Officials said President Bush met with some of his top national security advisers at Camp David last weekend and discussed war options.

Gen. Franks, a four-star Army officer, is partial to the use of large numbers of ground forces. In the planning for the war in Afghanistan, he initially proposed three divisions to oust the Taliban but then settled on relying greatly on special-operations troops and air power.

Officials say Pentagon civilian policy-makers are skeptical of Gen. Franks' Iraq outline.

They want him to rely less on conventional ground troops and incorporate more features of the Afghan conflict: Army Green Berets organizing anti-Saddam forces in the north and south, and extensive use of air power unleashing a new generation of precision-guided munitions.

Air advocates say the Navy and Air Force could generate up to 1,000 sorties, or air strikes, daily over Iraq. While less than 10 percent of munitions used in the 1991 Gulf war were "smart bombs," up to 90 percent would be precision-guided ordnance in a new war against Baghdad.

The officials said, however, that a full-blown debate on strategy inside the Pentagon has not yet begun. They said Central Command is drafting several war options.

"There is the beginning of a debate going on in Central Command and in the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the merits of a larger U.S. ground force versus a small U.S. ground force supporting Iraqi opposition troops, a la the Afghan model," one official said.

Mr. Bush on numerous occasions has threatened Saddam with military action. His aides talk openly of how Washington cannot allow Saddam, whose regime has ties to terrorist groups, to achieve his goal of building nuclear weapons.

Some weeks ago, the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council agreed to seek Saddam's removal sooner rather than later. But the administration has not settled on how to do it. CIA Director George J. Tenet is said to favor covert action to undermine Saddam's regime and instigate a coup. But Pentagon civilians argue that such measures have failed in the 11 years since the Gulf war.

"All options are on the table," Mr. Bush said recently. "But one thing I will not allow is a nation such as Iraq to threaten our very future by developing weapons of mass destruction."

The administration is also undecided whether it can deploy forces and launch an attack while the Arab world is upset with Mr. Bush over his tilt toward Israel in its war against Palestinian terrorists.

The Pentagon is planning to work around Saudi Arabia's opposition to launching strike aircraft from its soil.

Air Force planners believe adequate air strips will be available in countries such as Turkey, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman.

Vice President Richard B. Cheney conducted an 11-nation tour of the region last month. Administration sources said that although Arab leaders publicly voiced opposition to going to war against Saddam, in private some delivered a completely different message.

One senior official called the trip "very successful" on the issue of gaining support for moderate Arab states for ousting Saddam.

"All the stuff you heard publicly, turn it upside down," this official said. "The Cheney trip was a very good trip. Look where Prince Abdullah is today."

This was a reference to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah traveling yesterday to Crawford, Texas, for more than five hours of talks with Mr. Bush.

Also, the administration is mulling its policy on having U.N. arms inspectors re-enter Iraq. Mr. Bush in the past has said Iraq faces some type of action if Saddam refuses to let in inspectors.

But his advisers are split on the issue. The State Department wants to give inspections another try, arguing that it is a way to build global support for deposing Saddam. Pentagon policy-makers believe inspections are a waste of time.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters earlier this month: "I just can't quite picture how intrusive something would have to be that it could offset the ease with which they had previously been able to deny and deceive, and which today one would think they would be vastly more skillful, having had all this time without inspectors there."

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