Friday, October 19, 2007

U.S. military forces are capable of conducting operations against Iran if called on to bomb nuclear facilities or other targets, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday.

“From a military standpoint, there is more than enough reserve to respond if that, in fact, is what the national leadership wanted to do, and so I don’t think we’re too stretched in that regard,” Adm. Michael Mullen told reporters when asked if current operations had worn out U.S. forces.

Adm. Mullen said he has been concerned over the past year and a half with Iranian leaders’ statements of intentions, Tehran’s support for bombers in Iraq and Iran’s covert drive for nuclear weapons.

“All of which has potentially a very destabilizing impact on a part of the world, a region of the world which is struggling in many ways already,” he said in his first press conference since becoming chairman Oct. 1. “So they’re not being helpful.”

Defense and military officials have been preparing U.S. forces within striking distance of Iran. The forces would be dominated by Navy and Air Force weapons and forces since Army and Marine Corps forces are focused on Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are two main targets of any Iranian military action, according to the officials. First, U.S. forces are set to attack Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps facilities because of the paramilitary’s support and provision of armor-piercing roadside bombs.

A U.S. official said the location of a factory where Iranian bomb materials are being produced has been identified.

A second target would be Iranian nuclear facilities, which are in numerous underground facilities across the country.

Adm. Mullen said Iran’s support for terrorism “adds up to a huge and growing concern about Iran and where it’s headed.”

“There is a significant amount of activity right now to try to influence them diplomatically,” he said.

The use of military force would be an option “of the last resort,” Adm. Mullen said.

Adm. Mullen said many are working to try and influence Iranian leaders to move in a more positive direction. “But the concern that I have is very, very real.”

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, appearing with Adm. Mullen at the Pentagon, warned about the dangers a nuclear-armed Iran poses to the Middle East.

“If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it seems very probable that there will be other states in the region that decide for their own protection they will have to obtain nuclear weapons as well,” Mr. Gates said, likely triggering a “nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”

Mr. Gates said as nuclear weapons materials and perhaps nuclear weapons become available in states that did not have them in the past “the risk of an accident or a miscalculation or of those weapons or materials falling into the hands of terrorists seem to me to be substantially increased.”

Nuclear weapons escalation in the Middle East would increase the risk of “a major war” in the region, he said.

“This is not to mention the fact that you’ve got a leader in Iran who has already publicly said that Israel ought to be destroyed,” Mr. Gates said. “So let’s just say that the leadership in Iran doesn’t give us confidence, even by their public statements, that they would handle this kind of a capability with any kind of responsibility. And then when you add to that the proliferation part of the equation, it seems to me it ends up being a far more dangerous world.”

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