The Pentagon yesterday gave President Bush a proposal for a multinational naval force including Soviet ships to enforce the trade embargo against Iraq voted by the United Nations yesterday, to be used if diplomatic efforts fail, administration officials said. At the same time, the Navy sent a second aircraft carrier battle group steaming toward the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to augment the growing U.S. military presence in the Middle East.
In Saudi Arabia yesterday, Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney met with senior officials for several hours, armed with satellite reconnaissance photographs of a continuing military buildup by the Iraqis in Kuwait.
Bush dispatched Cheney late Sunday to try to persuade the Saudis to shut off the Iraqi oil pipeline that runs through their nation and to seek permission to deploy U.S. aircraft and support forces to Saudi Arabia to prepare for a possible Iraqi invasion.
The United States plans to position two aircraft carrier groups at critical points flanking the Arabian peninsula and has proposed contingency plans for deploying substantial numbers of Air Force fighters, attack planes and bombers to the region, provided the Saudis and other Arab nations agree to allow the aircraft to stage operations from their airfields in the event of an Iraqi incursion.
The plan to employ multinational forces was presented as an options paper to the National Security Council, according to one Pentagon official. No details were available on what specific missions the British, French or other warships would undertake in U.S. contingency plans, which the source said involved the blockade of oil terminals and shipping lanes to ensure the total cutoff of Iraqi oil shipments.
The official said the blockade would operate by using warships to interdict any tanker approaching an oil terminal and instruct its captain to leave the area, citing enforcement powers granted by the U.N. resolution. A second contingency mission of blocking Iraqi oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz would be enforced by warships in a similar manner, the official said.
The United States yesterday moved to more than triple the number of its warships available for operations in the Persian Gulf region. Military leaders, in a move that requires agreement from the Egyptian government, prepared to send the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and most of its seven escort ships from the eastern Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Arabian peninsula, the carrier USS Independence and its six escorts began maneuvering in the North Arabian Sea within striking distance of gulf states.
The carrier USS Saratoga, the battleship USS Wisconsin and eight escorts are to leave the East Coast today for a previously scheduled deployment to the eastern Mediterranean, Navy officials said. The United States already has eight combat ships in the Persian Gulf.
A five-ship amphibious group left the Norfolk area yesterday morning to pick up 2,100 Marines and their equipment in North Carolina before heading for the Mediterranean on a previously scheduled deployment.
The Soviets, British and French also ordered more warships into the area yesterday.
A Soviet guided-missile destroyer accompanied by two supply ships was reported entering the Strait of Hormuz leading into the gulf. France was preparing to send three more warships to supplement the two it already has stationed in the gulf and Britain has ordered two additional ships to support a cruiser now in the gulf, according to U.S. officials monitoring the buildup.
Intelligence reports from the region indicate that Saudi Arabia has dispersed most of its naval forces into the gulf to protect them against possible attack on their harbors. Saudi ground reinforcements were said to be moving into position near the Kuwait border and Saudi military aircraft activity reportedly was increasing substantially at airfields outside the Saudi capital of Riyadh, according to U.S. news agencies' telephone interviews with local residents.
At the same time, U.S. intelligence reports indicated that the Iraqis have moved about 70,000 more soldiers from their border with Iran to the Kuwait border and have begun activating up to 100,000 conscripts who were released from active service after the Iran-Iraq war. In addition, the Iraqis are continuing to resupply and arm the more than 100,000 troops in Kuwait.
The Iraqi military also has begun repositioning attack planes armed with Exocet air-to-surface missiles within Iraq and has dispatched gunboats equipped with Exocets into surrounding waters, according to U.S. intelligence. Two Exocets fired from an Iraqi jet almost sank the frigate USS Stark in May 1987.
Cheney and several top advisers presented those intelligence reports to Saudi officials yesterday and are to continue meetings with Saudi officials today. Cheney is accompanied by deputy national security adviser Robert M. Gates, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Undersecretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz and spokesman Pete Williams.
U.S. contingency plans for combating a possible attack against Saudi Arabia by Iraqi forces concentrate heavily on air power, which can be brought to bear far more quickly than the massive ground forces that would be needed to repel such an invasion, according to military officials.
In addition, the sea power being amassed on either side of Saudi Arabia could be used to block Iraqi oil shipments if diplomatic efforts fail. Also, A-6 and F/A-18 attack planes and F-14 fighters could be launched off the carriers to strike military forces or strategic sites inside Iraq, officials said.
But carrier planes would require frequent aerial refueling to cover the long distances from ships to targets and back. To avoid this complicated and dangerous operation, many military officials favor using Saudi air strips for deploying Air Force bombers and fighters.
Air Force planes could also be launched from European and U.S. bases, but some flights over Europe could require permission from U.S. allies. In 1986, U.S. F-111 bombers that attacked Libya were forced to fly a circuitous route to and from their base in England when several European countries refused to permit overflight. Some F-111s have recently been moved to an air base in Turkey.
Several Air Force B-52 bombers recently were sent to the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean for use in Mideast exercises and reportedly have been kept on the island.
Military officials also have considered options for using the F-117 "stealth" fighter for nighttime assaults.
Staff writers Patrick E. Tyler and David Hoffman contributed to this report.
USS Independence: Heads a battle group now in the Arabian Sea. The aircraft carrier is accompanied by six ships, including one Aegis-class guided missile cruiser.
USS La Salle: The command and control ship of Joint Task Force Middle East is in the Persian Gulf accompanied by one cruiser, one destroyer and five frigates.
HMS York, a British cruiser, is now in the Persian Gulf and will be joined by two British frigates.
A Soviet guided missile destroyer accompanied by two supply ships was spotted yesterday entering the Strait of Hormuz.
USS Saratoga: Departs Florida today en route to the eastern Mediterranean. The aircraft carrier is accompanied by the battleship USS Wisconsin, one Aegis-class guided missile cruiser and seven support ships.
Marine Amphibious Ready Group comprising five ships departed Norfolk yesterday to pick up about 2,100 Marines in North Carolina. The group is expected to leave the East Coast today and join up with the Saratoga battle group.
USS Eisenhower: Heads a battle group en route to the Suez Canal for transit to the Red Sea. The aircraft carrier is accompanied by seven support ships.
France said yesterday that one of its frigates was steaming to the gulf. French officials also may deploy elements of their Indian Ocean Fleet (based in Djibouti) to assist in a multi national blockade.
Afloat in Indian Ocean: A pre-positioned force of 14 maritime and naval vessels with equipment, weapons and supplies.
Diego Garcia: A vital munitions, fuel and parts depot for the U.S. armed forces.
Bahrain: Naval facility and docking point for American ships has a 2,500-bed hospital and important jet fuel storage facilities. U.S. aircraft have landing rights on the island.
Mesirah Island, Oman: Joint British-U.S. base for munitions storage, spare parts and medical supplies is also a U.S. Central Command Prepositioning Base. U.S. aircraft have limited landing rights here.
AT THE PRESIDENT'S DISPOSAL
24th Armored Division, Fort Stewart, Ga. First heavy armored forces available for rapid deployment on high-speed ships. Could reach the Persian Gulf in 28 days.
28th Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, N.C. President's Crisis Response Division, used in invasion of Panama. Could be deployed to the region by C-5 and C-141 air transpoirt within 24 hours.
7th Light Infantry Division, Fort Ord, Calif. Second rapid response division, also used in the invasion of Panama.
SOURCES: The Washington Post; Reuter; "The Military Balance," 1989-90 edition
Intelligence officials estimate there are more than 100,000 Iraqi troops now in Kuwait, the equivalent of seven divisions. Troops comprising up to four additional divisions (about 70,000 soldiers), have been moved from the border with Iran to the border with Kuwait.
Up to 100,000 additional conscripts have been mobilized and are reportedly checking in with centers in five southern Iraqi cities.
On Sunday, President Saddam Hussein ordered his Defense Ministry to form 11 new army divisions to deal with the current crisis.
Iraqi forces were deployed with mustard gas and the nerve gas Sarin during their conflict with Iran, but have not taken such weapons into Kuwait. Their regular forces rely on heavy artillery units to concentrate fire against opponents, then move in with tank brigades and follow up with infantry.
Iraq's ground operations are supported by an air force of primarily Soviet and French planes and helicopter gunships.
THE ARSENAL AT GLANCE
1,000,000 men under arms
3,000 pieces towed artillery
500 pieces support artillery
513 combat aircraft
38 patrol and coastal craft
Eight mine warfare vessels
Unknown quantities of long- and medium-range surface-to-surface missiles
Compiled by James Schwartz -- The Washington Post