Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney said yesterday that the Pentagon has prepared contingency plans to attack strategic targets inside Iraq if the president so orders, regardless of whether Soviet military or civilian advisers still in Iraq might be present at the sites.
Asked whether U.S. forces might be deterred from attack by the presence of Soviet advisers in Iraq, Cheney said, "Should there be a provocation . . . it would be appropriate . . . to hold at-risk targets -- assets if you will -- that Saddam Hussein holds dear, and specifically, assets inside Iraq regardless of what the status might be of various advisers who may or may not be present."
As the Pentagon plans were discussed before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House began debate of a 1991 defense authorization bill that would cut U.S. military forces by 130,000 and slash major new weapons programs. The Pentagon, calling elements of the House bill "isolationist in the extreme" said such a measure could hobble U.S. efforts in the Persian Gulf and warned that if the House bill prevails, the president's national security advisers would recommend a veto.
Cheney's remarks were the most explicit administration statement to date about military actions being contemplated against the regime of Saddam and coincide with unofficial and private comments from military officials that plans have been drawn for a number of attack scenarios against Iraq and its occupation forces in Kuwait. These plans underlie the "military options" that President Bush has referred to in public, but never explained as he continues to focus on giving time for the U.N. trade embargo against Iraq to work.
Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also testified, said the U.S. military deployment was the largest since World War II and would continue.
Cheney referred to Soviet advisers because Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) expressed concern that the continued presence of Soviet advisers in Iraq might complicate U.S. military options. At another point in the hearing, Cheney said the Soviet support for the United States during the crisis had been "admirable."
The Pentagon also disclosed that Iraq had increased "military activity" in areas adjacent to the Syrian and Turkish borders, but the activity did not appear to foreshadow "imminent hostilities." Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams would not provide details, but he said one sign of increased activity might be Iraqi air force flights in border areas.
In the House, the opening debate on the $283 billion spending measure for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 was marked by biting criticism of the failure by West Germany and Japan to adequately contribute to the cost of the U.S. deployment.
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he would introduce a bill levying a 20 percent import duty on goods from nations "not paying their fair share." Another House member said Japan's $2 billion offer of economic assistance was "contemptible tokenism."
The criticism was echoed in the Senate. Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Maine) and others said they were appalled or incredulous that West Germany was offering "little more than pocket change" to "help defray some of the expense of the refugees in Jordan" while the "jugular vein" of the U.S. military "is sitting out there exposed" in Saudi Arabia to protect the flow of oil to Europe.
A number of legislators expressed outrage that West Germany was prepared to pay $8 billion to support Soviet troops during the transition to a united Germany, but was not willing to make a significant contribution to defray Persian Gulf military costs.
The only voice publicly questioning the Bush administration's actions in the Persian Gulf was raised by Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II (D-Mass.) who asked, "Should U.S. troops be the mercenaries for feudal governments?"
Cheney, in his first report to Congress since Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion, said Bush has not set an upper limit on the size of the U.S. deployment to the Persian Gulf region and that the numbers would continue to grow.
Powell said 75,000 troops have been airlifted there, which if added to the 45,000 to 50,000 U.S. Marines steaming to the region in amphibious assault ships, would yield a current force level of about 125,000 ground troops in and around Saudi Arabia. Together with 30,000 to 40,000 naval personnel aboard ships in the region, the total deployment stands at about 160,000.
The 1991 defense authorization bill would terminate production of the B-2 "stealth" bomber and the railroad MX missile system, and would cut the administration's proposal for the Strategic Defense Initiative from $4.7 billion to $2.9 billion.
Administration forces will attempt today to restore funding for the B-2 and SDI, but some sources gave a better chance to an amendment to cut the space defense funds even further.
The bill contains no extra funds for Operation Desert Shield, and Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the present plan is to cover the costs through a supplemental appropriation next year, when the size of the allied contribution is known.
Any additional defense funds made available at the White House-Congress budget summit, he said, would be used to prepare for future Iraqi-type threats and by strengthening sealift, airlift and chemical warfare units.
The House by a vote of 230 to 188 accepted an amendment by Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.) to prevent the Navy from closing the new Staten Island base until a Defense Department plan is sent to Congress. By 483 to 1, it also approved setting up a new unit in the Pentagon to handle weapons acquisition.