Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney said yesterday that the Bush administration may order as many as 100,000 additional U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf in response to the continuing buildup and fortification of Iraqi occupation forces in Kuwait.
Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region, has requested more forces, Defense Department spokesman Pete Williams said later. It is likely that 50,000 U.S. troops now stationed in Europe will be deployed to Saudi Arabia in the near future, Williams said, adding to the 210,000 already in the region.
An additional 100,000 troops, including Saudis, Egyptians, Europeans and others, have been sent to the region since the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait.
Cheney's statement suggests that President Bush is seeking to maintain the offensive military capability that has been implied by administration officials who say the president has a "full range" of military options -- including war -- and doesn't rule out any of them.
Strengthening those options also demonstrates to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein the U.S. commitment to maintain credible force levels in the region -- a psychological as well as military message that yesterday's public comments appeared designed to reinforce.
An Arab diplomatic source familiar with U.S. military planning in the Persian Gulf said that top military and Pentagon officials are "looking at" sending two to four more armored or mechanized divisions, which could exceed 80,000 troops. The final decision may depend on how many additional troops Egypt and Syria send.
The diplomatic source, speaking on condition he not be identified, also said Saddam has changed his daily routine and movements as a result of disclosures that U.S. air forces had targeted him, his mistress and members of his family.
Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Jordan's King Hussein have told Western sources of having to travel more than 40 miles in a curtained sedan to meet Saddam at clandestine locations, the source said.
U.S. intelligence has succeeded, according to this source, in collecting detailed information about Iraq, giving U.S. military commanders confidence that they understand Iraq's battle plans, weapon capabilities, military weaknesses, leadership movements and the control of forces.
"We're in much better shape than we like to admit," the diplomatic source said.
CIA Director William H. Webster, in a speech yesterday to a meeting here of the National Council of World Affairs Organizations, said U.N. trade sanctions against Iraq are so far having no significant impact on the Iraqi military.
Webster said of Saddam, "He's an experienced leader of a country at war; he knows the value of stockpiling -- he's done so. He's also been able to loot Kuwait of many of its sources, and that provides additional spare parts and equipment for him to use."
In discussing his deliberations on new troop deployments, Cheney and his spokesman were quick to qualify the secretary's remarks by saying that an upper limit has never been set on the U.S. deployment to Saudi Arabia and that the continuing buildup of Iraqi forces was driving the U.S. decision to consider deploying more forces to the region.
"Go back and look at the situation that we had in the theater of operations when this deployment was planned," Williams told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. "Look at it now," he added, "and that may also be instructive on why this deployment will continue."
U.S. officials say Iraqi troops in Kuwait and southern Iraq have swelled from 100,000 on Aug. 2 to about 450,000 now. Iraq is constructing formidable defensive lines along the Kuwait-Saudi border, U.S. officials say.
Cheney discussed his thinking on U.S. forces in interviews on the morning news shows of all four U.S. television networks. Cheney was asked on CBS's "This Morning" whether he was getting ready to send another 100,000 troops to the gulf.
"It's conceivable that we'll end up with that big an increase . . . , but we've never set an upper ceiling on it. It's going to depend very much upon developments in that part of the world," he said.
On ABC's "Good Morning America," Cheney said, "We are not at the point yet where we want to stop adding forces."
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Colin L. Powell was due to return from Saudi Arabia last night with a report on Schwarzkopf's recommendations as well as Powell's own views as the president's chief military adviser. Powell was to report to Cheney and to the Joint Chiefs today at their regular meeting in "the tank," the secure conference room in the Pentagon.
One factor affecting the U.S. troop decision is how many Egyptian and Syrian soldiers will arrive in the region in coming weeks. Saudi and Egyptian officials say there are now 24,000 Egyptian armored troops in Saudi Arabia. A second 15,000-man Egyptian division will begin arriving in the kingdom next week, according to diplomatic sources.
Syria's 9th armored division, consisting of another 15,000 troops, will begin arriving Monday on ships chartered by Saudi Arabia and one or more European nations, a diplomatic source said.
"The non-American troops eventually . . . will almost be 200,000 to 250,000 troops," the source said, adding that this included Saudi forces.
Saudi and Kuwaiti officials are said by sources to be arguing to the Bush administration that it may be crucial to confront Iraq militarily within the next two months because Kuwait is rapidly being depopulated of its own citizens, who are being replaced by Iraqis and Palestinians sympathetic to Baghdad.
"Based on the information I have now, I don't see how this can be solved without war," said one source.
If war comes, he said he expected U.S. and allied forces to conduct a massive aerial bombardment of Iraq in the early stages, outlining a scheme that closely matches plans disclosed last month by then-Air Force Chief of Staff Michael J. Dugan. The four-star general was fired by Cheney for publicly detailing U.S. military plans.
The Arab diplomatic source whose government is closely involved in the military planning predicted that the bombardment would destroy all of Iraq's aircraft, air defenses and military command centers within six hours and eliminate Iraq's force of ground-based missiles within 12 hours. Within four days, he said, allied Western and Arab commanders would know whether the Iraqi army in Kuwait intended to fight to the death.
The source said the conflict would end in 10 days if most of the Iraqi troops surrendered, and two weeks if they resisted. While declining to estimate probable casualties, the source said published figures of up to 20,000 deaths were excessive, and that many fewer deaths would result if U.S. and Arab forces initiated the conflict and held their ground forces back until the bombing campaign ended.
He predicted that virtually all of the Iraqi casualties would be inflicted by 1,000 Western and Arab aircraft, flying 2,000 to 3,000 bombing sorties per day. The source said some of the aerial attack would be conducted by U.S. B-52 bombers flying at high altitudes to avoid Iraqi anti-aircraft fire.
Some U.S. military officials and government analysts have warned that such air strikes may not be successful, however, and predicted heavy aircraft damage.
Gen. Merrill McPeak, the administration's nominee to become Air Force chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing yesterday that most of the weaponry deployed with U.S. aircraft in the region "will require that we get pretty close to the target."
"In a general way . . . we do not have a great deal there in the way of stand-off munitions," McPeak said. Staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.