By Munir K. Nasser
A top US General warned that American forces in the Gulf area are a target for Iraqi chemical and biological weapons.
General Anthony C. Zinni, Commander in Chief of the US Central Command, said in Washington this week that Iraq has anthrax capability and if it were used against American troops in the Gulf, “it would be devastating.”
Zinni told an audience at the American Forces Information Service at the Pentagon: “We know that the Iraqis have the capability of using it, distributing it, and they certainly have it stored."
He stressed that the Iraqi threat “puts US forces on the front line against chemical and biological weapons.”
The general warned that the military's mandatory anthrax vaccination is an extremely important force protection requirement for his command. "It's important that our troops be protected, he added. “We cannot afford to have troops that are unprotected if we were to be exposed to anthrax. The loss of the troops that haven't had the protection would have a serious effect and put at risk those who have had it and degrade our capability to react."
Zinni is in charge of the US Central Command, the unified command responsible for US security interests in 25 nations that stretch from the Horn of Africa through the Arabian Gulf region, into Central Asia. The United States maintains about 20,000 service members in the Central Command area of responsibility.
During the last three years, he has led US efforts to contain Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's military activities, enforce the UN-imposed no-fly zones over Iraq and train thousands of US troops in Kuwait. . He is scheduled to retire in July after nearly 40 years' service.
Zinni highlighted the role the command plays in world affairs, stressing that the Middle East region “is vitally important to US interests because of its energy resources, trade markets and transit routes. He said the sanctions against Iraq remain necessary, because Saddam Hussein “would again threaten” his neighbors if given a chance. "If he is allowed to rebuild his military forces and weapons of mass destruction, we could repeat the same events we saw in 1990 with Desert Storm," he said.
Zinni accused the Iraqi President of repeatedly challenging the sanctions. "Day-to-day we fly the skies over Iraq and patrol the seas off of Iraq," he said. "Occasionally he fires at our planes and we are forced to respond to protect our own pilots and to enforce the requirement we are engaged in.” Zinni said the Iraqi president continues to provoke a response to show he's in charge and to distract the Iraqi people from the real cause of their plight. "Unfortunately it's his poor military personnel -- the troops that man the air defense systems -- that pay the price."
Zinni said he would like to see more US military presence in the Gulf region to stop any future moves by Iraq. "We would like to see full-time coverage," he said. “The extra units would give the Central Command the flexibility to respond to crises all over the region. They would help us reinforce army forces we have on the ground in Kuwait should we see Saddam start moving toward the Kuwaiti border," he added.
The United States also maintains a full-time rotation of ground forces in the region as part of Operation Desert Spring, Zinni said. A battalion task force and other reinforcements are in Kuwait. Combat equipment is pre-positioned in Kuwait and Qatar, and at sea. "Army air and ground support forces in Kuwait give us the capability to protect and defend Kuwait," he noted.
The US units demonstrate America's resolve to protect Kuwait, he added, and Kuwaiti forces appreciate joint training opportunities. "The sense of protection and credibility we bring to the defense of Kuwait has also aided them greatly in improving their military capability," the general said. "We've built strong relationships with our friends in the region and they welcome our presence," he said.
Zinni pointed out that the Central Command has also developed Bright Star, an exercise conducted annually in Egypt that involves 7,000 international troops. "I see that growing," he remarked. "I think it's important for the region. It shows our capability to operate as a coalition and the willingness to do so."
As for the military's future, the general said, he sees the need to adjust to the "other than war" missions required by the changing world. More and more, he said, the military is being pushed toward peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, protection of the environment and dealing with transnational threats such as terrorism. "I think we've got to make those adjustments necessary and recognize those are the real missions we have got to take on and not be resistant," he stressed. "Engagements around the world are important. We are the last superpower and we need to do that." – Albawaba.com
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