One of President Bush’s top military deputies in the Persian Gulf said today that U.S. troops will not be ready to mount an offensive by the Jan. 15 U.N. deadline for Iraq to leave Kuwait.
Lt. Gen. Calvin A. H. Waller, deputy commander of all U.S. forces in the gulf, voiced that assessment after a meeting with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin L. Powell and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, field commander of the American deployment.
Waller told reporters that the full American deployment will reach about 430,000 troops by mid-January but that late-arriving armored units would not be combat-ready for some time, perhaps not until a month past the Jan. 15 deadline.
Asked how he would respond if Bush wanted to order a strike on Iraqi forces before the full complement of American ground forces was ready, Waller said, “I’d tell him, ‘No, I’m not ready to do the job.’ ”
In Washington, White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater was asked about Waller’s remarks. “What he really said is they might not be as ready as they would like to be . . . for all the contingencies,” he said.
“But we are assured they will be ready to do whatever they are called upon to do,” Fitzwater added.
Cheney and Powell told reporters traveling with them that the United States will be ready to go to war by the Jan. 15 deadline regardless of whether all reinforcements have arrived and reached combat-readiness.
Cheney acknowledged that some ground forces on the way to Saudi Arabia from Kansas and Germany probably will not be combat-ready by mid-January.
Waller said he does not anticipate Bush’s ordering an attack immediately if Saddam Hussein ignores the U.N. deadline to withdraw his army from Kuwait.
“It’s my understanding that he’s been briefed and received briefings that the forces will not be ready for combat activities until sometime after the 15th of the month,” Waller said in a candid, 30-minute session with reporters traveling with Cheney and Powell on their first joint visit to Saudi Arabia.
Waller was the first senior military officer to say publicly that he will oppose any U.S.-led military strike until the full force is in place. His comments raised eyebrows among deputies to Schwarzkopf and Powell, who said they were concerned that Waller had been too candid.
“I would say to the President and to the secretary and to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that until our full complement of forces are on the ground that we should not initiate hostile activities,” Waller said.
Meanwhile, two senators just back in Washington from visiting the gulf said they believe, based on talks with U.S. military commanders, that the United States could conclude a war with Iraq very quickly.
“We believe that with the strategic power we have, particularly in the air and on the sea, that we should be able to complete the mission in a very short time,” Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) told reporters after meeting with Bush.
“I think if there is a war, it will be a short one that will last no more than five days,” said Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii).