DOHA (AFP) – A top US commander has warned Iran and other countries to never underestimate US air and naval power, discounting concerns that US forces are too tied down in Iraq to respond to challenges elsewhere.
“To deter a nation state you should never underestimate the air and naval power of the United States,” General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces in the Middle East told AFP in a joint interview late Friday.
“Why the Iranians would want to move against us in an overt manner that would cause us to use our air or naval power against them would be beyond me. We have an incredible amount of power,” he said.
Abizaid made the comment in response to questions about whether the United States, with the bulk of its ground forces tied down in Iraq, had the means to meet other contingencies such as a conflict with Iran.
The United States suspects Iran’s nuclear programme is aimed at developing atomic weapons, but Tehran insists it is for civilian purposes only.
Abizaid pointed to the US-led assault on the former Iraqi rebel stronghold of Fallujah as an example of the overwhelming force that can be brought to bear by a relatively small ground force of some 10,000 troops backed by air strikes launched from US aircraft carriers in the Gulf.
“And so we can generate more military power per square inch than anybody else on earth, and everybody knows it,” he said.
“If you ever even contemplate our nuclear capability, it should give everybody the clear understanding that there is no power than can match us militarily,” he said, speaking as he flew to his headquarters here from Afghanistan (news – web sites).
Lawmakers from both US parties have pressed for increases in the size of the army, warning that US ground forces have been strained to breaking point by a longer, more violent struggle to pacify Iraq than anticipated.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has resisted calls for permanent increases in the size of the army, relying instead on temporary increases and a reorganization to squeeze more combat brigades from the existing force.
“The question is do you need to have a very, very large conventional land force to deal with the forseeable problems of the next 20 years?” said Abizaid.
“My answer is if the international community hangs together and there is not a bloc of nations for example that would come together in some way as to present a threat to the United States, we’ve got it about right,” he said.
As it pursues a long war against Muslim extremism, the United States should rely on local forces to fight insurgents, he said.
“My view is that the way to win these wars, to win the insurgencies in both Afghanistan and Iraq, you need to build Afghan and Iraqi capacity, and in the long run the need for large numbers of American troops will come down,” he said.
“So the priority has to be helping countries help themselves. After all, who better can go against the cellular structures in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, wherever you may find them, but the people that live there,” he said.
Meanwhile, more troops are needed in Iraq through the January 30 elections, Abizaid acknowledged. However, no decisions have been reached on how many are required or where they will come from, he said. There are now about 138,000 US troops in Iraq.
Options under discussion range from extending tours of duty of more soldiers, speeding the arrival of others already scheduled to deploy to Iraq earlier next year, to bringing in extra troops from Europe or the United States for a short period.
“And of course one of the key things we have to understand is what the Iraqis are capable of doing or not capable of doing between now and the elections,” Abizaid said.
“So the big question is what American plus Iraqi equation equals good enough security for the elections, and everybody needs to understand there is not going to be perfect security for the elections,” he said.