U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Iraq has improved its air defenses, increasing the threat to coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones in the north and south of the country. Mr. Rumsfeld gave no hint at a news conference Friday what the Bush administration intends to do about it.
Mr. Rumsfeld would only say that U.S. national security officials are considering a number of response options to the threat posed by Iraq and that the United States "will do what it decides to do."
But speaking to reporters at the Pentagon Friday, Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged Iraq has rebuilt its air defenses since the U.S. led air strikes last February that struck command-and-control and radar sites outside Baghdad linked by sophisticated fiber optic cables. "The problem is when you do that [strike cables], it gets re-laid," he added. "So one question if you're going to do something is what's its value and for how long does it last, the effect of what you've done, and one tends to want to do things that have somewhat more lasting effects."
In the meantime, Mr. Rumsfeld made clear the United States intends to continue its patrols of both the northern and southern no-fly zones set up in Iraq since the end of the Gulf War 10 years ago. The purpose of the patrols is to ensure Iraq does not pose an invasion threat to its neighbors or to minority groups located in border areas of Iraq itself.
The defense secretary's comments follow a series of recent incidents in which U.S. aircraft in he region have been fired on by Iraqi forces.
Secretary Rumsfeld was speaking at a wide-ranging news conference in which he confirmed he will travel to Moscow later this month for talks on the Bush administration's missile defense plans. He said a Russian delegation will visit the Pentagon beforehand.
Mr. Rumsfeld also hinted the administration is poised to drop a decade-old military strategy under which the Pentagon is required to maintain sufficient forces to fight two, nearly simultaneous major wars. The replacement strategy he mentioned would require U.S. troops to fight and decisively win one war while having the ability only to repel an aggressor in a second conflict.
On yet another issue, Mr. Rumsfeld conceded it will not be easy to win Congressional support for a Pentagon plan to close 20 to 25 percent of the country's remaining military bases.