America's allies pledge array of support


WASHINGTON - Should war come to Iraq, a U.S.-led military force could include everything from a British armored division and a Bulgarian chemical-biological protection unit to a team of Latvian military doctors and a Danish submarine.

U.S. officials have not said publicly how many states make up what President Bush has taken to calling a "coalition of the willing," meaning those nations that would assist in overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

But officials say at least 40 nations - mostly in Europe and the Middle East - are in talks with the United States about providing combat forces and support units, as well as basing rights and refugee assistance.

"America will also be acting with friends and allies," Bush said yesterday in Mayport, Fla., addressing sailors from the USS Enterprise battle group. "Many nations have offered to provide forces or other support to disarm the Iraqi regime. Every nation of the Gulf Cooperation Council has agreed to help defend and protect Kuwait. And now the world's most important multilateral body faces a decision."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said this week during a Pentagon appearance with Australian Prime Minister John Howard that the United States has "heard from a large number of countries that would participate in a coalition of the willing." Rumsfeld has told lawmakers that a "nontrivial number of countries" will offer combat troops or support units, while other nations are offering overflight rights and access to bases. Still others, he said, are awaiting a second United Nations resolution before offering help.

"Every contribution is important, from the smallest clinic to the largest troop contribution," said Jim Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Tampa, Fla.-based U.S. Central Command, whose area of responsibility includes Iraq. More than 40 nations have sent military representatives to Tampa.

Some Pentagon and State Department officials say the contributions are more important politically than militarily, providing the Bush administration with a widening international alliance that could help blunt talk of unilateralist U.S. action.

The United States is expected to have more than 200,000 troops in the region by the end of the month, considered more than enough to defeat Iraq's military. More critical to the American cause than troop commitments from allies are less obvious contributions such as basing rights in Turkey or flyover rights in Saudi Arabia - support needed as a springboard for an attack.

"It's not just the bases, it's the infrastructure" that's important, said Robert H. Scales Jr., a retired major general, Vietnam veteran and former commandant of the Army War College. Having modern facilities, such as those that exist in the gulf state of Qatar, means the U.S. military does not have to transport construction material and build up forward bases before launching an attack.

But Scales disagreed with those who view the inclusion of allied support troops as more a matter of politics than necessity. Most troops sent to war serve in support units, providing everything from oil and water to field hospitals and mine-clearing.

"Those who actually do the shooting are a small percentage of the total force," said Scales, who wrote the official Army history of the Persian Gulf war. He recalled a field hospital set up after the war by a unit from the Philippines.

"We needed doctors and nurses at that point more than we needed cluster bombs," he said.

A core group of eight nations, led by Britain and Australia, has pledged either combat forces or support units should the president decide on war, officials said. Some states are not yet willing to publicly declare their intentions, citing operational reasons or concerns about domestic opposition to a war with Iraq.

Meanwhile, there is a more extensive list - an "elaborate matrix" in the words of one official - of what countries will offer under differing circumstances, with or without a second Security Council resolution. Dozens of countries are being consulted about how they can contribute to the effort, officials said.

"We've made inquiries about what people can provide," said a U.S. official who requested anonymity. "They've made promises about what they could do, contingent on the fact that we don't go off telling people."

Some historic allies such as Canada, which provided military forces for the gulf war, are still on the fence.

"We definitely would welcome a second resolution. If the Security Council decides on action, we will be there," said Bernard Etzinger, a spokesman for the Canadian Embassy here. "We haven't offered any units because we haven't made a decision on participating."

Some of the countries offering the strongest support are in Eastern Europe, and hope to receive American assistance in modernizing their militaries, officials said.

Poland has marines and special forces aboard ship in the Arabian Sea, said Boguslaw Winid, deputy chief of mission at the Polish Embassy here. And there have been discussions between Poland and the United States about "hypothetical increases" in Polish forces should there be war in Iraq.

"I can't go into detail on the number of units," he said.

Eighteen European countries have signed letters of support for either disarming Iraq or contributing to a coalition. This week, Sens. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, were among the lawmakers who introduced a resolution urging Congress to go on record as praising those nations.

"The majority of Europe's democracies have spoken, and their message could not be clearer: France and Germany do not speak for Europe," the lawmakers said, referring to the two nations that are pressing for more U.N. inspections of Iraq instead of what they see as a U.S.-inspired rush to war. "Most European governments behave like allies that are willing to meet their responsibilities to uphold international peace and security in defense of our common values. We thank this European majority for standing with us."

U.S. officials say that despite some opposition in Europe, no country is barring overflights by U.S. aircraft in the event of war. Should war come, some military officers believe France will provide troops or other combat assistance, but they are less certain about Germany's likely role. Germany now has 59 soldiers working with U.S. and Czech Republic troops in an anti-chemical warfare group in Kuwait.

Nine countries in the Middle East are offering basing or overflight rights.

In 1991, Saudi Arabia allowed U.S. forces to attack Iraq from its territory to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait. This time, the Saudis are host to the largest number of U.S. aircraft - surveillance, refueling, cargo and attack aircraft - although they are barring combat missions from Saudi soil.

Pentagon and State Department officials say the Saudi decision not to allow combat sorties is not a problem because neighboring countries are offering bases without restrictions. Moreover, there will be five U.S. aircraft carriers in the region.

Jordan did not support the 1991 war against Iraq, but King Abdullah II has given the United States permission to base Patriot missiles there along with search-and-rescue teams. Pentagon officials say U.S. and allied special forces will operate from Jordan to search out and destroy Scud missiles in Iraq's western desert.

Egypt has so far offered no assistance beyond overflight and landing rights for U.S. military aircraft. But the country's statements urging Hussein to give up prohibited chemical and biological weapons "help us with the Arab states and the Arab street," a U.S. official said.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad