Myers: Iraqi Forces Weak But Communications, Air Defenses Stronger

July 7, 2008 - 8:29 PM

Washington (CNSNews.com) - Iraqi forces are weaker today than they were at the end of Desert Storm, but Saddam Hussein has boosted his country's air defenses, communications systems and ability to produce and conceal weapons of mass destruction, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday.

While the United States has made no decision to attack Iraq, there is "clear and compelling evidence" that Iraq has mobile laboratories to manufacture chemical and biological weapons, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said at a National Press Club luncheon.

"There is evidence to support mobile production capability for chemical and biological weapons," Myers said, in response to questions.

"It does not take a lot of space for some of this work to go on. It can be done in a very, very small location," he said.

"The fact that you can put it on wheels makes it a lot easier to hide from people that might be looking for it," he added.

At the Pentagon, a senior defense official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity on Friday said Iraq could fit an entire biological weapons lab on four tractor-trailer trucks, wire services report. Such transports could be used to avoid detection of weapons of mass destruction, officials said.

U.S. Central Command Likely Will Move to Gulf

Myers said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld likely will decide to locate a forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command in the Gulf region.

"We've got to be ready for action and for potential activities in the region no matter what we've been called upon to do," Myers said.

The U.S. Central Command this week announced plans to send 600 staff officers from its headquarters in Tampa, Fla., to the Gulf state of Qatar for what it said would be a one-week exercise in November.

Myers said no final decision regarding the headquarters has been made but that it was "a likely outcome."

"My guess is that the secretary will make a decision to push that forward headquarters into the region," he said. "It just makes sense to have your headquarters in your area of responsibility."

The move and its timing is seen as a significant step in U.S. military preparations for a possible attack on Iraq.

In an update on the war on terrorism, Myers said the Afghanistan campaign was "a major military victory."

"The bottom line," he said, "is that al Qaeda's major base of operations has been smashed."

Some 2,700 terrorist suspects have been rounded up worldwide, and 160 nations helped to deny more than $112 million to terrorists. In addition, law enforcement officials have identified more than 230 individuals and business enterprises that helped raise money for terrorists.

However, Myers cautioned that "al Qaeda is a shrewd, patient and adaptable group."

Pilots Face Criminal Charges

Myers declined to comment on a case involving two F-16 pilots who are facing criminal charges in the friendly-fire deaths of four Canadian soldiers and injuries of eight others near Kandahar, Afghanistan, on April 17.

Maj. Harry Schmidt and Maj. William Umbach both are charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter and eight counts of assault. Schmidt is charged with failing to exercise appropriate flight discipline and not complying with the rules of engagement in the Afghanistan area of operations, the Pentagon said.

Umbach, the flight commander in charge of the mission, is charged with failing to exercise appropriate flight command and control and to ensure compliance with the rules of engagement, the Pentagon said.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Sargeant, co-president of the Coalition Investigation Board that examined the incident, preferred the charges.

E-mail a news tip to Lawrence Morahan.

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