One of Washington’s key objectives in the run-up to its multiple anti-Saddam anti-terror campaign in the Middle East is to uncover the nuclear devices almost certainly acquired by Iraq and/or Osama bin Laden. Next, the US will test the probability of this capability being turned by either or both against the United States, Israel or America’s two foremost allies in the Afghanistan War – Britain and Germany.
Washington is weighing its nuclear options in the light of these findings.
At the same time, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report the impression gained by European and Middle East governments that the White House may be reverting to the “second strike” nuclear doctrine espoused by US governments in the US-Soviet Cold War on additional grounds:
1. The prospect of thousands of US troop casualties in a conventional ground action in Iraq;
2. The insufficiency of ground forces for a conventional assault on Baghdad, where Saddam
Hussein has massed an estimated 200,000 troops.
This would be the first time nuclear weapons are employed in war since World War Two.
3. Some military sources estimate the United States may be nearing a decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Afghanistan as well, following the lessons of the battles earlier this month in the Shah-e-Kot Valley south of Gardez and, in December, in the Tora Bora cave complex.
The two grueling campaigns demonstrated that neither the United States nor its allies have the special forces or gear necessary for sustained, high-altitude warfare in mountains soaring over 10,000 feet. The United States would need between three and four years to train tens of thousands of troops for this type of combat and develop weapons systems and transportation effective at these high altitudes.
Already, the US Special Forces manpower reservoir is running low.
Reinforcements are being constantly funneled into Afghanistan from other fronts, including the United States itself. America’s resources for standing up to terror attacks at home are therefore being depreciated by the overseas assignments of special elite forces, who are the only units specifically trained in counter-terror combat.
Whereas Washington abides by its don’t ask-don’t tell policy toward its allies on the nuclear option, its partners in the global war against terrorism are convinced America will not hesitate to use atomic weapons to destroy the Iraqi leadership sheltering in underground cities (as reported in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 52, March 8, 2002).
Once the top echelons are eliminated, the United States will demand the Iraqi high command’s surrender, starting with the armored divisions of the Republican Guard – the Saddam regime’s protector and most effective fighting force.
Europeans threaten NATO walkout
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources, the nuclear issue loomed far larger than the Palestinian problem in Cheney’s Middle East talks and consultations with European leaders. Surprisingly, the Europeans were more vehement in their objections to a nuclear strike in Iraq than the Arab leaders. British prime minister Tony Blair warned that the public outcry over America’s resort to nuclear warfare could drive him out of office, while other European leaders made it clear that this option must be thrown out of court – both in Iraq and Afghanistan – unless Washington wanted to see NATO’s demise.
This wall of opposition was impervious to the mounting sense among US military planners that the threat of nuclear and biological terrorism to the United States, Israel, and some European capitals was growing ever more tangible in recent weeks. This sense was reinforced by intelligence information placed before Cheney on his travels.
In Saudi Arabia and Israel, Cheney received intelligence evaluations suggesting that in late February, Saddam attempted to head off a US offensive by transferring to al Qaeda nuclear devices — possibly radiological “dirty bombs” — or explosives and containers packed with viruses including smallpox. This deadly supply may have been cached in any of the following places — the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, Rome or Berlin – together with crews standing by for a signal to unleash them.
The vice president’s private talks with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem this week, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, focused heavily on the possibility of a nuclear or biological terror attack on a US or Israeli target and means of prevention.
The two men reviewed highly sensitive data on the al-Qaeda base newly established in south Lebanon and the activities of Iraqi military intelligence agents on the West Bank in collusion with Arafat’s senior officers.
They examined the contingency of both having control of nuclear or biological devices – like fraternal terror cells in the United States. They also surveyed the top-secret input of US and Israeli intelligence on the threat of missiles tipped with nuclear, chemical or biological warheads being launched from a specially outfitted sea freighter, as well as ways the United States and Israel could combine to thwart a nuclear threat.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military analysts report that the American planners of the offensive against Saddam have been directed to diversify their scenarios. Whereas their initial instructions were to prepare a contingency plan for an American nuclear attack on the Iraqi leadership’s underground towns, including the complexes occupied by Saddam and his military, political and economic teams, they have now been told to draft a second-strike nuclear blueprint.
This would be in response to the eventuality of America’s combined enemies delivering the first nuclear strike against the United States or its allies – in one or more places.
Bush apparently had this contingency in mind when he stated on Tuesday, March 19 – the penultimate day of the Cheney tour “…we will not allow a dangerous world leader armed with dangerous weapons of mass destruction to hold our friends and allies hostage…”
A few hours later, CIA director George Tenet reported to a Senate committee on “contacts” between Saddam and al Qaeda, that opened up the possibility of collusion against the United States and the Saudi royal house. Our intelligence and counter-terror experts cite two main sources for their assertions:
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, who produced the combined Iraqi-Al Qaeda threat against his oilfields to justify his refusal to take part in the US war on terror and his objection to US troops on Saudi soil.
The small advance US contingent that went into northern Iraq on February 15.
After exhaustive surveillance in and around the two pro-Iraqi fundamentalist Kurdish towns of Biyar and Tawil in the Shoman district, it turned up signs of hundreds of al Qaeda men having trained there with Iraqi military instructors in combat in high-altitude and built up terrain and in the operation of bombs and devices containing chemical and biological substances. They may also have taken instruction in the use of – and protection from – nuclear weaponry.
Witnesses reported that the last group – some 200 – had passed through the two fundamentalist towns in July 2001, remaining there till the third week of August, two weeks before the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
These findings are steering the Bush administration ever closer towards serious consideration of the second-strike nuclear option – at least in its planning counsels – for America’s global war on terror and against potential wielders of weapons of mass destruction.