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Administration Has Contingency Plan to Protect Kuwait : Military: Strategy would rely mainly on air strikes to repel invaders. It stops short of giving U.S. troops offensive power.


WASHINGTON — The Clinton Administration has prepared contingency plans for protecting Kuwait that call for using minimal American force to deter or repel an Iraqi invasion but stop short of equipping U.S. troops with the power to launch an offensive attack.

The proposals, reflected in public statements recently by Defense Secretary William J. Perry and U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright, would rely mainly on American air strikes to break up Iraqi troop concentrations that appeared to threaten Kuwait.

U.S. military experts said the 30,000-plus American ground troops that the Pentagon plans to station in Kuwait later this month would be enough only to defend the emirate, not to pursue Iraqi troops aggressively, as the U.S.-led allies did in the 1991 Gulf War.

U.S. commanders also would fire ship-based Tomahawk cruise missiles at strategic points in Baghdad, but this would be mainly to wreak havoc in the Iraqi capital and would have little to do with thwarting any Iraqi troops threatening Kuwait.

Military analysts said the minimal deployment Perry has outlined would enable U.S. forces to carry out the mandate in the resolution that the U.N. Security Council passed last weekend authorizing immediate air strikes without consultations beforehand.

"The objective is to make sure that (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) cannot dangle us on a string," said Don M. Snider, political-military analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which monitors defense strategy.

But defense experts questioned how long Clinton can maintain that size force in Kuwait, given domestic political realities and limits on the military budget. "Unless we are willing to put together a far-larger defense force, (Hussein) still has us hanging," Snider said.

Some analysts also cautioned that, while the strategy may prove effective in preventing a repeat of last week's incident--in which Iraqi divisions marched to within a few miles of the Kuwaiti border--Hussein is likely to think of other ways to taunt the United States militarily.

The new U.S. military strategy was outlined by Perry, who warned the Iraqis on Friday that the United States would launch air strikes if Iraqi troops did not resume the withdrawal they had halted the previous day. Perry also served notice that Washington would increase its deployment of troops and aircraft substantially "and take appropriate action to deal with this threat" if Iraq did not remove its Republican Guard divisions from the area.

But as of late Monday, while the United States had about 150 combat aircraft in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia--enough to do serious damage--it had only 7,258 ground troops in the area, almost certainly not enough to repel an Iraqi invasion.

Perry had said initially that he hoped to have 30,000 more U.S. combat troops in the area by the end of this week, but officials said deployment orders are on hold while the Pentagon reassesses its schedule as Iraq resumes troop withdrawal.

The plan that Perry outlined calls for American warplanes to launch "preventive" air strikes immediately if U.S. intelligence discovers that Iraq has begun massing forces along the Kuwaiti border. No warning would be required.

Moreover, the U.S. attacks would be substantial, designed to blunt Iraqi forces before they could begin a drive on Kuwait.

U.S. officials said the major thrust of any immediate American action would be air strikes from Air Force bases in Saudi Arabia and Turkey and from the aircraft carrier George Washington, on station in the Persian Gulf. Specifically:

* Air Force F-16s and a spate of Navy fighters and bombers from the George Washington would attack Iraqi aircraft and air-defense positions and bomb key command-and-control centers, paving the way for other U.S. warplanes.

* A-10 Warthog attack planes, loaded with laser-guided bombs or Maverick radar-tracking missiles, would then destroy Iraqi armored equipment--including tanks, armored personnel carriers and self-propelled artillery--depriving the Iraqis of their mobility.

* At the same time, Navy warships in the area would launch Tomahawk cruise missiles at military and civilian targets, such as water and electric plants, in Baghdad and other cities. The Navy now has about 300 Tomahawks on five specially equipped vessels.

If Iraqi forces continued to move across the border, they would be met by U.S. Marines and soldiers in coordinated air-and-ground attacks. But those forces would be only a stopgap. Washington would have to send in tens of thousands of additional troops in succeeding days.

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