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U.S. ready to attack Iraq: general

Tommy Franks
General Tommy Franks, America's top military commander in the Gulf

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KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait (CNN) -- The commander of U.S. forces based in the Gulf has said he is prepared for an attack on Iraq.

General Tommy Franks, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, said Saturday: "We are prepared to undertake whatever activities and whatever actions we may be directed to take by our nation.

"We are prepared to do whatever we are asked to do," he told a news conference in Kuwait.

Franks' comments come after the Bush administration released a report Friday outlining a new aggressive national security policy.

The 33-page document, mandated by Congress, declared the United States must adapt its forces and planning towards favouring pre-emptive action against hostile states that possess, or are developing, weapons of mass destruction, as well as targeting terrorist groups.

The report reflects many of the policy arguments that have emerged since last year's September 11 terror strikes on the U.S., and are central to the Bush White House arguments in favor of an aggressive policy of confrontation with Iraq. (Full story)

Franks said President George W. Bush's recent speech to the U.N. Security Council, arguing for the U.N. to compel Iraq to comply with Security Council directives on weapons of mass destruction, was "very well received in the region." (Bush speech)

"There is no confusion at all in this region with respect to what President Bush said in the United Nations," he said.

Bush has made it clear to the U.N. that the American administration is prepared to act alone if the organisation "fails to act" on Iraq. (Full story)

But Franks added: "The president of the United States has not made a decision to go to war.

"What he has made a decision to do is go before (the) United Nations, and to go before the Congress of my own country, and say the only course of action that is not available to us is not to continue the course of action that we've seen over the past 11 years."

U.S. officials have downplayed Franks' visit to the region as a prescheduled trip, although it coincided with an increased focus from the Bush administration on Iraq and its violation of U.N. resolutions calling for weapons inspectors.

Franks said Iraq was the first issue he discussed with officials in the region. He arrived in the region Thursday and was heading to the United Arab Emirates later Saturday.

He said he would stay in the region for the next few days, before returning to CentCom headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.

Falcon
A U.S. Air Force F-16C Falcon fighter prepares to take off from Turkey to monitor the no-fly zone over Iraq

Up to a third of the staff at the Florida-based CentCom were dispatched to Qatar last November, in a move that Pentagon sources said could lay the foundation for a permanent move of the entire CentCom HQ to the Gulf state. (Full story)

The U.S. Army built its base in Qatar -- Camp Doha -- in 1991 after the Gulf War so it would have a place to store tanks, armored personnel carriers and other heavy equipment for future Middle East conflicts.

The number of U.S. troops currently training in Kuwait has grown to nearly 10,000. More than double the number that have taken part in past exercises.

Two training exercises involving U.S. and Kuwait are underway or will soon be under way in Kuwait: "Operation Desert Spring" is a joint U.S.-Kuwait military exercise ongoing since the end of the Gulf War continually training forces for the defence of Kuwait. About 2,000 Marines are taking part.

"Operation Eager Mace 02" is another U.S.-Kuwait military exercise involving amphibious, air and ground forces. Another 2,000 Marines are taking part.

Kuwait could be the staging area for U.S. conventional forces if war breaks out with Iraq.

Kuwaiti officials deny there has been any buildup of forces near the border with Iraq, a fact that has been verified by UNIKOM -- the U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Observers Mission -- which monitors the demilitarised zone along Iraq's border with Kuwait, set up after 1991 war.

-- CNN correspondent Martin Savidge contributed to this report



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