By Sarah Baxter
The Sunday Times
September 23, 2007
THE United States Air Force has set up a highly confidential strategic
planning group tasked with fighting the next war as tensions rise with
Project Checkmate, a successor to the group that planned the 1991 Gulf
Wars air campaign, was quietly reestablished at the Pentagon in June.
It reports directly to General Michael Moseley, the US Air Force chief,
and consists of 20-30 top air force officers and defence and cyberspace
experts with ready access to the White House, the CIA and other
Detailed contingency planning for a possible attack on Iran has been
carried out for more than two years by Centcom (US central command),
according to defence sources.
Checkmates job is to add a dash of brilliance to Air Force thinking by
countering the militarys tendency to fight the last war and by providing
innovative strategies for warfighting and assessing future needs for
air, space and cyberwarfare.
It is led by Brigadier-General Lawrence Stutz Stutzriem, who is
considered one of the brightest air force generals. He is assisted by Dr
Lani Kass, a former Israeli military officer and expert on cyberwarfare.
The failure of United Nations sanctions to curtail Irans nuclear
ambitions, which Tehran claims are peaceful, is giving rise to an
intense debate about the likelihood of military strikes.
Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, said last week that it
was necessary to prepare for the worst . . . and the worst is war. He
later qualified his remarks, saying he wanted to avoid that outcome.
France has joined America in pushing for a tough third sanctions
resolution against Iran at the UN security council but is meeting strong
resistance from China and Russia. Britain has been doing its best to
bridge the gap, but it is increasingly likely that new sanctions will be
implemented by a US-led coalition of the willing.
Irans President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who arrives in New York for the
United Nations general assembly today, has been forced to abandon plans
to visit ground zero, where the World Trade Center stood until the
September 11 attacks of 2001. Politicians from President George W Bush
to Senator Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner in the 2008 race
for the White House, were outraged by the prospect of a visit to New
Yorks most venerated site by a state sponsor of terrorism.
Bush still hopes to isolate Iran diplomatically, but believes the regime
is moving steadily closer to obtaining nuclear weapons while the
security council bickers.
The US president faces strong opposition to military action, however,
within his own joint chiefs of staff. None of them think it is a good
idea, but they will do it if they are told to, said a senior defence
General John Abizaid, the former Centcom commander, said last week:
Every effort should be made to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,
but failing that, the world could live with a nuclear-armed Iran.
Critics fear Abizaid has lost sight of Irans potential to arm militant
groups such as Hezbollah with nuclear weapons. You can deter Iran, but
there is no strategy against nuclear terrorism, said the retired air
force Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney of the Iran policy committee.
There is no question that we can take out Iran. The problem is the
follow-on, the velvet revolution that needs to be created so the Iranian
people know its not aimed at them, but at the Iranian regime.
Checkmates freethinking mission is to provide planning inputs to
warfighters that are strategically, operationally and tactically sound,
logistically supportable and politically feasible. Its remit is not
specific to one country, according to defence sources, but its forward
planning is thought relevant to any future air war against Iranian
nuclear and military sites. It is also looking at possible threats from
China and North Korea.
Checkmate was formed in the 1970s to counter Soviet threats but fell
into disuse in the 1980s. It was revived under Colonel John Warden and
was responsible for drawing up plans for the crushing air blitz against
Saddam Hussein at the opening of the first Gulf war.
Warden told The Sunday Times: When Saddam invaded Kuwait, we had access
to unlimited numbers of people with expertise, including all the
intelligence agencies, and were able to be significantly more agile than
He believes that Checkmates role is to develop the necessary expertise
so that if somebody says Iran, it says: here is what you need to think
about. Here are the objectives, here are the risks, here is what it will
cost, here are the numbers of planes we will lose, here is how the war
is going to end and here is what the peace will look like.
Warden added: The Centcoms of this world are executional ? they dont
have the staff, the expertise or the responsibility to do the thinking
that is needed before a country makes the decision to go to war. War
planning is not just about bombs, airplanes and sailing boats.
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