America's top defense officials rallied U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia Friday with pledges that any war against Iraq will be fought to win, and Iraq prepared for such a possibility with a massive evacuation drill in Baghdad.
In a series of pep rallies held at an air base in Saudi Arabia, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said fighting could start any time after Jan. 15, the day the U.N. has said allied armies can use force to drive Iraq from Kuwait."If we go in, we go in to win, not fool around," said Powell.
Cheney and Powell completed two days of consultations with top U.S. and Saudi military commanders before heading out to the desert to meet the troops.
The tone of their comments was designed to counteract those of Lt. Gen. Calvin Waller, the deputy U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf, who said Wednesday some forces would not be ready to fight by mid-January.
"The president's made it clear that we don't want to go through what we did in Southeast Asia," Cheney told thousands of Air Force troops.
"If we send one single American into combat, there is going to be the biggest possible force to support them all the way. They won't have their hands tied behind their back," he said.
Earlier Friday, the air base was placed on "Red Alert," which indicates an impending attack. The 5,000 members of the units stationed at the base donned gas masks and protective gloves and sought cover in bunkers. It was only the second time such an alert has been sounded at the base, the first being Dec. 2 when Iraq launched two Scud missiles within its borders.
Capt. Becky Colaw, public affairs officer for the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing, said the all-clear signal was sounded "within 10 minutes. " She said she did not know why the alert was sounded but said it was not an exercise.
Iraq, preparing for the possibility of war, staged a massive evacuation drill that sent thousands of people scurrying for special desert shelters.
As the Jan. 15 deadline creeps nearer, Iraq also is attempting to buy a large number of the masks from companies in Germany, Belgium, and Britain, Egypt's Middle East News Agency reported Friday.
Cairo Radio said air-raid sirens began sounding in Baghdad at 7 a.m. for the drill, which was announced Thursday. It quoted witnesses as saying thousands of people poured into the streets, taking private cars and special buses to a desert location where they were to be housed in tents until the drill ended.
One million residents were slated to participate in the drill, but witnesses questioned whether that many people turned out, Cairo Radio reported.
Iraqi television has been broadcasting programs in recent weeks advising citizens how to protect themselves from bombs and fire, the agency said. Iraq developed extensive civil defense programs during its 1980-88 war with Iran.
The U.S.-led alliance against Iraq also received a boost from British Prime Minister John Major, making his first visit to Washington in his new job.
At Camp David, Md., President Bush and Major reaffirmed their commitment to the U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.
"The United States and the United Kingdom are committed to implementation of the United Nations resolution and we both agree that partial solutions are unacceptable," Bush said in a statement released by White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater.
In other developments:
- House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin said in Washington that sanctions are unlikley to hold long enough to get Iraq out of Kuwait and the best bet is diplomacy backed by the credible threat of war.
- Turkish officials said they asked NATO to send three squadrons of fighter aircraft to be deployed in its southeastern region close to the Iraqi border.
- U.S. officials in eastern Saudi Arabia reported that eight U.S. soldiers, trying to quench their thirst for booze in the Islamic nation that forbids alcohol, poisoned themselves Sunday with botched moonshine.