American forces in the Persian Gulf may have a more difficult role to play now that the U.N. Security Council has approved the resolution to formally end the war, Gen. Colin Powell says.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in an interview Thursday that the U.S. role in the gulf has entered a new phase that will allow American ground troops to withdraw from occupied Iraq "as quickly as possible." But that could still take weeks, if not more than a month.Munching on pastries and sipping coffee in his wood-paneled Pentagon dining room, Powell appeared in an ebullient mood. He displayed with pride the dirt under his fingernails as evidence he now has time for his hobby - repairing old Volvos.
U.S. warplanes will continue to patrol Iraqi airspace for an indefinite period, but their eventual removal will hinge on Iraq's compliance with the United Nations' cease-fire resolution, he said.
The U.N. resolution demands Iraq destroy its long-range ballistic missiles, nuclear and chemical weapons and abide by a near-total ban on future sales of conventional arms.
That could put a even greater burden on the U.S. naval forces that have been key to interdiction of banned cargo into Iraq, Powell said.
For now, he said, "the interdiction regime remains in place" and new instructions have been sent allied naval forces, instructing them about those items the U.N. resolution now permits to enter Iraq, such as foodstuffs.
"For the near future, it may become trickier to implement, because you have to go to each ship and say, `Humanitarian here, medical here, food here, SA-16s (surface-to-air missiles), no.' " Powell said. "It may become more difficult to implement."
As navies in the U.S.-led coalition express a desire to return home, "it may initially place a greater burden on the U.S. Navy," Powell said. But he added that he wants the result to work "in a sensible way so that it does not become an overpowering burden" on American forces.
The general said American forces in occupied Iraq are "thinning," and that U.S. troops are "were coming out in good order" from the gulf, with the goal of having all out by "late summer." About 367,000 remain of the 540,000 sent there.
He predicted a U.N. peacekeeping force would be able to move in "in a matter of weeks," paving the way for the withdrawal of the U.S. troops.