War among the US military for the right to fight Saddam

Crisis in the Gulf
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Elements of the US armed forces have been fighting one another for the right to fight Saddam Hussein, according to the Washington Post. The Navy has been squabbling with the Air Force - and different factions within the services have been engaged in a civil war - for the right to mount the second wave of punitive attacks on Iraq, expected to begin today.

The reason for the in- fighting is partly inter-service rivalry and pride; partly a desire to try out as many new, high-tech weapons as possible in real-life (and death) situations. But an enormous overarching factor is the swingeing Pentagon review of all US military programmes expected next year.

Military commanders know that their chances of keeping, and developing, their favourite weapons systems will be greatly enhanced if they can argue that the systems were fired at Saddam. Thus, in the first wave of US attacks last week, Air Force B-52s were flown from Guam in the Pacific Ocean to fire cruise missiles at Iraq, partly to prove the capabilities of the air-launched version of the weapon. At the same time, the US Navy fired Tomahawk cruise missiles from surface vessels in the Gulf but, in the follow-up attack, insisted on allowing a submerged, attack submarine to join in. There was no operational reason to use an underwater vessel but the submarine service is said to be struggling especially hard to retain its funding.

The decision to fly F-117A Stealth bombers all the way from New Mexico to Kuwait to join the new attacks anticipated this weekend is seen as a significant victory for the Air Force. Navy officials had argued that they could shoulder almost the entire burden of the new attacks. According to the Post, they spread the word that the B-52-launched attacks on Iraq had been less accurate than the Navy missiles. This was angrily denied by the Air Force.

The arrival of the Stealths also eased the Air Force embarrassment at the refusal of Saudi Arabia and Turkey to allow the use of bases housing US aircraft in the region. Navy officials were delighted at this set- back, which proved, they believed, the value of the aircraft carrier. "The Air Force has been castrated," one Navy official crowed to the Post. "With an aircraft carrier, you get 4.5 acres of Americana with no diplomatic restrictions on when and what you can fly."