Gibbons: Waiting is the worst
March 20, 2003
With the nation at war with Iraq, Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Reno, said the conflict may last longer than the first Gulf War because the mission of the United States is much broader than it was in 1991.
Gibbons, who was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross in the first Gulf War for a surveillance flight he made in an unarmed fighter plane over Kuwait, pointed out that the purpose last time was limited to the removal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Today the United States aims to remove the leadership of the Iraqi government.
“My expectations are this will take at least as long as the last one, perhaps longer,” Gibbons said Wednesday from Washington, D.C. “We have a larger task ahead of us.”
But will it be a war dominated by the U.S. Air Force as it was in 1991?
“I’m not sure the same strategy applies today,” Gibbons said. “Ground and air forces will probably use a more simultaneous method, and as a result, I don’t know if I can say for certain it will be quick. I would say technology gives us a superior advantage.”
Use of chemical or biological weapons by the Iraqi military would also likely extend the length of the conflict, Gibbons said. And, according to Gibbons, Saddam Hussein has directed his soldiers to use such weapons.
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“If they do, it will slow us down tremendously,” Gibbons said. “They are entering into the high heat phase of desert operation. As a result any soldier wearing a chemical suit can only perform tasks to a limited extent.”
Fear that U.S. attacks abroad will provoke terrorist acts in the 50 states is not unrealistic, Gibbons said. Because of this, he stressed, the country needs to be prepared, unlike on Sept. 11, even if attacks do not materialize.
The newly formed Department of Homeland Security has $3 billion ready to disperse to states. Figuring out how that cash will be distributed is ongoing.
“We’re working to provide resources,” said Gibbons, who serves as vice chairman of the Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee. “We want to be flexible and see where attacks are occurring.”
Intelligence reports, Gibbons said, indicate that any attack at home is likely to take place in New York, Chicago or Washington, D.C., rather than a place like Las Vegas.
“I believe the first targets go to big cities where there are millions of people that could be affected,” Gibbons said. “We have in Las Vegas an enormous attractive area to come and visit, but I don’t believe any one community is at a higher risk than New York, Chicago or Washington, D.C.”
Prior to being elected to Congress, Gibbons had a distinguished career in the military. A combat pilot decorated for his work in the Vietnam War as well as the Persian Gulf, Gibbons served in the Air Force from 1967-71. Gibbons joined the Nevada Air Guard in 1975, earning the rank of colonel and serving as the guard’s vice commander from 1990-96.
As a war veteran, Gibbons said hours leading up to war are the most tense he has ever known.
“The stress is not knowing what’s ahead of you, if you’re going to make it back,” he said. “There is lot of anxiety in those first few minutes. Once it begins and you start the campaign and it gets down to a routine — it’s far less stressful.”
What helps cut through such stress are messages of support e-mailed from family and friends at home. With security as tight as it is today, electronic communication is the only way to go because packages must be opened and screened for anthrax and other dangerous material.
“By the time we get through all that, hopefully this conflict is at an end,” Gibbons said. “When I was in the Persian Gulf War it was remarkably uplifting to see messages come in from all over states, wishing us well for what we had done. It meant so much. It really helped us get through the process of the psychology of going to war.”
— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at email@example.com