THE United States Air Force has set up a highly confidential strategic planning group tasked with fighting the next war as tensions rise with Iran.
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 intelligence agencies.
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..
I asked when the Bush administration’s widely expected air war against Iran would begin. This was not a subject my hosts cared to discuss. Smiles vanished. Dr Lani Kass, Checkmate’s formidable senior civilian official, a former Israeli military officer who had somehow morphed into a senior Pentagon advisor, dismissed my question, insisting no decision to attack Iran had been made. She called a possible air war "unlikely". But I was ready to bet plans to blitz Iran were being drawn up in an adjoining office. One could feel a buzz of excitement among Checkmate’s hard-eyed officers who wore combat flight suits and tensed up every time I mentioned Iran. Pentagon sources say the air force has selected 3,000-4,000 targets in Iran, and that some US and British special forces are already operating there. However, Washington sources also report strong opposition to war against Iran among the Pentagon’s brass, and high-ranking officials in the CIA, Treasury, and state department. They view war with Iran as unpredictable, unwise and dangerous at a time when US ground and air forces are stretched to breaking point in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We can defeat Iran," insisted Dr Kass, `but are Americans willing to pay the price?"..