Matt Kelley, USA Today
WASHINGTON — Amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran over the future of Iran's nuclear program, the Pentagon is planning a war game in July so officials can explore options for a crisis involving Iran.
The July 18 exercise at National Defense University's National Strategic Gaming Center will include members of Congress and top officials from military and civilian agencies
. It was scheduled in August, before the latest escalation in the conflict, university spokesman Dave Thomas said.
It's the latest example of how otherwise routine operations are helping the United States prepare for a possible military confrontation with Iran. On Tuesday, President Bush refused to rule out military action — even a nuclear strike — to stop Iran's nuclear program.
"All options are on the table," Bush said in the Rose Garden.
The exercise is one of five scheduled this year, including others envisioning an avian influenza pandemic and a crisis in Pakistan. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld started the exercises involving members of Congress in 2002 to help the legislative and executive branches discuss policy options.
Such exercises do not involve military members simulating combat. Instead, officials gather for a daylong conference and discuss how to react to various events presented in a fictional scenario.
Prodded by the United States, the United Nations Security Council has demanded that Iran stop all uranium enrichment activities by April 28. Last week, Iran said it has mastered the technology to make fuel that could be used for power plants or bombs, but it insists its nuclear program is only meant to generate electricity. The United States and its allies say Iran is working to build nuclear weapons.
The July exercise may have real-world consequences since Iran could interpret it as evidence the United States plans to attack, said Khalid al-Rodhan, an Iran expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Anything the U.S. will do in the region will be seen as further provocation," al-Rodhan said. "Given what's happening in Iraq, it's clear the Iranians are afraid of U.S. intentions."
In the meantime, the Pentagon is also collecting and interpreting photos and other intelligence data about Iran's facilities, developing weapons to attack hardened targets and laying the policy groundwork for a possible strike, Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, said in recent congressional testimony.
For example, the Department of Defense has announced several initiatives to destroy deeply buried facilities such as those used by Iran's nuclear program.
•Replacing the nuclear warheads on some submarine-launched Trident missiles with conventional explosives. The Pentagon asked Congress for $503 million next year to begin that program.
•Putting hardened tips on existing missiles to help them penetrate further into earth or concrete.
•Setting off a huge explosion to gather data for efforts to improve bunker-busting bombs. In the that test, the military's Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) plans to set off 700 tons of explosives in the Nevada desert to gather data on how to hit buried targets.
The June 2 test is meant to help solve the problems posed by hardened weapons sites in nations like Iran and North Korea, DTRA head James Tegnalia says.
July's war game will be the first on Iran to involve members of Congress, but several other military exercises have focused on Iran. Last week, for example, the British military confirmed a London newspaper's report that it joined the United States in a July 2004 war game involving Iran at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. A report in The Guardian said U.S. and British officers played out a scenario involving a fictitious country called "Korona" with borders and military capabilities corresponding with Iran's.
Similarly, a 2003 Marine Corps planning document envisioned a conflict in 2015 with Korona, again a country corresponding to Iran.
A 2004 war game coordinated by the Army's Training and Doctrine Command featured an invasion of "Nair," another Iran equivalent.
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