By Tom Squitieri
DOHA, Qatar - A top U.S. commander is warning Iran and others against thinking they can exploit the U.S. military because its ground troops are fighting two major missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Why the Iranians would want to move against us in an overt manner that would cause us to use our air or naval power against them would be beyond me," Army Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, said in an interview on the way to his headquarters here from Afghanistan.
Some members of Congress, including Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have expressed concern that there is a shortage of U.S. troops and such a scenario might tempt nations such as Iran and North Korea to increase terrorist activity or develop weapons of mass destruction.
Abizaid, the top commander for Afghanistan and Iraq, said any nation perceiving a weakness in the U.S. military should think twice.
"We can generate more military power per square inch than anybody else on Earth, and everybody knows it," Abizaid said. "If you ever even contemplate our nuclear capability, it should give everybody the clear understanding that there is no power that can match the United States militarily."
The United States has 138,000 troops in Iraq, 20,000 in Kuwait, 18,500 in Afghanistan and 1,300 in Africa to combat terrorism, in addition to deployments in Japan, Korea, Germany and Bosnia.
Abizaid said there is no need for a major expansion of the military at this time, even to provide security for Iraqi elections Jan. 30. And the need for such a large U.S. overseas deployment will diminish over time as Iraqi and Afghan forces take over, Abizaid said.
"There are plenty of troops to fight the war on terrorism," he said, referring to U.S. and foreign forces. Getting other nations to commit troops "is not a military problem in my mind as much as a political problem. Nations have to come to the conclusion that it is a fight worth fighting."
Last week, the Danish parliament extended its force in Iraq six months past a planned December end date. Denmark is the first major contributor to the force in Iraq to extend its troops' presence.
Abizaid said he is concerned about whether the political unrest in Ukraine, where tens of thousands are protesting the presidential election, would cause it to pull its troops from Iraq. Ukraine has 1,400 troops in Iraq. Ukraine is the fourth-largest contributor.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has resisted calls from some in Congress to increase the size of the U.S. military. Instead the Pentagon is making increased use of the reserve and National Guard and deploying elite training brigades.
The Pentagon says it can continue at its current level for two years before it reaches unacceptable levels of tired troops, low re-enlistment rates or insufficient replacements.
But Abizaid said large operations are not the only way to win battles. He pointed to the recent battle in Fallujah, where 10,000 troops backed by precision airstrikes launched from U.S. ships provided overwhelming force. The U.S. military needs to be restructured to fight long wars against terrorists and insurgents over the next 20 years, Abizaid said.
"We have to adapt," he said. "We need more linguists, more cultural experts. Human capital is in short supply."