UPI Hears ... for July 22

July 22, 2002 at 6:54 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 22 (UPI) -- Insider notes from United Press International for July 22 ...

More war clues -- this time from Britain -- with no prizes for naming the target: U.S. officials tell UPI Hears that Prime Minister Tony Blair will announce an emergency call-up of British Army reservists in early September. These sources say there has already been a substantial boost in Royal Air Force training flights, especially air-to-ground support missions. And in a crash program, British Challenger II main battle tanks and other key armored fighting vehicles are being taken out of mothballs and restored to full combat efficiency.

A 5,000-strong Jordanian strike force is being trained by U.S. military advisers in the desert specifically to find and destroy Iraqi Scud missiles. In the event of an Iraqi offensive administration officials are concerned about western and southern "Scud boxes" that would target installations and forces in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Since the Scud has a fixed firing range, it has to be placed precisely at that range from the target in order to hit it. Taking out the launchers would reduce Saddam's ability to retaliate. One bit of comfort: the Scud is designed to deliver nuclear weapons. So much heat builds up in the nose cone of a Scud during launch that it would "fry" any chemical or biological warheads and render them harmless, said one U.S. analyst. "I don't see Saddam being able to use anything but high-explosive warheads," he said.

Asked whether he had said his formal good-byes to European Union foreign ministers after Monday's EU Council meeting in Brussels Italian Prime Minister and interim Foreign Minister Silvio Berlusconi's reply was cryptic. "We exchanged the usual arrivederci (until we meet again)," he said. Italian political pundits were immediately suspicious. If Berlusconi intends to stick to his promise to name a new foreign minister next month the Brussels meeting should be his last. The next scheduled get together is in Copenhagen on Aug. 30-31. The word in Rome is that Berlusconi, who has doubled as foreign minister since January, has yet to finalize his choice. But the smart money says Defense Minister Antonio Martino will return to the job he held in the earlier Berlusconi government in 1994.

Rising concern over narco-terrorism spilling over from Colombia is leading to talk -- and more -- of combined action among Latin American countries. According to one report doing the rounds in Washington, 30 officers of the Chilean Military Academy are working on a plan to send 2,600 combat ready troops of the Chilean army to Colombia to help fight guerrillas from the left-wing Revolutionary Army Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and other groups. The report says the Chilean operation would be U.N. sponsored, backed by the United States and would start in January 2004. Additional -- but unspecified -- participation would come from Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay and Peru. Chilean Military Undersecretary Gabriel Gaspar denied that the Chilean military is contemplating any mission other than "missions of peace approved by the United Nations." The Bush administration will not comment on the report. But the story was reinforced last month when Colombian President-elect Alvaro Uribe, who has vowed to root out the guerrillas, visited Washington and there were references to a "peace force" following his talks with President Bush.

The Australian Navy's Collins-class submarines are to have their torpedoes upgraded -- a decision that has naturally pleased the U.S. manufacturers but upset almost everybody else. For one thing, the Australian Defense Ministry has come under fire for bypassing the normal procurement tendering process. But that's probably the least of Defense Minister Robert Hill's worries. More to the point, the new torpedoes are nearly 300 pounds heavier than those currently in use having been designed by the U.S. Navy to penetrate Soviet titanium-hulled craft. The cost of retrofitting the subs to carry the heavier weapons will be in the region of $240 million; some defense experts estimate that the final cost could run to $500 million. Naval engineers are also uncertain what the extra weight will do to the subs' maneuverability. To ease the load both in cost and otherwise, the navy is considering dumping other weapons systems, including mines and missiles. The defense budget, Hill confessed, would not stretch to "a full war stock."

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