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U.S. Dispatches Ground Troops and Top Officer

Dispatching the Air Force officer, Lt. Gen. Charles F. Wald, the head of American air forces assigned to Middle East and Southwest Asia, is the latest sign of a buildup of United States military power that could be used to retaliate for last week's attacks on New York and Washington.

General Wald, who flew to Saudi Arabia on Monday with several top aides, would run the air war from a sophisticated air operations center at Prince Sultan Air Base, near Riyadh, that opened this summer. It would be the central command post not only for 175 aircraft already based in the region and involved in patrolling the no-flight zone in southern Iraq, but also for directing attacks from bases in the region against Afghanistan and other possible targets, like Iraq.

Currently, Saudi-based American fighter-bombers are restricted from attacking targets except in self defense. Today, the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, met with President Bush and promised full cooperation, but it is unclear whether the Saudis will lift their constraints on running bombing raids from their soil.

The administration's military campaign is extremely sensitive politically because Islamic countries are to be used as a base of operations for many of the major attacks. Not only are aircraft to be based in Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states and Central Asia, but Pakistan has also been assigned a prominent role.

"It is both logistics and politics," said Teresita Schaffer, a former ranking American diplomat and expert on South Asia. "You want staging areas close to Afghanistan. The other is that the United States is trying to make it clear that Islamic states are prominently featured in this effort to avoid any suggestion that this is a war between the United States and Islam."


Lt. Gen. Charles F. Wald is not only a veteran combat pilot with 3,200 flying hours under his belt, but he is also an experienced Pentagon planner who was the military's most visible public spokesman in the Clinton administration air campaign in Kosovo in 1999.

As such, General Wald, commander of the Ninth Air Force and Central Command Air Forces at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C., brings a combination of practical, political and public relations skills to the job of overseeing the air component of the Bush administration's coming campaign against terrorism.

``He has always been where the action is,'' said P.J. Crowley, a retired Air Force colonel who was the chief spokesman for the National Security Council at the end of the Clinton administration and has known General Wald since the general was a lieutenant colonel and a special assistant to the Air Force chief of staff in the mid- 1980's. ``He has a vast amount of experience in how to apply air power, particularly in limited campaigns, under highly charged political circumstances.''

In his current post since January 2000, General Wald is in charge of contingency plans and air operations in a region stretching from East Africa across the Arabian Peninsula to Pakistan.

A native of Minot, N.D., General Wald, known as Chuck, was a record-setting wide receiver on the 1968 and 1969 North Dakota State University championship football teams. He majored in prelaw, graduating in 1971, and earned his commission through the university R.O.T.C. program. He was picked by Atlanta in the N.F.L. draft in 1969 and considered going to law school, but chose to become a fighter pilot, associates said.

The general has more than 450 hours of combat flight experience over Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq and Bosnia, and he has flown F-16 and F-15 fighters and T-37 and T-38 trainers. From 1995 to 1997, he commanded the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base in Italy in the Bosnia war. He was

chosen by Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to conduct the Pentagon briefings in the Kosovo campaign.

An avid golfer, General Wald has a reputation as an accessible commander. ``He's got a good sense of humor and he establishes a great rapport with his troops,'' Colonel Crowley said.

Source: New York Times©



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