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
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
"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
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.