‘US aiming to bolster military presence in Gulf’

The buildup of troops in Kuwait will come after the remaining American troops withdraw from Iraq later this year.

Last Updated: Oct 31, 2011, 14:27 PM IST

Washington: US is set to bolster its military
presence in the Persian gulf by posting combat forces in
Kuwait to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a
military confrontation with Iran.

The buildup of troops in Kuwait will come after the
remaining American troops withdraw from Iraq later this year,
the New York Times reported quoting officials and diplomats.

The repositioning of the US forces in the region, besides
deploying combat troops in Kuwait also envisages sending more
naval warships to international waters off the region.

Negotiations for placing ground combat troops in Kuwait
are far advanced and as the new US military response would
also entail expanded military ties with six nations of the
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)--Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait,
Bahrain, Oman and UAE.

Though Washington has already close military ties with all
the gulf nations, officials said US was planning a "security
architecture" for the gulf that would integrate air and naval
patrols and missile defence, the report said.

President Barack Obama has already announced that all US
troops would leave from Iraq by the end of the year, ending
the eight-year war, but American officials fear that
withdrawal could lead to instability or worse in its wake.

The US is pressing the Iraqi government to permit as many
as 20,000 American troops to remain in Iraq beyond 2011, but
the Pentagon is also drawing up an alternative security map.

The size of the standby American combat force to be based
in Kuwait remains the subject of negotiations, with an answer
expected in coming days.

Officers at the Central Command headquarters here declined
to discuss specifics of the proposals, but it was clear that
successful deployment plans from past decades could be
incorporated into plans for a post-Iraq footprint in the
region.

For example, in the time between the Persian Gulf war in
1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US Army kept at
least a combat battalion and sometimes a full combat brigade in Kuwait year-round, along with an enormous arsenal ready
to be unpacked should even more troops have been called to the
region.

"Back to the future" is how Major General Karl R Horst,
Central Command`s chief of staff, described planning for a new
posture in the Gulf. He said the command was focusing on
smaller but highly capable deployments and training
partnerships with regional militaries.

"We are kind of thinking of going back to the way it was
before we had a big `boots on the ground` presence," Horst
said. "I think it is healthy. I think it is efficient. I think
it is practical."

Obama and his senior national security advisers have
sought to reassure allies and answer critics, including many
Republicans, that the US will not abandon its commitments in
the Persian Gulf even as it winds down the war in Iraq and
looks ahead to doing the same in Afghanistan by the end of
2014.

"We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the
region, which is proof of our ongoing commitment to Iraq and
to the future of that region, which holds such promise and
should be freed from outside interference to continue on a
pathway to democracy," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham
Clinton said in Tajikistan after the president`s announcement.

During town-hall-style meetings with military personnel in
Asia last week, the secretary of defence, Leon E Panetta,
noted that the US had 40,000 troops in the region, including
23,000 in Kuwait, though the bulk of those serve as logistical
support for the forces in Iraq.

The New York Times quoting officials of the US Central
command said that the post-Iraq era required them to seek more
efficient ways to deploy forces and maximise cooperation with
regional partners.

One significant outcome of the coming cuts, officials
said, could be a steep decrease in the number of intelligence
analysts assigned to the region. At the same time, officers
hope to expand security relationships in the region.

The US moves to reposition forces in the Gulf still
requires the approval of the GCC, whose leaders will meet
again in December in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and the kind
of multilateral collaboration that the administration
envisions must overcome rivalries among the six nations.

"It`s not going to be a NATO tomorrow," said a senior
administration official, who spoke on diplomatic negotiations
still under way, "but the idea is to move to a more integrated
effort."

Iran, as it has been for more than three decades, remains
the most worrisome threat to many of those nations, as well as
to Iraq itself.

PTI