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Profile: U.S. Military Presence Continues To Escalate In The Persian Gulf

Morning Edition: October 18, 2002

Gerald Ford Assesses Iraq Policy



BOB EDWARDS, host:

While the State Department works to get the United Nations behind a new Iraq resolution, the US military is bolstering its forces in the Persian Gulf region. Most Pentagon officials say the moves are routine or part of long-planned training exercises, not part of preparations for war with Iraq. But the moves will allow the military to deploy faster if the president decides to attack Saddam Hussein. From the Pentagon, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

Next month, the US Central Command which controls American forces in the Middle East and Central Asia will practice moving its headquarters from Florida to the Gulf state of Qatar. The exercise is usually done as a computer simulation. This time, 600 staffers will see how well the headquarter sets up in the real world. The military says it's just an exercise, but the Pentagon did the same exercise prior to the 1991 Gulf War. And the center would likely serve as a command post for any US attack on Iraq this time around.

In addition, a Pentagon official tells NPR that the Army's Five Corps(ph) and the First Marine Expeditionary Force, which could serve as a ground vanguard in any strike, will soon move most of their headquarters to Kuwait. These are just some of the moves the Pentagon is making often under the gloss of exercises to quietly build up its forces in the region, says military analyst, John Pike, of GlobalSecurity.org.

Mr. JOHN PIKE (Analyst, GlobalSecurity.org): What we're beginning to see are deployments to the Persian Gulf region that cannot be explained away as previously scheduled exercises, particularly the movement of the Fifth Corps headquarters to Kuwait down from Germany. There's no exercise that would require moving that headquarters to the theater, but Fifth Corps looks like it's going to be the Army component commander for the attack on Iraq.

WESTERVELT: A source says the Five Corps move will include command staff, logistics, engineering and intelligence experts. A senior Pentagon official confirms that the Qatar headquarter facility set up by Central Command will not be dismantled after November's exercise is finished. "These are prudent moves," the official said, "to shorten the time between any decision on war and our execution of the orders," end quote. Military analyst Michael Donovan is with the Center for Defense Information. He says despite significant diplomatic loose ends, the US military seems to be preparing for offensive operations against Iraq sooner rather than later.

Mr. MICHAEL DONOVAN (Center For Defense Information): So they want to present the region and the world with a fait accompli in terms of military preparations and have everything in place for an operation to overthrow Saddam if and when that decision needs to be taken.

WESTERVELT: In addition to headquarters, more military hardware is moving to the Gulf region. Central Command, whose area of responsibility stretches from Kazakhstan to Kenya, has more than 57,000 troops in the area including some 5,000 already in Kuwait. Thousands more would be needed for any attack, and any strike would begin with massive air power. At least two US aircraft carrier battle groups are within range of Iraq. And analyst John Pike says Navy commanders are speeding up scheduled maintenance and training cycles for other carriers.

Mr. PIKE: The USS Constellation is getting ready to deploy. That's going to be going out nearly two months earlier than would be required to replace the aircraft carriers that are currently at sea, and with the accelerated deployment of the Harry S. Truman later this year, I think the United States could have as many as five aircraft carriers available for use in the Persian Gulf before the end of the year.

WESTERVELT: Those carriers would allow the US to launch air and perhaps ground forces from sea. That would help the US alleviate the problem caused by some Gulf states that don't want US forces to strike Iraq from their soil. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, the Pentagon.

EDWARDS: The time is 19 minutes past the hour.

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