September 16, 1996 in Nation/World

Not So Fast: Kuwait Stalls U.S. Over Deployment Pentagon Announcement Came Before Kuwaiti Approval

Washington Post

U.S. efforts to strengthen the anti-Saddam Hussein coalition foundered again Sunday, as Kuwait temporarily withheld permission for the United States to dispatch several thousand U.S. Army troops to the Persian Gulf nation.

The latest snafu came about because the Pentagon announced the deployment before the Kuwaitis formally approved it, U.S. officials said.

After meeting with Kuwait’s ruler, Defense Secretary William J. Perry said the Kuwaiti told him he could not make a decision on the troops until consulting with his top military advisers.

Perry’s failure to secure a firm commitment from one of Washington’s closest Arab allies illustrated the challenge that confronts him as he tours the region trying to drum up support for additional military measures against Iraq.

Perry also said Sunday that Bahrain has agreed to become the second Persian Gulf country to serve as a base for American forces and weaponry.

Perry said 23 F-16s to be based in the small island nation will help enforce a “no-fly” zone over southern Iraq, where U.S. warplanes have been patrolling since the end of the 1991 Gulf War.

Clinton administration officials said Sunday that they were mistaken in announcing on Friday that 5,000 troops from Fort Hood, Texas, would join 1,200 U.S. troops already in Kuwait. They said only 3,000 troops will be needed for now.

Republicans stepped up their verbal attacks on President Clinton’s policies in Iraq, calling the Kuwaiti hesitancy evidence of Clinton’s inconsistent leadership and his failure to consult American allies and Congress.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials said that despite “mixed” intelligence on what Baghdad is doing with its air-defense batteries, Iraqi troops apparently have stopped rebuilding air defense facilities damaged by U.S. cruise missile assaults on Sept. 3 and 4.

Clinton acknowledged Sunday that Saddam is in better shape now than at the end of the Gulf War in 1991, but he said he is confident an American military buildup will restrain the Iraqi dictator’s aggressive impulses.

Replying to reporters’ questions on the White House lawn before departing on a campaign trip, Clinton said of Saddam: “I believe that he’s in better shape than he was the day after the Gulf War.”

While Saddam has reclaimed control of key areas of his country’s northern Kurdish zone, top administration officials also have said that the United States has limited Iraq’s maneuvering room by enlarging a “no-fly” zone in southern Iraq, which is closer to strategically significant oil fields in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Kuwait’s reluctance delayed movement from Texas of the U.S. troops, who had been told to be ready to leave as early as Sunday.

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