American forces opened fire Friday on green-uniformed troops in the Kuwaiti desert: cutouts posted in the sand for target practice.
The war games held six miles south of the Iraqi border did not name the enemy. But the rounds of artillery and automatic weapons were aimed - symbolically, at least - at Saddam Hussein.
The real confrontation between the United States and Iraq has eased in the past week, but the White House is continuing to bulk up its military presence in the Persian Gulf.
Hundreds of soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division arrived here Friday, part of an airlift bringing 3,500 soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, to Kuwait within a few days. President Clinton ordered them to this desert kingdom to augment a force of 1,200 that has been conducting exercises since August.
More than 30,000 U.S. military personnel, most aboard ships, will soon be in the gulf. Before the crisis erupted three weeks ago over Iraqi attacks on Kurds in northern Iraq, fewer than 20,000 were deployed.
The United States says the intent of the military exercises is to show Saddam the Americans are ready to protect its oil-rich allies in the gulf.
“It is a great opportunity to realistically do the same missions we may be called on to do in combat,” Army Capt. Shane O’Kelly of New York City said as armored vehicles rumbled past, kicking up plumes of sand.
Simulating a counterattack by enemy forces, a platoon of Americans in a trench triggered a mine and fired live ammunition from M-16s and a machine gun.
A half-dozen Bradley fighting vehicles raced across the desert past a group of camels, which appeared oblivious to the action.
Suddenly, a soldier shouted “Gas!” The troops pulled gas masks from their pouches and pulled them over their heads. One soldier was hauled out of the trench and taken to an ambulance on tracks, one of two who were “wounded” in the mock firefight.
In real life, no threatening Iraqi troop movements were reported Friday, said Lt. Col. Andy Bourland, a U.S. military spokesman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Iraq has been using radar to track U.S. aircraft patrolling the “no-fly” zones over northern and southern Iraq, but it has not fired on any planes in the past week.
The zones were established at the end of the 1991 Gulf War to protect Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south and extended almost to the suburbs of Baghdad last month by Clinton when Saddam dispatched troops north to support a sympathetic Kurdish faction.