Sunday, February 12, 2006

General: U.S. To Be In Kuwait For Years

Strategic site makes small ally big asset
By Jeremy Redmon
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
February 11, 2006

Camp Arifjan, Kuwait -- The U.S. military has substantially reduced its forces in Kuwait since the 2003 invasion of Iraq but will likely keep a foothold here for years to come, a top Army general said this week.

Lt. Gen. Steven Whitcomb, commander of the Fort McPherson-based 3rd Army, said 8,000 troops were moved out of Kuwait between June 2004 and June 2005. The number of U.S. camps here has fallen from 20 to five since the invasion.

Some of these reductions were made by consolidating camps and hiring private contractors to do work previously done by the military. About 10,000 U.S. service members and Department of Defense civilian employees and 5,000 contractors remain in this country, Whitcomb said.

Kuwait has been a major training area and supply hub in the Middle East since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. It also serves as the primary transit point for soldiers entering and leaving Iraq.

Since September 2004, 150,000 U.S. service members passed through Kuwait into Iraq, Whitcomb said. And an additional 150,000 headed home from there in that time frame.

"We continue to look at what is no longer needed. Some of that is as simple as, 'What is that person doing?'" said Whitcomb, who is in charge of training and supplying U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Eventually, Whitcomb predicted, the military will reduce its footprint in Kuwait to a "small forward presence." Security is improving in Iraq, he said, but the United States will probably keep a presence in Kuwait for years to come because of its strategic location.

"This is a hot part of the world," said Whitcomb, whose duties include keeping an eye on security in 27 countries from the Horn of Africa to central Asia.

Whitcomb cited several recent developments that could destabilize the region, including Iran's nuclear ambitions and the election victory for Hamas, a radical Islamic movement that won a majority in the new Palestinian parliament.

There are occasional warnings about terrorist activity in Kuwait. U.S. soldiers are required to carry their weapons when they step off their posts here.

Commanders encourage their troops to wear civilian clothes and be discreet about displaying their weapons when they leave bases.

Kuwait has been a strong ally since the United States helped liberate it from Saddam Hussein's regime in 1991. Kuwaitis have donated fuel to the U.S. military, waived government port and airport landing fees and helped build this sprawling base.

Whitcomb said he expects that relationship to remain strong under Kuwait's new emir, Sheik Sabah Al Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah. He took over the post after Emir Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah died Jan. 15.

Whitcomb said he recently received assurances from top Kuwaiti government officials that the emir wants to maintain his oil-rich country's close ties with the United States.

"I don't anticipate any change," Whitcomb said. "Kuwait has been a strong ally of the United States. We have fought and shed blood together."

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