Central Command Guards the Gulf
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA, Jan. 7, 1996 Saddam Hussein can't help but know he's being watched. Day and night, jet fighters streak across Iraqi skies, a constant reminder the United States will fight to protect the Persian Gulf region.
"This region is of vital national security interest," said U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry during a visit to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel Jan. 5-7. "We are prepared to fight here, if necessary," he said.
U.S. capability in the region is "so impressive that no sane aggressor would challenge it," Perry said. "The air forward presence we have here is the best in the world, and that's what gets Saddain Hussein's attention. He cannot avoid it. He cannot ignore it. He sees it every day."
Throughout the three-day visit with U.S. forces and local defense officials, Perry stressed the U.S. commitment to defending the region. The United States was again prepared to prove its commitment in October 1994 when an Iraqi buildup near the Kuwaiti border triggered U.S. action.
"We had a major deployment prepared to go to war again," Perry said, "but fortunately we moved quickly enough and strongly enough that we were able to deter a war."
The United States has continued efforts to deter war in the region ever since. U.S. strategy is based on forward presence of U.S. forces, pre-positioned equipment and helping Saudi Arabia and other countries in the gulf build up their own military capabilities.
During a stop in Saudi Arabia, Perry told airmen of the 4409th Operations Group and soldiers of 343rd Air Defense Artillery they serve as the region's front line of defense.
"The threat in the gulf from Iraq is greatly reduced from what it was before Desert Storm," Perry told service members, "but it's not one we can ignore. Their forces are greatly reduced in capability, but they're still substantial in size."
U.S. strategy is not to fight a war, Perry emphasized, but to have a strong enough defense that Saddam Hussein can actually see, thereby deterring any aggression. "The fighter aircraft, the reconnaissance aircraft, project our air presence so the Iraqis can make no mistake about our capabilities and our intentions," Perry said.
"Nothing is more visible to Saddam Hussein than the daily patrols that we fly over southern Iraq," Perry said. "Nothing demonstrates the capability and intent of the United States any more than those daily patrols."
And if the aircraft are the operation's front line of defense, according to the defense chief, the air defense artillery crews manning Patriot missile systems in the Saudi desert are the first line of defense protecting coalition air operations from attack.
"There's very little the Iraqis can do to our air[power] except attack it on the ground," Perry said. "They do not have an air force capable of standing up to the U.S. Air Force."
Therefore, if the Iraqis were to take the offensive, they'd have to attack the air base. "The Patriots are here to prevent them from doing that," Perry said. "You've performed in a critical mission for the United States, and I'm here to thank you for the great work you've been doing."
Perry also told the air defense artilleryrmen that within a few years DoD will have a new Theater High-altitude Air Defense system, that can reach out and shoot down missiles before they reach the area the troops are defending. Building and deploying the new system is a top priority at DoD, he said, and it has strong support in Congress.
More than 13,000 service members are in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Of those, about 5,000 are ground troops and 7,000 are aboard ships. All are members of U.S. Central Command's Joint Task Force - Southwest Asia. They are participating in Southern Watch, a coaliton operation with U.S., British, and French forces. Enforcing the no-fly zone south of the 32nd parallel is its primary mission.
Most U.S. active duty and reserve component troops in Southern Watch are on 90-day rotations. The operation goes 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"We fly an unpredictable pattern of sorties each day," an Air Force spokesman said. "We fly to be visible, and we are true to combat procedures."
The first Southern Watch sortie was flown Aug. 17, 1992, less than 24 hours after then-President George Bush announced a decision by a coaliton of U.N. nations to begin surveillance operations in Iraq to ensure compliance with U.N. Resolution 688 banning repression of Iraqi civilians.
Coalition air operations also help enforce U.N. Resolution 687 calling for U.N. inspections and 949 prohibiting enhancing Iraqi military capabilities in southern Iraq.
The mission is tough on families, said Army Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, commander of U.S. Central Command, and defense officials are working to reduce high operational tempo. But, Peay said, he believes professional soldiers want to be where the action is.
Peay said history will show the U.S. and coaliton forces successfully deterred war with Hussein for the last two years.
"So he hasn't come since October of 1994, why is that?" Peay asked the service members at Riyadh Air Base. "A large part of [the reason] are these 50 to 75 to 123 sorties that you are putting up every night over in the box. ...
"If you talk about costs, both in dollars and in people," he said, "it's sure a lot easier to be deterring that fellow up there than it is to get ourselves caught in a war like we did in 1990-9l."