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Gulf Mission Vital, Cohen Says

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

PRINCE SULTAN AIR BASE, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 23, 1998 – Service members play a vital role maintaining peace and stability in the Persian Gulf, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told a military audience here in mid-October.

U.S. air, sea and ground forces in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf sites serve in an area of major significance, he said. "What takes place in the Gulf will have an impact worldwide. This region is important because it helps drive the economies of the world."

Pilots enforcing no-fly zones over Iraq, and the men and women who support them, are America's tip of the sword, poised to deal with Saddam Hussein, the secretary said.

The Iraqi dictator who invaded Kuwait and used chemical weapons against his own people poses a serious threat to the region, Cohen said. "What keeps him in the box, so to speak, is that he can't move north and he can't move south without us detecting it and reacting, if necessary."

Cohen assured the troops people are well aware of the hardships of military duty, particulary at remote locations away from family members. He said the entire nation is grateful for their efforts and sacrifice.

"Don't ever think this mission is somehow marginal in nature," the secretary said. "It is major in nature. You are making a major contribution, not only in this region, but to global peace and stability. Your presence sends a signal not only to Saddam Hussein, but to all our friends and partners, that we are reliable, we are durable and we sure as hell are capable."

Cohen visited U.S. Air Force 4404th Wing (Provisional) here during a six-nation trip to the Persian Gulf Oct. 7 to 14. About 3,600 active duty, National Guard and Air Force Reserve members support Operation Southern Watch from this remote site along with several hundred British and French troops.

Along with seeing local officials to reaffirm U.S. commitments to the region, the secretary met throughout the trip with U.S. service members in Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait. He said one of the main reasons for his journey was to gain insight into their concerns. At this base, he heard firsthand about problems caused by high operations tempo.

"It's really important for me to get out there and talk to [service members] individually," Cohen said. "When you look in their faces, you see they are real people behind real problems. It gives you a greater sense of the immediacy of the issues."

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