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U.S. Forces to Stay in Gulf

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 26, 1997 – It's not quite business as usual, but U-2 reconnaissance flights are continuing over Iraq and U.N. inspectors there are back to work after a nearly month-long standoff with Saddam Hussein's government.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary William Cohen said built-up U.S. forces will remain in the Persian Gulf region as long as necessary to ensure Iraqi compliance with U.N. inspection teams. Speaking Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Cohen said inspectors must have access to "all of the sites where they suspect there may be illegal activity taking place."

"The U.N. inspectors must go in, they must go in unfettered, and the person who's on parole can't tell the warden what the terms of the parole are going to be," Cohen said.

U.S. forces in the region now total about 30,000 after the recent deployment of an air expeditionary force and the arrival of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in the gulf.

The air force consists of 12 F-15C fighters from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., 12 F-16Cs from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., six F-16C/Js from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., two B-1 bombers from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., and four KC-135Rs from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. Additionally, elements of a Patriot Battery from the 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, from Fort Bliss, Texas, are being sent to Bahrain to provide ground defense for the expeditionary force.

The USS George Washington arrived on station Nov. 21 carrying 50 combat aircraft and about 25 other planes. The carrier arrived with a cruiser and was followed by the remainder of the battle group, including a destroyer, submarine and supply ship.

The U.S. presence in the gulf region now includes approximately 281 aircraft, 22 ships and 30,000 personnel. A combat-ready force of about 18,000 has been maintained there in recent years.

U.N. arms inspectors returned to Iraq Nov. 21 after Iraq abruptly reversed itself and allowed the inspectors, including U.S. members, back into the country. The standoff began in late October when Iraq said it would no longer allow U.S. members to participate in the U.N. inspection teams. The goal of the teams is to ensure Iraqi President Saddam Hussein does not rekindle his programs to build chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Inspections resumed Nov. 22 without incident as U.N. teams visited sites near Baghdad.

Still to be resolved, however, is access to so-called "presidential sites." At issue are sites Hussein claims are official presidential "villas" or "palaces." U.N. officials have long suspected Iraq is using the sites to hide materials related to missiles or past production of poison gases and germ warfare.

Speaking on three major U.S. television networks Nov. 23, Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Nizar Hamdoon reiterated Iraq's position that U.N. teams will not be allowed into the presidential sites, and he warned of another showdown if the inspectors try to visit one.

Hamdoon's comments came despite a Nov. 22 U.N. Commission advisory group statement calling for immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any sites in Iraq and a rejection of Russia's recommendation that sanctions imposed against Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War be eased.

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