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U.S. Sends More Troops and Firepower to the Gulf

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

MUNICH, Germany, Feb. 10, 1998 – The United States is sending another 2,200 Marines and five warships to the Persian Gulf to join what Pentagon officials describe as the "robust" American and British force already assembled there.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen announced Feb. 6, the United States has deployed the USS Guam Amphibious Readiness Group at the request of U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, U.S. Central Command commander. Zinni also asked for and will receive more combat aircraft, Cohen said.

More than 24,000 American troops, 25 U.S. ships and 325 U.S. aircraft are assembled in the Persian Gulf awaiting the outcome of a standoff between the United Nations and Iraq. British forces in the gulf include the carrier HMS Invincible, about 2,500 troops and six Royal Air Force GR1 Tornado aircraft.

The USS Guam is scheduled to reach the Gulf by mid-February. The amphibious readiness group will join the USS George Washington and the USS Independence carrier battle groups.

At a joint White House news conference earlier in the day, President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed to use military force against Saddam Hussein if necessary. "On Iraq, we stand together," Clinton said. "We must be prepared to act and we are."

Blair announced he was sending another eight Tornados to the region. "We have been looking at our own military readiness in case a diplomatic solution does not in the end prove possible," he said.

Cohen met with reporters Feb. 6 while en route to Europe at the start of a seven-day trip to Germany, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. His trip followed on the heels of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visit to the gulf region a week earlier.

While Albright outlined diplomatic initiatives under way, Cohen said he aimed to ensure the gulf states the United States plans a substantial military strike if no diplomatic solution is found to the crisis.

"There have been concerns in the past that when Saddam has taken certain provocative action, we have responded in a rather mild fashion," Cohen said. "This is not mild or meager, this is substantial."

If necessary, U.S. forces will strike targets involved in developing or delivering weapons of mass destruction, Cohen said.

Cohen said the ongoing Winter Olympics in Japan would not affect the timing of an attack. U.S. officials would act either as an appropriate reaction to Saddam's actions, or after determining diplomatic efforts unsuccessful, he said.

"We wouldn't be bound by any external factors beyond that," he said. "If Saddam Hussein should attack a U-2 [surveillance plane], we would not await the completion of the Olympics before responding."

Hussein's continued defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions has put U.N. credibility on the line, Cohen said. "If they can't stand behind enforcement of their own resolutions, then their resolutions in the future are not going to mean very much."

He expressed his confidence the Persian Gulf states will back military action against Iraq. "We will have whatever support is necessary to carry out a military mission," he told reporters. And, if Iraq retaliates by attacking its neighbors, the United States "will be there to help protect all those in the region," he said.

Some gulf states have asked the United States for defensive equipment in case of chemical or biological attack, Cohen said.

Before departing Washington, Cohen told CNN's Larry King Feb. 4 that time is running out for a diplomatic solution. "If diplomacy is going to succeed, it should proceed fairly quickly," he said.

The overarching U.N. goal is to curtail Iraq's ability to develop or deliver weapons of mass destruction, Cohen said. Having U.N. inspectors on the ground is the best way to ferret out what Hussein is doing in terms of building and hiding those instruments of war, he said.

Hussein must open his country to U.N. inspection, Cohen said. He must prove he is not rebuilding the weapons of mass destruction that he used in the past against his own people and against Iran, and that he threatened to use against others.

Cohen told CNN Hussein has admitted to having at least 2,100 gallons of anthrax. "A five-pound bag of anthrax would wipe out between 60 and 70 percent of the population of a city the size of Washington, D.C.," he said.

U.N. officials have evidence Hussein has at least four tons of the nerve agent VX, Cohen said. "One drop on your finger and you will die in a couple of minutes." The Iraqi ruler also has hundreds of acres of castor beans used to make Ricin, a poison with no antidote, the defense secretary noted.

Hussein is a "bully" and a "master of deception" who claims he has destroyed Iraq's chemical and biological weapons, Cohen said. "We have yet to see the full evidence that they've been destroyed."

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