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Formidable Force Remains in Gulf

American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Aug. 12, 1998 – The United States still has a strong, combat- ready force in the Persian Gulf -- nearly 20,000 troops and twice as many missiles as a year ago.

Saddam Hussein ought not consider contesting this "formidable" force, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said on in Aug. 9 television interview.

Even though the Iraqi leader has again tried to obstruct U.N. weapons inspectors, U.S. defense officials say there are no plans to move more forces into the region.

"We have a very strong force ready to, and able to, defend our interests and to put pressure on Saddam Hussein if necessary," said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon.

Iraq's overall goal is to end the U.N.-imposed sanctions and the weapons inspections so it can continue work on its weapons of mass destruction, Bacon said. "The United Nations has made it clear year in and year out that it's not going to allow that to happen," he said.

"Every time the inspectors make a new discovery, Iraq seems to throw a temper tantrum of some sort to try to interrupt the inspection process," Bacon said. Several weeks ago, for example, inspectors discovered nerve gas residue on some warhead components, and Iraq consequently tried to crack down on the inspections, he said.

Last fall, the United States beefed up forces in the region after Hussein refused to permit inspections at his palaces and other specially designated sites. By March, 44,700 troops, 200 aircraft and 34 ships, including the USS Independence and the USS Stennis carrier battle groups, were primed and ready for action in the Gulf.

This summer, the Defense Department reduced the U.S. gulf presence, but the force in place is more powerful than the one before last fall's buildup. Today, the number of U.S. cruise missiles in the region is more than double what it was a year ago, Bacon said. U.S. forces can be significantly reinforced within 48 hours if necessary, he added.

At present, about 19,650 U.S. service members are in the gulf -- 11,000 sailors and Marines, 5,900 Air Force members, 2,300 from the Army and 450 in joint headquarters. The carrier battle group USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Essex Amphibious Readiness Group are on station along with 165 aircraft.

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