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Sizzling in the Gulf

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

MANAMA, Bahrain, Oct. 9, 1998 – It’s hot; real hot. The forecast calls for a cool front in the next few days; the temperature may drop to below 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

That will certainly be a relief for sailors and naval aviators of the USS Abraham Lincoln Battle Group here in the Persian Gulf.

“About 140 on deck, with the humidity putting it up to about 160 degrees -- it’s extraordinary that they’re able not only to operate in this environment, but to do it with such outstanding excellence,” commented William S. Cohen.

The defense secretary visited military men and women aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, Oct. 9, during a seven-day, six- nation visit to the region. Addressing about 300 dripping sailors on the aircraft carrier’s steamy hangar deck, the secretary stressed the vital importance of their mission.

“You are maintaining the peace,” he said. “There can be no higher calling.”

Cohen said the United States and its allies are determined to thwart the threat Saddam Hussein has long represented to regional stability. “We’re not interested in a confrontation in the Gulf, but we can’t let threats go unchallenged,” he said.

American and allied forces have maintained stability in the region, “because we’ve been able to keep Saddam Hussein basically boxed in,” the secretary said. “He hasn’t been able to move south. He hasn’t been able to move north. He hasn’t been able to rebuild his military so as to pose a threat to all of the neighbors in the region.”

The United States aims to ensure the Iraqi dictator complies with U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring him to destroy all weapons of mass destruction and present evidence that he has done so. To date, however, Hussein has not fully complied.

“He’s been ducking and weaving for the past six or seven years, playing hide and seek with the [U.N. weapons] inspectors,” Cohen said. “Shutting them out, opening up and letting them in, but basically trying to move things around.”

In the absence of full compliance, the secretary said, the United States is prepared to take military action if necessary. Last spring about 37,000 U.S. troops served in the Gulf. Because of the high operational tempo, military leaders downsized the force to about 20,000, but doubled the amount of cruise missiles on station.

“We have a very formidable force that can take action any time,” Cohen said. “We can also increase that force to where it was -– up to 37,000 to 40,000 -– within a 96-hour time frame. We are ready and fully capable of taking action at a time and place of our choosing. We’re hoping that won’t become necessary.”

U.S. forces in the Gulf personify the U.S. strategy to “shape” their environment by their presence, Cohen said. “There are some people in Congress and in our country who say we don’t need aircraft carriers, we don’t need to be out on the sea,” he explained. “They say let’s just build a real base back home and launch strikes from the continental United States.”

While that avoids certain risks and eliminates the need to be forward-deployed, it does not shape the environment, Cohen told the sailors. “You know as well as I, that when people see how good you are, it alters their opinion. They want to be on your side. When you’re forward deployed -– 100,000 throughout the Asian Pacific region, 100,000 throughout the European continent -- we are shaping the environment in ways that preserve the peace.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. naval presence in the Gulf, Cohen noted. “This enduring presence reflects our enduring interest in the Gulf.

“Commercially, the Gulf is the engine that helps drives the world economy,” he said. “Strategically, it’s at the crossroads of continents. Culturally, it’s a cradle of major religions and ancient civilizations. And, politically, it’s a crucible, where governments have struggled for generations, for centuries to coexist.”

Peace is possible in the region, he said, “because for 50 years, sailors just like you have been resolved to stand up for it.”

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