Gulf Force Draws Down
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 28, 1998 Military leaders are drawing down the Persian Gulf force to pre-Operation Desert Fox levels, according to Pentagon officials.
The carrier battle group centered around the USS Enterprise is leaving the area for its scheduled tour in the Mediterranean. The USS Carl Vinson, which deployed to the Gulf ahead of schedule, remains in place. The Enterprise group launched most of the Dec. 16 to 19 strikes against Iraqi military targets.
Military leaders withdrew 12 of the 15 B-52 bombers from Diego Garcia, a British protectorate in the Indian Ocean. They also pulled back six B-1 bombers, 10 A-10 attack jets and 10 KC-10 tankers. More than 1,200 soldiers held in Kuwait following Exercise Intrinsic Action to support the operation also headed home.
As it has since the Gulf War, the United States will continue to contain Iraq, said Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. The United States will maintain a strong military presence in the region and enforce U.N.-mandated economic sanctions and no-fly zones, he said.
"We're going to maintain our forces in [such] a way that we could take action with a minimum amount of notice in order to maximize the effectiveness," Cohen told reporters during a late-December trip to the region.
Despite the success of the air campaign in destroying military infrastructure and weapons of mass destruction facilities, Saddam Hussein remains a threat to the region, Cohen said. If the Iraqi dictator he labeled the "master of deception" attempts to reconstitute his capabilities or threaten his neighbors, the United States will take further action.
U.S. Central Command chief Marine Corps Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, traveling with Cohen, said DoD will maintain a continuous, balanced air-ground-and-naval force in the region. The Central Command chief said it will range between 17,000 to 22,000 troops -- depending on whether a carrier or Marine expeditionary unit is in or out of the area.
This force is "sufficient to meet our needs," Zinni said, since "we also have the ability in [the continental United States] to react very quickly." He said prepositioned equipment in theater allows the United States "to close and deploy quickly."
Prior to launching Desert Fox, Zinni beefed up what he called his "core force" with 7,000 more troops, a second carrier battle group and more combat aircraft. He said he called for a flow of reinforcements as a precaution to ensure that if there was an Iraqi counter action, U.S. forces were prepared to react immediately. As it turned out, Zinni said, the Iraqis did not fight back and the operation accomplished its objectives in four days.
As of Dec. 19, the last night of the strikes, Pentagon officials said the air campaign involved 29,900 troops, 37 ships and 348 aircraft. When the mission ended, some crisis response force units stopped enroute to the region, and others arrived shortly thereafter.
"It's a credit to all our forces how rapidly they can react," Zinni remarked. He also commended fellow unified commanders. "The ability to shift forces from one unified command to another very quickly says a lot about the readiness and flexibility of the forward-deployed forces."