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U.S. Plans to Double Warplane Presence in Persian Gulf

By John F. Harris
The Washington Post

The United States plans to nearly double the warplanes stationed indefinitely in the Persian Gulf, giving the military more firepower to enforce the Clinton administration's warning to Iraq to keep its most dangerous troops out of easy striking distance of Kuwait.

On the eve of President Clinton's visit to Kuwait, Pentagon officials said Thursday that for the first time U.S. planes will be based in that nation - a squadron of 24 U.S. A-10 "Warthog" attack jets, which specialize in destroying tanks. The officials added that an announcement of additional aircraft deployments to the region will be made in the next few days.

The change is necessary, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said, to ensure that Saddam Hussein obeys the demand issued last week by the United States and Britain that he keep Iraq's well-armed Republican Guard troops and tanks north of the 32nd parallel about 150 miles from the Kuwaiti border.

In total, the Defense officials said, there will be about 130 U.S. aircraft stationed for long-term duty in the Persian Gulf region, up from about 70 before the most recent crisis with Iraq began earlier this month.

This latest crisis defused quickly, and most of the Air Force and Navy aircraft rushed to the region three weeks ago will be withdrawn by the end of this year. But Pentagon officials said they are putting in place plans that will allow the military to respond more rapidly should Iraq again turn bellicose. The administration is hoping by next year to have "pre-positioned" enough equipment in the Persian Gulf region to supply three armored brigades.

This would include equipment for an armored brigade in Kuwait, and a brigade in nearby Qatar. In addition, Bacon said, the United States is negotiating with other gulf area countries to agree to take equipment for a third brigade.

The standard equipment for each brigade will be 108 Bradley fighting vehicles - enough for two battalions - and 58 M1A1 Abrams tanks, enough for one battalion, according to Army Maj. Ray Whitehead.

Until now, Kuwait agreed to store enough equipment to supply only a half-brigade, but the nation recently announced to increase that and build a new storage area for it south of Kuwait City.

Defense Secretary William J. Perry has said that pre-positioned equipment is a key means of blunting aggression in the region. It allows troops to arrive by air and be quickly ready to fight, instead of having to wait for heavy equipment to arrive by ship.

But in the past, the gulf nations and others in the Middle East have been sensitive about having U.S. military troops or equipment based on their soil for long-term deployments. The recent agreements represent a significant softening of their stance toward the United States.