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U.S. Will Send More Troops to Kuwait to Deal with Iraq

By Paul Richter
Los Angeles Times
KUWAIT

U.S. commanders sought Monday to send as many as 3,000 more ground troops and a big shipment of gas masks to this anxious nation, where Defense Secretary William S. Cohen stopped on his swing through the Persian Gulf to build support for possible airstrikes against Iraq.

The troops, based in Fort Hood, Texas, would give U.S. forces almost a brigade of infantry in Kuwait when they arrive in the next week to 10 days. Added to 1,500 soldiers now in Kuwait and 2,200 Marines en route, the latest proposed deployment would bring to almost 6,700 the total of ground troops in the region.

The goal is to "discourage any creative thinking on [Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's] part" about attacking his southern neighbor, which he invaded in 1990, if the United States and its allies unleash an air campaign against the regime in Baghdad to compel it to allow unrestricted U.N. weapons inspections, a senior U.S. military official said.

After meetings among Cohen, the Kuwaiti emir and Kuwait's defense chiefs, a U.S. official said the administration had agreed to send a "substantial" supply of gas masks to this city, which has grown increasingly nervous about a possible Iraqi chemical or biological attack.

Cohen has been considering requests from several gulf states and Israel for equipment and medical supplies that might be needed if there were an attack by Baghdad, which is believed capable of loading its few remaining "Scud" missiles with chemical or germ-warfare payloads.

He has not yet decided on Gen. Anthony Zinni's request for more troops. But since the U.S.-Iraq standoff began last fall, Cohen has approved nearly all requests for troops or materiel, a senior U.S. military official said.

The plans to bolster the Kuwait ground forces came four days after the Pentagon said it would send a Marine Amphibious Ready Group with 2,200 ground troops on four ships to the gulf to deter an Iraqi attack and help in any coastal rescue missions.

Monday's military developments occurred even as lawmakers in Washington slowed their rush to approve a nonbinding resolution supporting President Clinton, if he employs military force against Hussein, and new confusion dogged Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan about Annan's possible peacemaking role in the Iraqi standoff.

In Kuwait, U.S. officials said the added infantry units they are seeking would be deployed at Camp Doha, where the Army has amassed a cache of ready, emergency materiel - from tanks to armored personnel carriers to small arms. The two units would join a battalion that has training at Camp Doha in an exercise dubbed "Intrinsic Action."

The added ground troops would round out a force that already includes about 30,000 military personnel, two aircraft carrier battle groups and 400 warplanes. More than 500,000 troops were present in 1991 when a U.S.-led force repelled Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

On Capitol Hill, Republican leaders still expect overwhelming approval of a resolution endorsing U.S. military action against Iraq. But Republicans also signaled Monday that they feel less urgency for a swift vote. Instead, there is a growing desire for a full discussion of U.S. short- and long-term options on Iraq.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott who had appeared eager for Congress to act - said he now favors taking more time to deal with the Iraq situation.

A nonbinding Senate resolution backing military strikes could come up for a vote this week, Lott said. House leaders say they will take up the matter after the Senate acts. Congressional leaders say they are working closely with the White House on the timing of the votes.

While Lott talked about nonmilitary approaches, one of the Senate's best-known veterans, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called for a series of decisive military strikes.

"The only viable military option is to inflict serious damage on the Iraqi Republican Guard and destroy the compounds and palaces' Saddam has sought to protect," he said on the Senate floor. "Ineffectual cruise missile and airstrikes such as characterized past punitive actions, particularly in 1996 when 27 cruise missiles were launched against largely insignificant targets, will once again prove counterproductive," said McCain.