US to bolster army presence in the Gulf

US to bolster army presence in the Gulf

US to bolster army presence in the Gulf

U.S. service members with the 407th Air Expeditionary Group load cargo containers onto a C-130 aircraft at Contingency Operating Base Adder, south of Baghdad. AP photo.

The United States is planning to bolster its military presence in the Gulf after it pulls out its remaining troops from Iraq, the New York Times reported online yesterday as the Iraqi military’s chief of staff said Iraq would not be fully able to defend its borders and airspace until at least 2020.

The Iraqi military’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Babaker Zebari, “estimated that it will take several more years before Iraq can provide for its external defense without assistance from international partners,” said the report from the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

“Gen. Zebari suggested that the (Ministry of Defense) will be unable to execute the full spectrum of external-defense missions until sometime between 2020 and 2024, citing (Iraqi government) funding shortfalls as the main reason for the delay,” the report said.

“Iraq will not be able to defend its own airspace until 2020 at the earliest,” Zebari told SIGIR, adding that “an army without an air force is exposed.” Iraq has ordered 18 F-16 warplanes from the U.S., but it will be years before that force is fully operational. Zebari has said his forces will require training for another decade before they are fully capable of securing the country. U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Oct. 21 that all U.S. soldiers will depart the country by the end of 2011, after protracted and ultimately failed negotiations with Iraq about a post-2011 U.S. military training mission there.

While Iraq has concerns over its security after U.S. withdrawal, the Obama administration is negotiating to maintain a combat presence on the ground in Kuwait and was considering deploying more warships in the area, New York Times reported. The U.S. also wanted to expand its military ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) constituting of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, it said. The proposal needed approval by GCC leaders, who are due to meet in the Saudi capital Riyadh in December, the paper said.

The size of the standby American combat force to be based in Kuwait remains the subject of negotiations, with an answer expected in the coming days. Officers at the Central Command headquarters declined to discuss specifics of the proposals, but it was clear that successful deployment plans from past decades could be incorporated into plans for a post-Iraq footprint in the region.

Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.