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Wednesday, February 25, 1998 Published at 23:41 GMT

Events: Crisis In The Gulf

US keeps forces on alert in Gulf

Intensive military activity is expensive but is it also good training?

Maintaining this Gulf build-up is not going to be without cost and it will inevitably have a knock-on effect on other US military commitments around the world. This report from the BBC's Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

Military force backed up the United Nations' efforts to broker a deal with Iraq and, according to Washington, the threat of force will remain to ensure that President Saddam Hussein honours his commitments.

Over the past few weeks the United States has built up a formidable armada in the Gulf of some thirty ships comprising two carrier battle groups and their support vessels. Each carrier has over fifty warplanes on board.

And despite the reluctance of Saudi Arabia to see its air bases used to launch any attack against Iraq, the United States and Britain have also despatched significant air reinforcements to the region, including RAF Tornadoes, US radar-evading F-117 fighters and B-1 bombers. The US also has 11,000 soldiers in Kuwait.

Mounting this operation has inevitably placed a further burden on the Pentagon's budget.

Deputy Defence Secretary John Hamre has put the additional cost so far as some $600m, but this figure will grow as all of the forces arrive and then must be sustained, possibly for several weeks to come.

Washington is going to want to see a routine pattern of inspection at sensitive Iraqi weapons sites before reducing its military presence in the region.

The costs are large but their significance shouldn't be over-stated.

[ image: USS Nimitz on patrol]
USS Nimitz on patrol
The carrier battle groups might well have been at sea in any case, doing much of what they are doing now. And lots of intensive flying, as in this operational deployment, has many benefits in terms of training and readiness.

Nonetheless, bills have to be paid and the US Congress will in due course receive a request for emergency supplemental funding to cover the additional cost of the Gulf operation.

Clearly, the Gulf deployments have taken critical items of weaponry from other locations.

[ image: Smart weapons in the Gulf have been diverted from other US commitments]
Smart weapons in the Gulf have been diverted from other US commitments
Senior US officers in the Korean peninsula have expressed concern that vital equipment has been diverted to the Gulf. The US has certainly taken steps to reinforce its air power in South Korea to make up for the aircraft carrier that would otherwise have been on station. But here again, too much should not be made of these concerns.

The Pentagon's overall strategic plans call for it to be able to handle two regional crises virtually at once. If a continuing deployment in the Gulf really does throw up serious shortages in equipment or logistics, then the Pentagon planners may have some hard thinking to do and questions to ask on Capitol Hill.

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Crisis In The Gulf Contents

In this section

Text of the resolution warning Iraq

Iraq tests limits of weapons inspections deal

US keeps forces on alert in Gulf

Full text of UN-Iraq agreement

A turning point for the UN?

Gulf Crisis images - don't archive