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Tuesday, May 26, 1998 Published at 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK

World: Middle East

US cuts Gulf forces

The USS George Washington led the US warships build-up

The US is planning to reduce the military forces that it stationed in the Gulf during the crisis with Iraq over weapons inspections.

The American Defence Secretary William Cohen said the aircraft carrier USS Independence was already leaving the Gulf, and was unlikely to be replaced.

The move leaves only one carrier, the USS John C. Stennis, patrolling near Iraq.

[ image: The US sent more than 350 aircraft to the Gulf]
The US sent more than 350 aircraft to the Gulf
Mr Cohen also said a number of F-117 fighter jets and other combat aircraft are likely to be ordered home in the next few weeks.

At present, the United States has around 37,000 military personnel in the Gulf region, and 27 naval ships.

The reduction would mean US forces returned to the levels they were at before the most recent crisis with Iraq.

Mr Cohen made the announcement to reporters travelling with him on a visit to Chile, the latest leg of his brief South American tour.

Reduction has started

[ image: Cohen: forces could be re-built in days]
Cohen: forces could be re-built in days
He said he hoped the US presence could be pared down in a matter of weeks and that the first move had already been made by calling the USS Independence home.

The planned reductions would bring the number of US forces in the Gulf down to between 17,000 and 20,000 troops.

The BBC Washington Correspondent Bridget Kendall said Mr Cohen also made a point of emphasising that though tensions with Iraq had subsided, following Baghdad's agreement to allow UN weapons inspectors to resume their work unhindered, if there was a new crisis the US could quickly re-deploy.

He said the military presence being left in the Gulf was a more than adequate deterrent and if need be, the US could re-build its forces in as little as two days.

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