Pentagon discounts importance of additional Iraqi troops being sent to Kuwait

November 21, 1990|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Pentagon officials, playing down the impact of Iraq's announced plan to send 250,000 more troops to Kuwait and southern Iraq, said yesterday that they saw no immediate need to dispatch greater numbers of U.S. combat reinforcements to the Persian Gulf.

The officials, as well as outside military experts, agreed that Iraq was likely to draw heavily from the ranks of inexperienced, possibly ill-prepared reservists, creating new "vulnerabilities" for Iraq rather than a stronger, more fearsome fighting force.

Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, even called the Iraqi troop announcement a publicity ploy by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"It's just part of his headline-of-the-day program, where he tries to divert world opinion from his own aggression," General Powell said on "CBS This Morning." He and others suggested that Iraq may use the extra troops simply to replace soldiers at the front lines.

Privately, some officials said that an understated U.S. response could help calm domestic worries about a war in the Persian Gulf. Renewed talk about U.S. military escalation could undercut President Bush, who continues to stress his hope for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in his meetings with foreign leaders this week, they added.

"There's no reason to give away what our intentions are going to be," said a senior military officer, who said he was not aware of any decision to respond militarily to the announced buildup. "There's time for that" later if Iraq actually enhances its war-fighting machine, he said.

The state-run Iraqi News Agency reported Monday that President Hussein decided "to mass seven additional [army] divisions and to call up more than 150,000 fighters from the reserves and regular troops, adding . . . over a quarter of a million fighters" to Iraq's forces occupying Kuwait.

More than 430,000 Iraqi troops are already in the area, behind an array of minefields, anti-tank ditches, sand barriers and barbed wire along the Kuwaiti border of Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon has reported.

The Iraqis are facing more than 230,000 U.S. troops and as many as 200,000 more from U.S. allies and Arab nations. The U.S. military presence should exceed 400,000 in January.

As of yesterday, Iraqi reinforcements had not moved into Kuwait, nor were troops on the Turkish and Syrian front being redeployed south, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said. Turkish sources reported in October that Iraq had amassed about 250,000 personnel near the Turkish border.

Mr. Williams, who expressed some doubt about Iraqi intentions to expand the size of its forces, said a massive buildup would take "a month or more."

General Powell said, "It's not clear that large numbers of additional, probably less capable units significantly adds to [Mr. Hussein's] combat power in theater -- and in fact, might present him with new vulnerabilities rather than added strength."

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