A top Kuwaiti official has thrown doubt on American proposals to station at least 4,000 additional soldiers in the Gulf nation following the US military withdrawal from Iraq at the end of the year.
Sheik Jaber Al Mubarak Al Sabah, who is also Defense Minister, was quoted as saying there is no plan to increase US troop levels in the country.
It was not immediately clear whether this was Kuwait’s final word to the Pentagon or a suggestion that nothing is yet resolved and negotiations are in progress. The reference to the issue of US troops was mentioned as part of a lengthy statement on a variety of issues.
A rebuff from Kuwait would be a significant blow to US efforts to boost the numbers of forces in the Gulf, where the US and its Arab allies fear Iran’s expanding military reach. Earlier this month, US officials said the Pentagon hoped to shift at least 4,000 soldiers from Iraq to Kuwait at the end of the year, pending a final decision by military planners and Kuwaiti leaders.
The Pentagon said Monday that officials are still working on the issue of where troops will be arrayed in the region after the US departure from Iraq.
Sheik Jaber was quoted by the official Kuwait News Agency as saying that Kuwait will be used only as a transit point for forces, including those leaving Iraq.
Thousands of US troops have been in Kuwait since the 1991 war that drove Iraqi Forces out of the oil-rich Gulf state. A decade-old agreement has governed the number of US troops in Kuwait, but it is believed to expire at the end of this year. That would open the possibility of talks on all provisions for US Forces in Kuwait.
The proposed relocation of troops to Kuwait is part of a still-developing Pentagon strategy that ends the Iraq war but positions a strong US Force just across the border. It also fits with wider US attempts to challenge the growth of Iran’s ground and naval forces.
The Pentagon said plans are still being made.
“There have been no final decisions made or inked about force posture in that part of the world - in the Gulf region and the Middle East, post-Iraq,” Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Defense Department spokesman, said earlier this week.
Source: Khaleej Times; KUNA