Kuwait seeks reduction in U.S. troop presence

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

ABU DHABI Kuwait ispreparing to request a reduction in the number of U.S. troops in the sheikdom.

Kuwaiti defense and military chiefs have been authorized to raise the issue during high-level cooperation talks taking place between the two countries in Washington. The Kuwaiti delegation, which includes military representatives, has been headed by Prime Minister Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah and was scheduled to begin talks with President George Bush on Wednesday.

Currently, the United States has deployed 34,000 troops in Kuwait. The Bush administration has relayed its plans to maintain this level for at least the next year.

Kuwaiti sources said the sheikdom has accepted the expanded U.S. military presence, but wants guarantees that Washington will begin to withdraw troops by 2005. The sources said the government fears a backlash from the Islamic opposition.

Until 2002, the United States maintained about 5,000 troops in Kuwait. The number rose to more than 100,000 in the U.S. military buildup for the war in Iraq in March 2003.

The sources said Kuwait wants a U.S. commitment for the withdrawal of most of the American troops as part of a military and defense agreement being drafted by Washington and the sheikdom. The proposed accord would redefine military and security relations between the two countries in the aftermath of the toppling of the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The agreement discussed by Kuwait and the United States envisions a gradual U.S. withdrawal as the sheikdom bolsters its military with new weapons and training and the two countries increase their security cooperation. The sources did not provide a timetable for U.S. withdrawal but provides for a continuation of current American troop levels.

Kuwaiti Defense Minister Jaber Mubarak Al Sabah said on Tuesday that the agreement would bolster military and security ties with with Washington.

Mubarak said the agreement would not require annual approval. The Kuwaiti military delegation, headed by Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ahmed Al Khaled Al Sabah, also included Kuwaiti military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Khaled Al Jarah and military planning chief Maj. Gen. Abdul Rahman Al Othman.

The sources said the two leading items on the agenda for the talks in Washington would be Kuwait's participation in the war against Al Qaida and future U.S. troop levels in the sheikdom. The first issue, the sources said, would involve a mechanism for regular meetings between the intelligence communities of the two countries as well as a system to relay real-time threat alerts.

The agreement was also meant to include strategic dialogue between Kuwait City and Washington. The dialogue will focus on new weapons development in the region, Iran and other regional military threats as well as a review of emerging insurgency threats.

The sources said the agreement would mark a major improvement in Kuwaiti-U.S. defense and military relations. They said that for the last decade, in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war that liberated Kuwait from Iraq, military cooperation between Kuwait City and Washington was largely limited to arms sales and training as well as U.S. troop deployment. They said the new agreement would increase the level of training and exercises.

"There was very little interest on either side to make this relationship a more balanced one where we could contribute as well to a dialogue on the strategic picture in the region," a Kuwaiti defense source said. "Our military establishment has matured and we now want such a relationship."

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