Bahrain has pledged to maintain the U.S. military
presence regardless of a
war against Iraq.
Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet as well as British
ships and troops. The Bush administration has approved a significant increase in
military aid for the kingdom.
The pledge was relayed during the visit by Bahraini King Hamad Bin Issa
Al Khalifa to Washington this week. Hamad met President George Bush and
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Islamic parliamentarians have opposed the Western
deployment, Middle East Newsline has reported.
"Our relationship with the U.S. goes way back, almost 100 years, and 50
years or more than that with the military," Hamad said. "So the military
facilities in Bahrain are not because of today's situation. It has been for
many years, and I hope will stay for another 100 years ahead."
"Defense cooperation between Bahrain and the United States represents a
key element in the defense system of the Arabian Gulf region, which
maintains the flow of oil to the whole world, oil which underpins the global
economy and ensures the continuity of trade between this vital region and
all international markets," Hamad added.
The king said Manama's relationship with the United States is part of
efforts to protect the Gulf region. He reiterated his call for increased
military cooperation by Gulf Cooperation Council states.
The United States has provided increased military aid to Bahrain over
the last year. In fiscal 2002, Bahrain received a supplemental military
budget of $28.5 million.
The Bush administration has asked for $28 million in military aid for
Bahrain in fiscal 2004. U.S. officials said the aid would help the kingdom
purchase and deploy F-16 multi-role fighters. Manama has 22 F-16 C/D
Last month, Bahrain announced that the United States has deployed the
PAC-2 missile defense battery. Manama did not provide any details but said
the battery would protect against the Iraqi missile threat.
Over the last decade, Bahrain has also procured AH-1 Cobra attack
helicopters as well as the Harpoon, Maverick, Sidewinder, Sparrow, Stinger
and TOW missiles.
On Wednesday, Bahrain's military celebrated 35 years since its founding
and commanders said training has become a key focus. This includes
developing military schools in the kingdom and sending officers abroad.