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Bahrain pledges to maintain U.S. military presence

Friday, February 7, 2003

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 aircraft.

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.

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