The cavalry flies in as a symbol of US resolve: Robert Fisk watches American troops arrive in Kuwait City for another mission in the region

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CAPTAIN LACKEY drew a line on the tarmac yesterday. 'If you come over this line, I'm going to remove you from the airfield,' he bawled. 'I'm going to tell the security people to move you out of here if you don't obey this instruction. Is there anybody who doesn't understand what I've told you?' The camera crew dutifully assembled like schoolchildren, toes and tripods on the white-painted strip. The US cavalry was about to arrive.

Maybe it was the American army's revenge for the media debacle on the beaches of Somalia, but Capt Lackey knew what he wanted. While long lenses whirred at the miniature figures climbing down the steps of the 747, we craned over the necks of the photographers to catch sight of this latest symbol of US 'resolve' in the Gulf. The first of 1,250 soldiers, many of them clutching plastic 'comfort bags', struggled across the apron to a line of old American school buses 300 metres from the Jumbo.

Thus did the 9th Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division - a 'reinforced battalion task force' in the words of the local US embassy's publicity man - arrive to bolster the spirits of an evermore America-dependent Kuwait. The men walked untidily from the plane, the women - for the US cavalry boasted at least 40 among their number yesterday - tramping a trifle more energetically down the steps.

They had all been here before, victors in a war they thought they'd finished back in 1991, although a junior officer rejoicing in the name of Captain Hacker would not even vouchsafe this harmless fact. 'All questions must be answered by the embassy,' he shouted patriotically when we asked if the units were Gulf-war veterans. The embassy man didn't know the answer.

Instead of talking to the soldiers who were about to perform 'God's work', we were instead presented with the civilian crew of the chartered Northwest Airlines' 747. Camera crews surrounded the prettiest crimson-uniformed stewardess as the plane's captain detailed the soldiers' in-flight meal services. The men and women, drawing yet another line in the sand, had spent 16 hours in the air munching barbecued chicken, rice and eggs.

As the last soldiers clambered into the buses behind them, the network men performed their duties. Standing like soldiers in a row before their cameras, they quite forgot Capt Lackey's white line. 'Just 60 miles from the Iraqi border . . . six weeks, but they could be here longer . . . and for the Kuwaitis, this is another reassuring sign . . . a deterrent against retaliation.'

The quotes were real, but was the mission? Were these young men and women with their company of Bradley fighting vehicles, of M1A1 tanks and their artillery battery anything more than a symbol? Or were they going to drive the Iraqi border police out of the Kuwait-Iraq demilitarised zone? The soldiers bussed off to base at Doha last night did not look like participants in a military drama. They were asleep against the windows, or staring blindly into the cameras' glare, only a few remembering to give us a 'V' for victory, Churchill-style. Whose victory, they might have asked themselves.