US sends crack force to counter Saddam: Iraqi moves 'very similar to those that preceded 1990 invasion' bring Republican Guard division to within an hour of Kuwait border

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The Independent Online
THE US is deploying a crack mechanised division to protect Kuwait as Iraqi tanks deploy within an hour's drive of the Kuwaiti border. The Defense Secretary, William Perry, said the US 'takes very seriously' the Iraqi manoeuvres.

He said that one Iraqi Republican Guard division was already deployed within an hour of the Kuwaiti border and a second would soon be in a position to attack. In addition the Iraqi army's entire Southern Corps has been 'on full alert'.

Standing with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili at Port- au-Prince airport, Mr Perry said the US was sending ground troops and air power to counter the Iraqi threat. He said the Iraqi moves were very similar to those which preceded the Iraq invasion of 1990. 'Therefore, we take very seriously that this may be the threat of another invasion,' he said.

He then detailed the number and forces of US troops being sent to Kuwait, including a carrier squadron of F-14 and F- 18 warplanes and Tomahawk attack missiles, F-15 attack and Awacs (Airborne Warning and Control System) planes, and an amphibious unit as well as more than 4,000 US Army troops.

'We are putting in place prudential military forces, so that it will serve as a deterrent to any military adventure (President Saddam Hussein) may be thinking of,' Mr Perry said.

The Clinton administration is deeply worried that President Saddam could be serious in renewing the military threat to Kuwait. This is underlined by the decision to send the 24th Mechanised Infantry Division from Port Stewart in Georgia to the Gulf.

The 24th Mechanised comes directly under Central Command in Tampa, Florida which deals with the Gulf. It is a rapid reaction force whose tanks, artillery and fighting vehicles are believed to be prepositioned off the Saudi coast so the division will not have to ship its armour long distances as it did four years ago.

Mr Perry vowed that Saddam Hussein was wrong if he thought the US would not intervene to shield Kuwait because it was preoccupied with events in Haiti. He said that the success of the intervention in Haiti showed that the US has greater capability to respond quickly to the Iraqi threat than it had in 1990.

Even before the Haiti intervention began officials in Washington expressed private concern that the Iraqi leader might consider this a good moment to reassert his considerable military strength. They believe he may also be motivated by disappointment at the failure to get the UN embargo on the export of Iraqi oil lifted.

In New York the UN Security Council yesterday expressed 'grave concern' over the presence of Iraqi troops near the border. After a rare weekend meeting, the Council called for extra vigilance by the 1,140-member UN observer mission patrolling the demilitarised zone by the border and ordered it to report immediately any violations of the zone.

The US is already flying air patrols over northern and southern Iraq aimed at deterring the Iraqi airforce from being used against rebels in the southern marshes or to aid any Iraqi attempt to reconquer Kurdistan. The two Republican Guard divisions number an estimated 20,000 men and, going by the experience of the last invasion, could be in Kuwait City within a few hours of crossing the Kuwaiti border.

(Photograph omitted)