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U.S. reducing, moving troops in Mideast

By PAMELA HESS, UPI Pentagon Correspondent   |   April 28, 2003 at 11:53 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, April 28 (UPI) -- The Pentagon will cut the number of U.S. troops permanently assigned to bases in the Middle East and will move the locations of some of those remaining, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday during a visit to Qatar.

The U.S. military will move its major air operations center in the Middle East to the Arab nation, The New York Times reported Monday.

Oversight of air missions to Iraq and the Middle East will move this week from Prince Sultan Air Base near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

Rumsfeld said the cessation of the Iraq no-fly zone enforcement missions -- Operations Northern and Southern Watch -- means thousands of Air Force and Navy pilots and ground crews will no longer be needed in Incirlik, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

"So those capabilities can be moved," he said.

"Iraq was a threat in the region, and because that threat will be gone, we also have the ability to adjust some of our arrangements," Rumsfeld said. "The one thing we do know is that we're going to be able to reduce the size of our forces."

There are some 135,000 U.S. forces in Iraq. The Pentagon has not announced how many forces it intends to dedicate to the stabilization of Iraq. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki told Congress earlier in the year the effort would require close to 200,000. Pentagon officials have called that estimate far too high.

President George W. Bush and Rumsfeld have not decided whether to make the headquarters move from Saudi Arabia to Qatar permanent, the newspaper said.

"Whether we'll stay there or not ... not sure," Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, told the Times.

"But we do know that since we have it, we want to be able to run some operations out of it," Franks said, referring to the headquarters the Pentagon built at al-Udeid a year ago.

Rumsfeld stressed Monday that any changes made in the "footprint" of U.S. troops in the region should not be construed as a change to established military relationships.

"So we have good friends and allies here in the region. We've had long, many -- multiple-decade relationships, and we intend to maintain those relationships," Rumsfeld said.

"We are not leaving Saudi Arabia," a Bush administration official told the Times.

The Pentagon will use its 2-year-old air command center at Prince Sultan Air Base to oversee military exercises and could shift air operations back there in a crisis.

Another high-ranking Centcom official said the move reflected scaled-back capacity needs.

"There's a convenience in the fact we're adjusting the size," Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart told the Times. "You don't need a CAOC (Combat Air Operations Center) designed to fly 3,000 missions if you're only flying a few hundred."

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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