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BUILDUP IN THE PERSIAN GULF : Rapid Buildup Lauded as Deterrent That Turned Back Hussein


CAMP DOHA, Kuwait — With the seriousness of soldiers readying themselves for battle, Lt. Eric Seal and his platoon left their assembly area here Wednesday and headed north toward Kuwait's border with Iraq. The troops' guns were loaded and their jaws were set.

"We hear the Iraqis are pulling back, and that makes things easier--and harder too," Seal said as his platoon's armored vehicles moved away with a roar. "It's always easier when you don't have to fight your way into a place, but then it's harder to define what you're going to do when you get there."

The crisis on the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border was rapidly abating Wednesday, but the United States continued its deployment of 63,500 soldiers, sailors and airmen in a demonstration of the amount of military power it can mobilize here in a matter of days.

"You men and women are the kind of deterrent that are making (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) turn around," Secretary of State Warren Christopher told troops from the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division here. "It's not our words that are turning the Iraqis around, but your capacity. You're the real embodiment of the determination and the effective resolve we are bringing to this crisis."

Christopher stopped here during his latest round of shuttle diplomacy between Israel and Syria.

Soldiers from the 24th, who are being airlifted from Ft. Stewart, Ga., took up positions with Kuwait's army on the border Wednesday morning. Other U.S. troops set up a Patriot antimissile battery outside Kuwait International Airport. Offshore, American Marines prepared for an amphibious landing today.

The first 200 Royal Marine commandos of a crack British battalion also arrived Wednesday under a defense pact with Kuwait; British and French warships joined the fast-growing American fleet of 12 ships in the Persian Gulf, and neighboring Arab states committed their forces to the buildup.

The air fleet of troop transports landing one after another, helicopters flying across Kuwait City and the unmistakable roar and rumble of tanks reassured the little oil-rich emirate that it was not alone. Some of the world's best soldiers were busy turning it into a fortress, virtually cocooning it with rings and layers of high-technology defenses.

Christopher, standing beneath the barrel of a fearsome howitzer among the troops in their camouflage fatigues, warned, "If (Saddam Hussein) plunges this region into war, he should have no doubt that it will bring down his army and he'll know the full fury of the finest fighting organization in the world."

What began over the weekend as an urgent response to the quite real threat of an Iraqi armored attack had become what one Western diplomat in Kuwait City called "a quite awesome projection of power . . . that should tell Saddam that he can never win."

According to U.S. officers, 252 American and allied aircraft were in the region Wednesday, with 467 more American planes in various stages of deployment.

The amphibious assault ship Tripoli and its amphibious battle group, carrying 2,000 Marines, arrived off Kuwait on Tuesday. The aircraft carrier George Washington began patrolling the Red Sea on Monday; its escorts were carrying Tomahawk cruise missiles able to hit Iraq.

The French anti-submarine frigate Georges Leygues, armed with Exocet anti-ship missiles, Crotale antiaircraft missiles, cannons and torpedoes, has docked at Kuwait's port, and the British destroyer Cardiff has joined the Royal Navy frigate Cornwall in the Persian Gulf.

The Gulf Cooperation Council, made up of Kuwait's immediate Arab neighbors, committed units of its 17,000-man Peninsula Shield joint defense force to the defense of Kuwait, and Bahrain dispatched planes and ships to Kuwait.

"You can tell a person you're going to fight," said Spec. Donovan Johnson of Kosciusko, Miss., "but when you have someone here to do it, then it's quite a different story. Performance is what it's all about."

For U.S. troops, however, the mission began to resemble a training exercise taken to the limit--a quick, nearly-for-real test of the rapid deployment for which they had often practiced.

"When we got off the airplane just two days ago, this was all still for real," Seal said, "and I for one am not ready to say it's all over. . . . I can't see it all being over until Saddam is gone."

That sentiment was widespread among the troops, especially those who had fought in the 1991 Gulf War.

"I'm kind of sorry Saddam's pulling back," Sgt. Casper Thomas, 27, of Chicago said, "because I think we could go in there, do what we should have done four years ago and make sure we don't have to come back. I'm not talking about killing this guy, but taking apart his army, right down to the nuts and bolts of his tanks and trucks, so that it could never be put back together."

Troops from the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division had trained here recently with equipment that was stored at Camp Doha, 18 miles north of Kuwait City and 40 miles south of the Iraqi border, to permit such a quick airlift and deployment of troops.

"I have heard about pre-positioning (of equipment) for years, and I have used the concept glibly myself," Christopher said, "but I now see how effective it makes the U.S. Armed Forces."

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