Sunday, Dec 22, 2002
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The operations got under way as the threat of war increased with declarations by U.N. arms inspectors that Iraq failed to fully account for its banned weapons, and the U.S. struggled for diplomatic support to declare the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein in ``material breach'' of U.N. resolutions.
News of the latest diplomatic confrontations sharpened the expectations among soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, as they rumbled forward in tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles on Saturday for two days of live-fire manoeuvres in the windblown sands a few km from the Iraqi border.
``This is the biggest manoeuvre exercise since the Gulf War,'' Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the 3rd Division, told The Associated Press. ``It really adds focus to our soldiers. They're already one of the best trained divisions in the army, probably in the world.'' He didn't answer directly when asked whether the likelihood had increased that his men would put into practice the lethal skills they are refining in the Kuwaiti desert.
``We have to wait for the President to make that decision,'' he said. ``We'd be out here training anyway.'' The two-day war games under day and night conditions are one of a series of exercises carried out in the Kuwaiti desert in recent weeks, but these are by far the most intricate.
While American officials have said the U.S. President, George W. Bush, has not yet decided to launch a war, it appears ever more likely he'll do so soon. On Friday, an administration official said on condition of anonymity that Mr. Bush had authorised a doubling of the 50,000 U.S. troops now in the Gulf.
In Washington, officials said the U.S. would provide the U.N. with strategic and specific information which, Washington says, could help the inspectors detect Iraqi chemical and biological stockpiles.
The latest intelligence could be given to the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) soon, they said. The U.S. had argued till now that it cannot share the data fearing that its ``sources and methods'' could be leaked to Iraqis.
Monarchies hold summit
Meanwhile in Doha, the annual summit of the six Gulf Arab monarchies opened today to the sound of war drums over neighbour Iraq and the emir of host country Qatar calling for a rapid completion of U.N. arms inspections.
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani urged inspectors to ``carry out their mission with complete objectivity and neutrality'' and the ``international community to do everything so that this mission is completed as quickly as possible.''
AP, PTI, AFP
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