Kuwaiti armed forces launch largest exercises since Gulf War
KUWAIT CITY (AFP) Mar 08, 2004
Armed forces of the Gulf Arab state of Kuwait kicked off Monday their largest manoeuvres since the 1991 Gulf War when the oil-rich emirate was liberated from Iraqi occupation, a defense official said.

About 15,000 troops from the army, navy and the air force are taking part in the live-fire exercises that will last for three days, head of the defense ministry Moral Guidance Department Brigadier Ahmad al-Rahmani told AFP.

"Almost all armed forces units, all support units, the navy and the air force will take part. They will use all types of weapons," including those acquired from the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China, Rahmani said.

Kuwait launched a multi-billion rearmament drive soon after its liberation to rebuild its tiny military. It has already spent most of a 12-billion-dollar supplementary defense budget on buying advanced weapons over the past 12 years.

Arms deals included purchases of US Apache helicopters, Patriot missiles, Paladin howitzers, Abrams tanks in addition to Bradley armoured vehicles, hundreds of Desert Warriors from Britain, gunboats from France, PLZ-45 howitzers from China and rocket launchers from Russia.

The main purpose of the major exercises, code-named Bairaq I, is to test the fighting capability of the rehabilitated army, especially its ability to defend the emirate against enemies.

Defense Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah told the state-run KUNA news agency the manoeuvres were not related to the events taking place in Iraq and the fear that the northern neighbour may plunge into civil war.

"The exercises have nothing to do with events in Iraq. It is the culmination of 13 years of rebuilding and training of experienced personnel," Sheikh Jaber said.

The large-scale drills indicate that "our army has been rehabilitated from the damages of the (Iraqi) invasion and occupation and is prepared more than any time before to safeguard the independence of our nation," he said.

Kuwaiti forces have conducted 67 exercises with Gulf troops and 122 manoeuvres with US, British and French forces since 1991.

Kuwait was used as a launchpad for last year's US-led invasion of Iraq which ousted the regime of Saddam Hussein who ordered Iraqi troops to occupy the emirate in August 1990.

It has signed strategic long-term defense pacts with the United States, Britain and France in addition to defense agreements with the remaining two permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia and China.

Some 25,000 US troops are today stationed in military bases in Kuwait which Washington uses as a transit point for the movement of forces into and out of Iraq.