WASHINGTON – The head of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan said Tuesday he discussed training exercises with allies in the war on terrorism — not possible actions against Iraq — during a meeting with Kuwaiti leaders.
"The short answer is we had no discussions about basing, staging or, in fact, any discussions about any operations in Iraq," Gen. Tommy Franks told reporters at the end of a brief visit to Kuwait, a key Washington ally in the Gulf region.
Franks, head of the U.S. military's Central Command, said President Bush was almost certain to discuss whatever course he takes on Iraq with the region's leaders.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said earlier this month Washington might have to act alone to bring about a "regime change" in Iraq. Bush, he said, was considering "the most serious set of options one might imagine" for dealing with President Saddam Hussein.
Washington wants Iraq to allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors whose task is to ensure the country's mass destruction weapons and capabilities are destroyed. Iraq has not allowed the inspectors to return to the country since they left in 1998.
U.S. and British aircraft also patrol southern and northern no-fly zones set up after the 1991 Gulf war to prevent Iraqi forces from attacking Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south. They also are meant to provide early warning of any Iraqi movements toward Kuwait.
"Until we receive different instructions, I think the military side of the equation will continue to fly operations Southern and Northern Watch and [we] will continue to be doing what we have been doing since the Gulf War," Franks said, referring to the no-fly zones.
After the U.S.-led 1991 Gulf War liberated Kuwait from a seven-month Iraqi occupation, the small oil-rich state signed a 10-year defense agreement with Washington. The agreement, renewed last year, called for stationing forces and equipment in Kuwait, weapons purchases and continued war games.
German and Czech troops specialized in combating chemical, biological and nuclear warfare were expected to start exercises with U.S. and Kuwaiti forces here soon.
Little information has been released about the games. Franks said "they really were not associated with any sort of future activity" against Iraq.
He said they were an opportunity for allies in the war on terrorism to train together in Kuwait. The support Kuwait has offered to U.S. troops stationed here has been "incredible," he said.
About 5,000 American military personnel are in Kuwait, most for military exercises. U.S. jets fly from Kuwaiti air bases to patrol the southern no-fly zone over Iraq.