Thousands of American and Kuwaiti troops are preparing for a large-scale joint military exercise that officials say is routine and has nothing to do with a possible U.S.-led attack against Iraq. This exercise is being conducted in near secrecy.
Aside from its name, "Operation Eager Mace," little is known about the exercise. The government of Kuwait has barred reporters from covering it and has not publicly announced it is taking place.
Kuwait has stated its opposition to a possible U.S.-led military strike against Iraq and, like many other Arab states, does not want to anger its public by being seen as cooperating with the United States.
U.S. officials have also said very little about the maneuvers, the first training exercise involving U.S. and Kuwaiti troops in more than a year. But they have confirmed that two U.S. warships, the USS Denver and the USS Mount Vernon arrived Monday in Kuwait.
The exercise is scheduled to begin sometime in the next six days and last into October. It will use amphibious, ground, air, and naval forces.
Though Kuwaiti and U.S. officials are saying little, analysts in the region are not so reserved.
Mohammed Kadry Sa'id is a former Egyptian army general who now heads the military unit of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He says any joint maneuvers involving Kuwait and the United States are conducted "for one reason and one reason only: to deal with Iraq."
"This exercise was done before, it was routine, but I think it was always tailored to deal with Iraq, defensive or offensive. But now maybe there [are] some additional touches on it and also to produce, in my view, some psychological effect," Mr. Sa'id said.
The former general says, given President Bush's stated goal of a regime change in Iraq, any military movement in the region that involves U.S. troops creates concern, "especially in Baghdad."
Kuwait, which was invaded and occupied by Iraq in 1990, could provide a staging area for troops to go into Iraq. About 9,000 U.S. military personnel are permanently stationed in Kuwait. The U.S. Air Force uses two Kuwaiti bases and the U.S. Army utilizes Camp Doha about 20 kilometers west of Kuwait City.