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US Confirms Plans to Commercially Ship Tanks to Gulf - 2002-09-04

U.S. defense officials have confirmed plans to use commercial shipping to transport another cargo of tanks and other military equipment to the Gulf region later this month. The move comes as the Bush administration weighs a possible preemptive attack on Iraq.

Pentagon sources say a shipment of about 70 tanks and other tracked vehicles plus additional military cargo will be sent to Kuwait from the United States aboard a commercial cargo vessel later this month.

Military sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, downplayed the significance of the move, describing it as routine.

In addition, a spokeswoman for the Military Sealift Command told VOA it was cheaper to use a commercial vessel for what she characterized as a relatively small shipment than to send one of the military's own large cargo ships.

Nevertheless, it is the third such commercial charter shipment in recent weeks. Defense sources say the two earlier charters involved the transportation of military equipment to Jordan for what officials said was a military exercise.

Both Jordan and Kuwait border Iraq and are considered key staging countries in the event of a possible U.S. military effort to oust Saddam Hussein and curtail Iraq's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

News of the latest American military charter shipment to the Gulf region follows a recent increase in U.S. air activity around Iraq's borders.

In August alone, there were eight U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against Iraqi air defense sites in the southern no-fly zone - as many as in the two previous months. Military officials said the strikes were in response to hostile Iraqi activities but dismissed suggestions coalition aircraft were somehow stepping up their air activities as the prelude to a possible broader U.S. military action against Saddam Hussein.

Senior U.S. officials have been meeting members of Congress and conferring with foreign leaders about possible moves against Iraq.

But so far they say no decisions have been made.