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Pentagon Studies Dramatic Expansion of Aid to Iraqi Opposition - 2002-09-25

The Bush administration is weighing a possible dramatic expansion of its military assistance program for Iraqi opposition groups.

A Pentagon spokesman says discussions are under way within the administration about an expansion of military training for members of the Iraqi opposition.

The spokesman tells VOA no decisions have been made about seeking congressional approval for such a move. But he concedes an expansion could see not only more Iraqis trained, but also the training itself shifted from non-lethal to actual combat courses.

Legislation known as the Iraqi Liberation Act that was approved in 1998 provides $97 million for opponents of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Of that amount, the Pentagon says just $5 million has been allocated and of that, just a little less than $1 million has been spent.

That money has gone mainly to training some 140 Iraqi opposition members in a variety of military support fields, including medical care, supply management and communications.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times newspaper Wednesday, the Bush administration now wants to provide actual military training to as many as 10,000 members of the Iraqi opposition.

The newspaper quotes administration and Iraqi opposition sources as saying the goal will be to create forces that could assist the U.S. military in a possible attack on Iraq.

The consideration of expanding training for opponents of Saddam Hussein comes as the Pentagon appears to have accelerated its preparations for possible operations aimed at toppling the regime in Baghdad.

In the latest developments on that front, U.S.-led coalition aircraft struck Iraqi air defense facilities at two locations southeast of Baghdad. Military officials say the strikes were in response to hostile Iraqi acts aimed at coalition planes patrolling the southern no-fly zone established after the 1991 Gulf war.

In Kuwait, meanwhile, U.S. Marines went ashore Wednesday for joint military exercises with Kuwaiti troops. A U.S. military spokesman calls the exercises routine and says they are not connected with a possible U.S.-led strike on Iraq.