The Christian Science Monitor reports: Even as the Pentagon draws down US troops in Afghanistan, it plans to base a sizable contingent of forces in nearby Kuwait – with the clear purpose of sending a signal to Iran.
The signal – that the United States plan to maintain a credible force in the region – comes at a vital time for the US military, says Michael Singh, a former senior adviser for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council.
“The Middle East is very turbulent right now – it’s hard to even imagine all of the different types of conflicts that will challenge our interests,” adds Mr. Singh.
A Senate Foreign Relations Committee report released Tuesday stresses the “myriad” political and security challenges in the region, “from the Iranian nuclear program to the threat of terrorism.”
But at the top of the list is the ongoing friction with Iran, analysts tend to agree.
“Clearly the day where we had massive US troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming to a close,” Singh says. When coupled with what Singh describes as a US response to the Arab Spring that “has in many ways been aloof,” he adds, “I think there’s a perception in the region that the US is pulling back.”
Singh says it’s a perception that Iran is seeking to disseminate for its own purposes – “that America is leaving the region because they have driven US forces out.” And, he adds, it’s in the Pentagon’s best interests “to show this narrative is false.”
At the same time, “there are still lingering questions over our military posture in the region” in the wake of looming defense budget cuts and the Pentagon’s strategic pivot toward Asia and the Pacific, notes Singh, now managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee report estimated that the number of US forces in Kuwait is likely to be some 13,500 following the US drawdown in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that he ultimately envisions some 40,000 US troops stationed in the Middle East region.