Support our mission

KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait — Tensions about a looming war in the Gulf have led to nearly simultaneous announcements this week of two prominent American schools closing for the spring, embassy personnel leaving the country and heavily-armed Kuwaiti national police lining the streets.

As the United States and Iraq continue their dispute over weapons inspections, thousands of U.S. troops are marshalling in Kuwait for a possible invasion. Many American citizens are deciding to head home.

On Monday, both the American School in Kuwait and the American International School announced they would suspend operations from Feb. 10 through March 22.

Although part of that time coincides with an annual vacation, school officials say the extended closure is a reflection of the nervous mood.

“This decision has not been made lightly and is directly related to growing security concerns in Kuwait, the level of uncertainly regarding military actions against Iraq and possible consequences of such action,” said Andy Page-Smith, superintendent of the American School in Kuwait.

The consequences referred to include reprisal attacks against Americans in Kuwait. Two weeks ago, suspected militants ambushed two civilian defense contractors leaving the U.S. military’s hub Camp Doha, killing one and seriously wounding the other.

There are approximately 8,000 American citizens living in Kuwait, embassy officials say.

The American School in Kuwait, which is affiliated with the State Department’s overseas school program, has 1,200 students, including several hundred Americans. The American International School has 2,500 students, including some 300 Americans.

Both schools say the closings represent their best guess as to when a war would happen; both plan on reopening March 22 to finish the school year.

But many families said they were sending their students back to the United States for the remainder of the year.

“We’re kind of upset about it, because our son graduates this year, and we have to get him ready for college,” said Marty Willet, general manager of a real estate firm catering to westerners in Kuwait.

Both of his children go the American School in Kuwait; his son is a senior and his daughter is in the eighth grade.

“The school gave the choice to the teachers on whether to stay, and most of them decided to leave,” Willet said. “They did not feel safe here.”

Willet, whose family has lived in Kuwait for 10 years, said his wife will accompany their son and daughter back to New Orleans to finish out the school year. His daughter and his wife plan to return later this summer.

Most other American families at the school are planning something similar, he said.

Nevertheless, the State Department last week issued a strongly-worded warning urging American citizens to consider leaving Kuwait.

An official at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City said that nonessential personnel and family members of embassy workers are free to leave. There was no word on how many workers or families have gone.

Meanwhile, Kuwaiti national police have taken up positions on several key streets in the city. Camouflaged Humvees and armored personnel carriers, topped with .50-caliber machine guns, sit in front of barricaded command posts.

Police have stepped up roadblocks and security checks, and citizens have been asked to carry their civil identification cards or passports at all times.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior said that security measures will be upped again on Feb. 15, including the deployment of National Guard troops and equipment in the city.


stars and stripes videos

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up