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Standing guard near the Iraqi border, a group of Kuwaiti soldiers are part of Peninsula Shield, a coalition of six Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region that is protecting Kuwait.

Standing guard near the Iraqi border, a group of Kuwaiti soldiers are part of Peninsula Shield, a coalition of six Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region that is protecting Kuwait. (David Josar, S&S)

Standing guard near the Iraqi border, a group of Kuwaiti soldiers are part of Peninsula Shield, a coalition of six Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region that is protecting Kuwait.

Standing guard near the Iraqi border, a group of Kuwaiti soldiers are part of Peninsula Shield, a coalition of six Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region that is protecting Kuwait. (David Josar, S&S)

Troops from Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia stand guard in the desert.

Troops from Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia stand guard in the desert. (David Josar, S&S)

IN THE KUWAIT DESERT — No Arab nations have provided troops in the battle to disarm Iraq, but six countries have deployed forces near the Kuwait-Iraq border to defend against any Iraq counterattacks.

“We are ready if we need to be,” said the Arab forces commander, Kuwaiti Maj. Gen. Oman Babier.

Babier oversees about 10,000 troops who come from all six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Counterattacks over the past week have included several Scud missiles launched into northern Kuwait. However the Persian Gulf state force — known as Peninsula Shield — played no part in shooting down the Scuds, a task left to the batteries of U.S. Patriot missiles in the country.

But the force’s presence shows the importance the Gulf states place on maintaining their security ties to one another — and to the United States and Britain — as Washington wages war with Iraq.

The GCC, mostly a political and economic organization, set up its Peninsula Shield force in the wake of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The current crisis is its first wartime deployment.

Col. Yusuf al-Mulla, the spokesman of the Kuwaiti Defense Ministry, said the Peninsula Shield force is reinforcing Kuwaiti military units guarding the border with Iraq — an area ordinarily off-limits to journalists.

“They are in the north side of Kuwait. They have an area of responsibility side by side with the Kuwait armed forces. [They have] a defensive position, like the Kuwaiti forces. They have air defense systems for defending themselves,” al-Mulla said

The force is a significant reinforcement for Kuwait because the emirates’ own military has only some 20,000 soldiers. By contrast, combined U.S. and British forces in the region total about 300,000, while Iraq’s army numbers several hundred thousand.

The effect of Peninsula Shield is hard to gauge.

Babier described a typical day for his troops as “moving left to right and front to back.”

He said they would need orders from the Kuwaiti minister of defense before launching a counterattack.

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