CENTCOM exercise aims to strengthen military ties with Kuwait

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As some 700 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit wrapped up a month of training in Kuwait and returned to ship Sunday, Kuwaiti and U.S. officials were finalizing a large-scale U.S. Central Command exercise later this month in the Persian Gulf state.

The Marines embarked on the amphibious transport dock USS New York conducted weapons training and live-fire exercises. The exercise scheduled later this month — called Eagle Resolve — will involve all countries participating in Inherent Resolve, the mission against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. This is the first time Kuwait will host an exercise of this magnitude, U.S. officials said — a major advance in its relationship with the United States.

“We are trying to expand and deepen the ties that we have with Kuwait on the military side, and one of the best ways to do that is through exercises,” Douglas Silliman, the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait, said in an interview with Stars and Stripes aboard the New York.

The New York’s presence off the coast “is emblematic of the expanding relationship with Kuwait in terms of training and exercises,” said Silliman, who toured the ship Sunday with the Kuwaiti armed forces’ Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Mohammad Khalid Al-Khodhr. It’s the first time senior Kuwaiti military officials have visited a U.S. amphibious warship.

“United States forces is a great force and they have lots of experience ... so we want to look at this experience and share this experience with them,” Al-Khodhr said through an interpreter. “And we are looking forward to the exercises so that we can gain experience from the United States forces.”

The New York is part of the Iwo Jima amphibious ready group, which also includes the USS Fort McHenry. The group is in the midst of an eight-month deployment to the region. For the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Marines embarked aboard those ships, Kuwait is a critical location with good sites for conducting live-fire training exercises, officials say. It also positions them in an area where they may be called upon for crisis response.

For Eagle Resolve, officials plan to bring the USS Fort McHenry to Kuwait so the Marines embarked on that ship can conduct some training ashore, this time as part of a multilateral exercise.

While Kuwait has been a close ally since the United States helped liberate the country from Iraq in 1991, U.S. officials are seeking to deepen military ties to increase interoperability with the Arab country.

Kuwait hosts nearly 10,000 American personnel and is a major U.S. military logistics hub. It’s where the U.S. is managing the drawdown from Afghanistan, and it’s the headquarters of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.

Both Kuwaiti and U.S. officials played down any direct connection between bigger joint exercises and the threat posed by Islamic State militants wreaking havoc in neighboring Iraq. Officials said that forward-deployed U.S. troops in Kuwait have always conducted exercises with the Kuwaiti military at lower unit levels, particularly special operations forces, and pointed out that plans for Eagle Resolve started two years ago.

Nonetheless, Al-Khodhr said his country is aware of the threat in the region.

“We in Kuwait want to be ready for any emergency that may come up in the future.”

Though Kuwait has not played a role in the air campaign against Islamic militants, U.S. officials credit it with providing humanitarian aid to refugees in Iraq and Syria and for being a key partner in the information war against Islamic militants.

“Their participation in the counter-ISIL fight is not only military, but it is much broader than that. It includes the things that will eventually really win the war, like helping to convince young men and women that the ideology of Daesh is a dead end, “ Silliman said, using alternative names for the Islamic State.

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