WASHINGTON — DEFENSE Secretary Dick Cheney said Saturday that the force of 2,400 soldiers being sent to the Persian Gulf likely will remain there at least two months.
The training exercise will show Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein the United States resolve "to return rapidly to the region in the event of a crisis," Mr. Cheney said on CNN's "Newsmaker Saturday."
The defense secretary said that "I just categorically reject" the notion that the action has any connection to shoring up President Bush's flagging political fortunes.
Democratic challenger Bill Clinton is leading comfortably in presidential polls.
Cheney said that while there is no specific timetable for how long the troops will remain in the Gulf region, "they'll probably be there for a couple of months, long enough to be able to get some value out of the exercise."
The decision was made to dispatch the troops now, rather than in September as originally planned, because Saddam refused to allow United Nations inspectors access to Iraq's Agriculture Ministry.
Records of a suspected covert weapons program were thought to be stored there.
"He's the one who escalated things. It certainly wasn't a choice we made," Cheney said.
"If Saddam Hussein complies with those UN resolutions, there won't be any talk about Iraq," he added.
"It's not something we generated. It's something that has been done totally independent of any campaign consideration. And to suggest otherwise really would be - I think is inappropriate."
Beginning this week, soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Campbell, Ky., will move to Kuwait for a "field training exercise" with their Kuwaiti counterparts, the Pentagon said Friday.