Gulf forces begin war drills amid unrest

Bahraini protesters flash victory-signs during an anti-government rally on 9 February 2013 in the village of Al Muqsha, west of the Bahraini capital Manama. (Photo: AFP - Mohammed al-Shaikh)

Published Sunday, February 10, 2013

Joint Gulf forces began a 17-day exercise in Kuwait on Sunday amid escalating tensions across the region, as officials claimed the war games were not related to unrest.

"The exercise was pre-scheduled and agreed for years. It is unrelated to any regional or political events," the head of Kuwaiti army public relations, Brigadier Abdulaziz al-Rayes, was cited as saying by the KUNA news agency.

The Peninsula Shield force was formed by the six GCC member states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – in 1982 as a 5,000-strong force but has since expanded to more than 30,000 troops.

The main part of the exercise will take place in the Kuwaiti desert, but naval and air forces will also feature in the maneuvers slated to end on February 26, coinciding with Kuwait's national day celebrations.

Rayes did not give details of troop numbers taking part in the exercise, but did say that it would include units from Kuwait's national guard and the interior ministry.

Kuwait marks its 51st independence from Britain on February 25 and the 22nd anniversary of liberation from seven months of Iraqi occupation on February 26 in which units from the Peninsula Shield took part.

Two years ago, Peninsula Shield troops were sent to Bahrain where they helped crush a popular uprising against the island’s tyrannical monarch. More than 80 people were killed by security forces since the uprising erupted in February 2011.

Kuwait has also witnessed street protests in the past several months by opposition groups calling for the dissolution of the pro-government parliament elected on December 1 after the emir amended a controversial electoral law. A number of activists have been jailed over the past few months in Kuwait for criticizing the emir.

Omani authorities have arrested and jailed dozens of activists who have spoken out against the government. Local media reported Sunday that 17 jailed cyber activists have launched a hunger strike to protest delays in their judicial proceedings.

Saudi Arabia has also clamped down drown on anti-government protesters who have been taking to the streets en masse in the eastern Qatif district calling for the overthrow of the ruling family. Authorities have shot dead a number of unarmed demonstrators over the past couple of years.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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