San Diego Union-Tribune

November 9, 2001

3 S.D.-based ships sent from war zone to guard trade talks

WTO is holding meeting in Qatar


WASHINGTON -- Three San Diego-based amphibious ships with the 2,100 Marines from Camp Pendleton have been pulled out of the Arabian Sea to provide security for the World Trade Organization meeting under way in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, according to Pentagon sources.

Marine Corps commandant Gen. James L. Jones said the Peleliu amphibious group was temporarily reassigned from military operations against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia, but he would not comment on the nature of the new mission.

Pentagon officials confirmed the new assignment was the WTO meeting. WTO organizers have expressed concern about holding their meeting in the region during a war involving a Muslim nation. Those sensitivities could have been increased earlier this week when a gunman fired on guards at a Qatar air base being used by American aircraft. Fire was returned and the gunman was killed.

Jones said the Peleliu group and the attached 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit was sent on a "politically sensitive mission," not a military assignment. The amphibious force, he said, "probably then will return to its (war) mission. It shouldn't be long."

Sailing with the Peleliu are the Dubuque and Comstock.

Jones recently returned from visiting the Marines in the region and said they "are doing everything they've been asked to do and doing it well."

"The naval platforms, in general, have proven themselves invaluable in being able to prosecute the tactical aviation part of the campaign," he said.

Navy and Marine fighters have been flying strike missions into Afghanistan from two aircraft carriers. Marine AV-8B Harrier jump jets, flying from the Peleliu, joined that fight recently. And two Marine helicopters from the Peleliu came under fire in attempting to recover a damaged Army chopper in Pakistan.

Jones said the Marines also have been conducting "security missions," which could validate reports that some Marines have been ashore in Pakistan protecting air bases being used by U.S. aircraft.

In a breakfast session with reporters, the commandant said he believed that U.S. ground troops would be required to finish the war against terrorism, which he called an "up close and personal type of war."

"It's clear to me that this type of war is going to reintroduce the idea that land forces still are a significant part of the coin of the realm in terms of prosecuting military operations," he said.

Jones said he and the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, have been warning Pentagon officials "to be careful that you don't fall in love with the long-distance, precision strike."