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U.S. takes troops off alert for gulf duty

More than 100,000 U.S. troops are being taken off alert for possible movement to the Persian Gulf region now that Iraq's threat to Kuwait has abated, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Instead, 13,000 soldiers _ including 5,000 already on ground in the area _ and 270 aircraft will be moved into the region to conduct exercises for an undetermined period. At one time, the Pentagon had envisioned sending some 150,000 troops in the event a ground war against Iraq broke out.

"The vast preponderance of forces are being taken off alert and will not deploy," said Lt. Gen. Howell Estes, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Estes said the threat Iraq once posed to Kuwait when it massed nearly 75,000 troops on its southern border is receding.

"The threat . . . is not totally eliminated, but changes in its posture allow us to make some changes in our forces," he said.

The Iraqis have been informed they are "not to bring forces below the 32nd parallel, or the United States will take appropriate action, which is undefined," a senior Pentagon official said.

The warning follows a resolution approved by the U.N. Security Council on Saturday that told Iraq to pull back elite troops.

A U.S. defense official said the Iraqi forces have the capability of returning to the Kuwait border again and again.