The United States will station Americans in Oman, Kenya and Somalia as part of its military buildup in the Indian Ocean region, Robert W. Komer, undersecretary of defense, confirmed yesterday.
But he sought to assure members of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that the U.S. profile would be kept low in those politically sensitive countries. He said there would be "from 15 to 100" Americans in each place to act as caretakers for expanded military facilities.
Some of the caretakers will be military specialists, while others will be civilians employed by defense contractors.
Their job will be to keep ports and airfields in Oman, Kenya and Somalia ready for use by the U.S. military, including the Rapid Deployment Force President Carter is organizing.
There was some display yesterday of congressional uneasiness of committing American resources to those three countries to protect Persian Gulf oil.
"There would be enormous public resistance to the United States getting involved all by itself to meet a Soviet threat" in the Persian Gulf, warned Rep. Paul Findley (R-Ill.).
It would be a serious error, Findley continued, "for the United States to fail to obtain allied support from the first moment."
"We're actively working that problem," Komer replied.
Findley criticized the administration for choosing Oman and Somalia for storing military equipment over such other countries as Egypt and Turkey.
The administration has chosen "the weak route," Findley said. In time of crisis, when the United States wants to use bases in Oman and Somalia, "Our position might be very tenuous," he said.
Komer replied that Egypt is about 1,000 miles farther from the Persian Gulf than Somalia and that "the Turks are absolutely adamant about not getting involved in Middle East contingencies."
Also, Komer continued, the administration plans to store most of its heavy equipment and ammunition for the Rapid Development Force on cargo ships to be stationed in the Indian Ocean area.
Rep. Larry Winn Jr. (R-Kan.) joined Findley in doubting whether the 82nd Airborne Division would have the armor needed to take on Soviet divisions or those of other countries equipped with Soviet armor in any Persian Gulf conflict.
Komer conceded the fast but light 82nd would have a problem in such a fight but said Marines and other forces would back up the division. Even so, Komer said, "I'm not terribly sanguine about our present capability" for Persian Gulf conflicts. "By 1985 or 1986 we will have a very respectable capability in the area."
Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard Lawson, a planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon looked at Somalia as a B52 base. If that were ever done, Lawson said, "we'd make sure we had air cover" to protect the bombers in Somalia.
Komer said the administration will shortly ask for an undisclosed amount of money to improve these military facilities for use by U.S. forces.
Oman -- Seeb, Thumrait and Masirah airfields and ports in Mutrah and Salalah (Mina Quaboos and Mina Raysut).
Kenya -- Mombasa, Embakasi and Nanyuki airfields and ports.
Somalia -- Berbera and Mogadishu airfields and ports.