The administration yesterday dispatched two Airborne Warning and Control System planes (AWACS) to Egypt in a show of support for President Hosni Mubarak and as a warning to Libya against military action in the area.
Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. said the Air Force surveillance planes, which will be manned with U.S. crews and under U.S. control, are to be "a temporary presence" in connection with Operation Bright Star. That is a large-scale, month-long military exercise to begin early next month involving U.S. troops and those of friendly nations in the Middle East.
Haig described the U.S. movements as a demonstration of American ability "under emergency conditions" to move into the region with the full range of security activities.
Under questioning by reporters, Haig said there currently is no actual emergency but added, "It goes without saying there has been a step-up of Libyan activity which can be viewed very clearly as a threat to the Sudan."
Dispatch of the AWACS planes to Egypt, according to State Department officials, was discussed between Haig and Mubarak in Cairo last weekend.
Washington Post Staff Writer George C. Wilson, accompanying Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger to Paris yesterday, reported that the Egypt-bound AWACS is a quick-fix for watching the Libyan border.
Weinberger told reporters aboard his plane that he personally regards Libyan air attacks on Sudan as the major threat in the area, Wilson reported. Weinberger added that the administration plans to rebuild Sudan's air defenses from the ground up, indicating that a probable early step will be to provide ground radar facilities.
Asked if Americans will be sent into Sudan to help set up and maintain air defense radar, Weinberger did not rule out such a move.
In addition to building an air defense system for Sudan, Weinberger said, the administration hopes to deliver M60 tanks, some before the end of this year, to assist the Sudanese in repelling any military thrusts from Libya.
Weinberger said he intends to discuss the defense of Sudan with French President Francois Mitterrand and Defense Minister Charles Hernu. "That's an area in which France has a great interest, and so do we," he said.
According to a State Department announcement yesterday, delivery of air defense equipment and armor for Sudan will be "significantly accelerated to enable Sudan to meet the Libyan threat." Spokesman Dean Fischer said consideration also is being given to increasing the existing budget request for $100 million in military assistance to Sudan.
Libyan aircraft have been bombing Sudanese villages near the Chad-Sudan border since early September, according to reports reaching Washington. The bombing, reportedly involving relatively antiquated propeller-driven planes of Italian make rather than Libya's Mig jets, has been described as reprisals against Sudanese-based forces battling Libyan-backed forces inside Chad.
Washington sources said a Pentagon team is being dispatched to Sudan to discuss the nature and degree of Sudanese participation in the Bright Star maneuvers.
Some reports said Sudanese troops might support American and Egyptian movements in the Western desert of Egypt near the Egyptian-Libyan border. Others suggested that Egyptian troops might be airlifted to Sudan as part of the operation.
The Libyan news agency JANA yesterday described Bright Star as "terrorist military maneuvers" and charged it has been modified to become "an exercise for the invasion of Libya."
Haig said the military exercise "is being modified somewhat by recent events." He called Bright Star "a bona fide of American concern about stability and peace and non-interventionism in the area, and friendship and support that those nations in the area that have maintained friendly ties with the United States can expect."
In addition to Egypt and Libya, Oman and Somalia are expected to be involved.