A chartered Boeing 747 carrying more than 300 American women and children from Kuwait is expected to arrive Sunday in Charleston, S.C., State Department officials said, marking the largest departure of U.S. citizens since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait five weeks ago.
State Department spokesman Mark Dillen said 165 passengers who landed in Amman, Jordan, from Kuwait yesterday would be joined by about the same number of Americans today. The two groups then would fly on the 747, a military charter, to Charleston Air Force Base.
Despite the welcome news, U.S. officials declined to say the flights from Kuwait were the start of a regular airlift from Kuwait or Baghdad.
"We'll take them on a day-to-day basis," Dillen said, adding that U.S. men are not being allowed to leave and that Iraqi roundups of Americans living near the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait were continuing. Iraqis are holding about 90 Americans in unknown locations, he said.
In addition, U.S. officials have received no further information from Iraq about an American shot and wounded by Iraqi soldiers "in what the Iraqi government is calling an accident," Dillen said.
"The Iraqi government promised, but has not yet allowed, consular access in spite of repeated requests for such access." Dillen said there have been no additional reports of Iraqi soldiers shooting Americans.
Although the State Department would not identify the wounded man, his mother told Knight-Ridder that he was Miles Hoffman, 33, a financial analyst from Columbus, Ga., who had gone to work for the Kuwait government in 1987.
U.S. officials said the second U.S.-chartered Iraqi Airways 707 was expected to arrive in Amman this morning with about 165 or 170 more Americans out of Kuwait. Baghdad has refused entry to aircraft from the United States or other countries honoring the U.N. trade embargo against Iraq, so the United States was forced to charter an Iraqi plane.
Dillen said the route of the second charter would be the same as the first, which had to fly from Baghdad to Kuwait City and back to Baghdad for processing because Iraq, claiming that Kuwait is part of Iraq, refuses to deal with the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City.
Iraq did agree, however, to allow U.S. Embassy personnel in Baghdad to assist in planeside processing of the Americans on the first flight. Dillen said the procedure had been orderly.
Dillen said the Charleston base was selected as the best arrival site in part because the Department of ealth and Human Services used the base "to accommodate this kind of arrival."
The base had been the point of arrival for large numbers of Americans who recently fled violence in Liberia, he said, and HHS would be able to set up another large processing operation to provide those expected Sunday with money or connecting travel arrangements and other assistance.
The State Department task force on Kuwait "has kept the family members notified every step of the way," an official said, and relatives of those expected to arrive in Charleston were being notified yesterday.
Dillen refused to provide details on how the beleaguered U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City was coordinating the departure or how it was decided who would go on which flight.
The U.S. government has been broadcasting messages through the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corp. telling Americans about the flights and advising them to stay in touch with the embassy.