The general in charge of the U.S. Central Command has recommended suspension of combat pay for sailors in the Persian Gulf, Pentagon sources say.
The recommendation, under review by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the strongest indication yet that American defense officials believe the truce between Iran and Iraq may hold.The "imminent danger" bonuses, previously known as hostile fire or combat pay, are worth $110 a month and have been paid to servicemen working inside the Persian Gulf since August 1987.
Precise figures were not available last week, but Navy officials estimated 4,000 servicemen were receiving the payments. At that rate, the Pentagon would save $440,000 a month by dropping them.
The defense sources insisted, however, that the recommendation had nothing to do with budget concerns.
According to the officials, who declined to be identified by name, the recommendation was forwarded to Adm. William Crowe, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "within the last month or so.
It came from Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who assumed command of the U.S. Central Command last November and "believes the threat has now receded to the point" where it is difficult to justify the payments, said one source.
"And the fact that we've gone to a different regime - one of monitoring ship traffic instead of actually escorting tankers directly - changes things, too," the source added.
Another source said the staff that serves the nation's highest council of military officers "is hard at work reviewing the recommendation and its ramifications."
"A final position should be presented to (Crowe) within the next month, but there doesn't appear to be any reason to maintain the payments," the source said.
The Central Command is the organization responsible for American military operations in the Middle East and Indian Ocean region. As such, it is the parent command for the Joint Task Force Middle East, the unit responsible for guaranteeing the safety of merchant ships flying the U.S. flag in the Persian Gulf.
The administration of former President Reagan agreed in the spring of 1987 to extend American military protection to 11 Kuwaiti tankers after they switched to U.S. registry. Kuwait, a friend of the United States and a key ally of Iraq, had found that its ships had become special targets for Iranian forces.
In August 1987, one month after the first U.S.-escorted Kuwaiti tanker ran into an underwater mine, the Pentagon announced it would start making the payments to the crews of warships operating inside the Persian gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and a small portion of the Gulf of Oman, as well as to personnel stationed in Kuwait and Bahrain.
Iran and Iraq agreed to a truce last August in their 8-year-old war and the cease-fire has held. As a result, the United States has slowly reduced the number of warships in the region and stopped conducting closely supervised convoy runs.