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Kuwaitis send gifts to U.S. troops

CNN's Ryan Chilcote

American soldiers discuss the strategy of their ongoing Operation Desert Spring in the Kuwaiti desert.
American soldiers discuss the strategy of their ongoing Operation Desert Spring in the Kuwaiti desert.

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KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait (CNN) -- U.S. troops stationed overseas are used to getting presents at Christmas but many of those currently in Kuwait are receiving gifts not from home but from Kuwaitis.

Operation Christmas is a Kuwait-based effort to give to the troops, who are confined to bases after the recent shooting of two U.S. soldiers.

This year, more than 100,000 gifts -- with everything from televisions to plane tickets, and radios to foot powder -- will be handed out, with 90 percent of them coming from Kuwaiti companies and individuals.

One local said he felt it was his duty to ensure the troops had a good Christmas. "They're here protecting the interests of the world and protecting Kuwait so we try give as much as we can hoping to compensate but this is the least we could do in times like these," Kalid Almutawa told CNN.

According to the Pentagon, about 10,000 U.S. troops are in Kuwait conducting regularly scheduled military exercises dubbed Operation Desert Spring.

The United States has been threatening military action against nearby Iraq if it fails to abide by post-Persian Gulf War resolutions calling on Baghdad to destroy any weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has repeatedly denied possessing such weapons.

Another Kuwaiti, Zaid Al Farris, agreed, adding: "I gave them some rings, some broaches, earrings from my shop to feel that we are with you, that we love you, that you came far away from home and that we are with you."

A soldier from 3rd Infantry division keeps guard during the exercise.
A soldier from 3rd Infantry division keeps guard during the exercise.

Behind Operation Christmas are Americans Sheila and Lionel Gittens. Ever since their 27-year son died in 1994, the small business owners have been opening their doors to Kuwaitis who want to give, and the troops who are normally restricted to their bases.

Most Kuwaitis give money, very few wrap anything. So, the military sends in the troops to help out -- Mrs. Gittens wants to ensure everything is done in the spirit of the holidays.

The work is fun, but it can be exhausting. "To do this in their home, and open this up to the soldiers. You can't ask for them to do anything more than that," she said.

The Kuwaitis' participation is especially welcome.

"That actually means a lot, especially during the current situation over here and the tensions. It lets us know that, you know, they do appreciate us being over here. "

Of course, not all of the troops' wishes will come true.

"I want so much that I don't really know what I want," said one. "The Kuwaitis won't give me this but I'd like to get a Ford Expedition when I get back to the States."

But for now, they will have to be content with a little of the spirit that only the holidays can provide.



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