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>ADERA RANGE, Kuwait, Feb 20 (Reuters) - French and Kuwaiti troops and
special forces "liberated" a desert site and a strategic island just south of Iraq
 on Sunday at the end of their largest joint exercises since the 1991 Gulf War.

 France deployed some 1,500 troops, warplanes and warships in the 10-day
 manoeuvres, code-named "Pearl of West 2000," which were carried out by
 ground, air and naval units from both countries with live firing.

 "The aim of these manoeuvres was to strengthen the cooperation between both
 countries, and they are the largest joint military exercises with France," Kuwaiti
 Major-General Khaled al-Rodeini told reporters.

 Senior officials and visiting foreign military officers watched at this exercise
 range, usually used by American troops, as French Mirage 2000 and Kuwaiti
 U.S.-made F/A-18 warplanes flew over French and Kuwaiti fighting vehicles
 and pounded a mock enemy.

 The officials were later taken to Falaikah Island to watch amphibious forces
 storm the strategic island at the north of the Gulf waterway as special forces
 descended from helicopters on ropes to secure the area.

 "There was mutual planning and organisation of the exercises, which showed the
 good relations we have with France, with whom we have a security agreement,"
 Kuwaiti Chief-of-Staff General Ali al-Mo'men said.

 The United States and Britain maintain a year-round military presence.

 France has pulled out of Operation Southern Watch, which involves fighter
 patrols over southern Iraq to enforce a no-fly zone, still continued by the United
 States and Britain. France has objected to repeated attacks by the two on Iraqi

 "These military exercises express France's commitment to the security of                                           Kuwait and the Gulf region," French ambassador to Kuwait Patrice Paoli said.

 The exercises are part of wider French Gulf manoeuvres, launched earlier this
 month in the United Arab Emirates with 5,500 French troops, 30 warplanes, the
 aircraft carrier Foch, three other warships, a submarine, tanks and artillery.

 It is the strongest show of the French flag in the Gulf since France joined the
 U.S.-led Gulf War which ended Iraq's seven-month occupation of Kuwait, nine
 years ago this week.

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