3,000 Saudi troops deployed to defend Kuwait

Thursday, March 6, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi Arabia has deployed its first military force in Kuwait as part of a Gulf Arab effort to help the sheikdom against any Iraqi strike.

Kuwaiti defense sources said the Saudi contingent was composed of more than 3,000 troops as well as 250 tanks and armored personnel carriers. They said the military force arrived on Tuesday via the land border between the two Gulf Cooperation Council states, Middle East Newsline reported.

Saudi Arabia sent a force under the U.S. command in the 1991 Gulf war to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait. This is the first time Saudi Arabia has sent a military contingent to Kuwait under the umbrella of the GCC Peninsula Shield.

The sources said the Saudi military has also sent command and control, air and naval platforms. They did not supply figures.

[In Washington, the opposition Saudi Information Agency reported that Saudi authorities have allocated the northern airport of Araar to the U.S. military. The agency reported obtaining a directive by a Saudi official that closed the airport to all civilian flights as of March 4. Araar is located 15 kilometers from the Iraqi border.]

Saudi Chief of Staff Gen. Saleh Bin Ali Al Muhaya told the Saudi daily Okaz that the force incudes tanks and light armored vehicles. He did not elaborate.

Peninsula Shield spokesman Lt. Col. Jassem Al Fadalah said the Saudi and the rest of the GCC force would be deployed along the Iraqi border should other international forces leave the area. The Peninsula Shield force is being commanded by Maj. Gen. Omar Baer, whose deputy is Brig. Gen. Muzat Al Harbi.

Saudi Arabia is the third GCC ally to have contributed to the task force to Kuwait. Bahrain has sent a missile frigate and about 600 troops and the United Arab Emirates has supplied attack helicopters, tanks, armored vehicles and about 4,000 soldiers.

[In an unrelated development, the U.S. State Department has decided not to deem Saudi Arabia as a major violator of religious freedom. Instead, the department renewed the list of violators from 2002, including such Middle East states as Iran, Iraq and Sudan.]

On Wednesday, Oman and Qatar also sent troops to Kuwait as part of the GCC force. In all, the GCC force numbers more than 8,000 troops. The Bahraini, Omani, Qatari and Saudi force is under Peninsula Shield command while the UAE contingent will come under Kuwaiti military command.

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