Report: 30,000 U.S. troops now in northern Saudi Arabia

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi opposition sources, whose initial reports of a U.S. deployment in northern Saudi Arabia have proven credible, now assert that the number of U.S. troops in the kingdom has reached 30,000.

Saad Al Faqih, a spokesman for the London-based Saudi Islamic Reform Movement, said the U.S. forces are being deployed along the Iraqi-Saudi border. Faqih told the Qatari-based A-Jazeera satellite channel that the U.S. troops are equipped with weapons and are being harbored in Saudi military bases.

Opposition sources said that in late January the Bush administration persuaded Saudi Arabia to allow thousands of additional troops into the kingdom and open at least five major air bases for the U.S. military presence. They said the agreement called for the deployment of at least 9,000 troops in one Saudi base near the Iraqi border, Middle East Newsline reported.

For his part, Al Faqih said the kingdom has provided U.S. Central Command with facilities in the following Saudi bases: Araar, Khafer Baaten, Riyad and Tabouk.

At Tabouk, the U.S. Air Force was said to have brought a range of planes, including refueling aircraft.

Western diplomatic sources said the United States has brought special operation forces into northern Saudi Arabia in what appears to be an effort to enter western Iraq at the start of any war against Baghdad. The sources said the U.S. Army has also deployed A-10 ground attack aircraft at the Araar base.

In an unrelated development, Saudi Arabia has moved closer to instituting a military draft. On Monday, the official Shura Council, which issues recommendations on domestic policy, approved a law that would allow naturalized Saudi citizens to serve in the military.

"The council endorsed the regulation which exempts those who have joined military service from the rules governing naturalized Saudis," Shura secretary-general Humaid Al Badr was quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency as saying.

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