More U.S. troops arrive near Saudi border with Iraq

Monday, March 10, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi Arabia and the United States have expanded their military and security cooperation in advance of any war against Iraq.

Saudi officials said thousands of U.S. troops have arrived in northern Saudi Arabia and are exercising with military forces in the kingdom.

Saudi officials said U.S. troops and aircraft have taken over the airport at Araar, about 15 kilometers from the northern border with Iraq.

The officials said the presence of the U.S. Central Command at Araar, which played a key role in the ground invasion of Iraq in 1991, was part of an effort to help Saudi Arabia bolster security.

"We have called on the help of the Americans in a technical matter, so that we can know what is beyond in the desert, so that we don't get caught by surprise," Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz told a news conference on Saturday.

Saudi opposition sources said at least 9,000 U.S. troops have arrived in northern Saudi Arabia. On Sunday, a leading Saudi dissident, Saad Al Faqih, told the Qatar-based A-Jazeera satellite channel that the United States has deployed a total of 30,000 troops in the kingdom.

Prince Sultan said U.S. and Saudi military units were exercising at Tabouk, near the Jordanian and Iraqi border, in an effort to protect the kingdom against border threats and overflights. The defense minister, who did not refer to Iraq, cited what he asserted were Israeli attempts to use Saudi airspace to attack western Iraq.

"We are ready for any emergency," the Saudi defense minister said. "Araar was and will remain non-military, but we are now on the threshold of war."

The prince said the United States has also helped equip Saudi helicopters deployed along the Iraqi border. He said Washington has supplied satellite communications systems to the helicopters to provide them with a greater reconnaissance capability.

"The biggest airplanes are now in Tabouk," Sultan said. "The biggest striking force is now in Tabouk, to protect it and the kingdom."

The U.S. military presence was expanded as Saudi Arabia is reported to be under increasing threat from insurgency attacks. On Sunday, the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat reported that Saudi police found and defused a bomb in a shopping center in the port city of Jedda.The newspaper said police units found and removed 16 sticks of explosives placed in three emergency exits of the center and timed to detonate on early Saturday.

Later, the Interior Ministry denied a bombing attempt.

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