ABU DHABI Ñ 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
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
"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.