U.S. officials said the Defense Department is pressing Saudi Arabia to expand
what they termed limited cooperation by Riyad. They said the
Pentagon could decide to use Saudi Arabia as a base to launch bombing raids
on Iraq despite the kingdom's objections.
One source of tension is Saudi Arabia's refusal to allow the United
States or its war allies to fly through the kingdom's air space with troops
and material for the Iraqi war. So far, officials said, the Saudis have
resisted appeals by both Washington and Egypt to open the kingdom's air
space, Middle East Newsline reported.
Officials said the Pentagon could soon order U.S. warplanes to violate
Saudi air space in a test of wills with the kingdom. They said Riyad has
threatened to respond militarily to any violation of its air space.
"The Saudis have been constantly limiting the U.S. military and the
Pentagon believes it can ride roughshod over Saudi Arabia," an official
said. "This test of wills is being played out during the war."
Officials said Saudi Arabia has become an important country in U.S.
military planning amid the refusal by Turkey to allow the deployment of
62,000 American troops, who would form a northern front against Baghdad. The
result has been that the Pentagon has been pressing the Saudi leadership to
grant its air space and territory for both operations and a supply route for
So far, officials said, Saudi Arabia has been extremely cautious. The
kingdom has allowed several thousand U.S. troops along the Iraqi-Saudi
border. But the U.S. forces are meant to protect the kingdom against any
Iraqi armored attack and are not allowed to cross the Saudi border.
"There is hope that the Saudis will allow this U.S. force to expand and
even enter Iraq at a later stage in the war," another official said.
The Washington-based Saudi Information Agency reported on Thursday that
thousands of U.S. troops have been stationed in the northern Saudi town of
Tabouk. The agency relayed reports from those in Saudi Arabia as saying the
United States is broadcasting anti-Saddam propaganda from the kingdom via
radio and television.
U.S. Central Command has deployed troops and aircraft around two
airports in northern Saudi Arabia. They are Araar and Jouf. A Saudi Defense
Ministry spokesman acknowledged that Araar is closed to civilian traffic,
but denied that Jouf, 150 kilometers south, was closed to Saudi flights.
U.S. officials said the Saudis have also maintained restrictions on the
use of the Prince Sultan Air Base. This includes maintaining a previous U.S.
pledge that the advanced command and control center Ñ the most advanced in
region Ñ would not direct bombing attacks on Iraq. One official said the
U.S. pledge has already been violated.
The kingdom has also refused a U.S. request to unload military supplies
at the Saudi port at Dammam on the Persian Gulf. The Pentagon sent ships
filled with U.S. military supplies from the eastern Mediterranean to Saudi
Arabia after Turkey would not allow the vessels to unload and the supplies
transported to northern Iraq.
"The military supplies were meant to go by land to Kuwait," the official