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Pentagon: No change in withdrawal from Saudi Arabia

Friday, May 16, 2003

The United States does not plan to revise its timetable for a military pullout from Saudi Arabia.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Al Qaida attacks on Western compounds in Riyad on early Tuesday, in which eight Americans were killed, would not change the timetable or extent of the U.S. military withdrawal from the kingdom. The Pentagon announced last month that it would withdraw virtually all of its 4,500 military personnel and military aircraft from the Prince Sultan air base by September.

"There's nothing that's changed our plans," Rumsfeld told a news conference on Thursday. "We do plan to draw down almost all of those forces and maintain a relationship in training and exercises and in Office of Military Affairs."

On April 28, the U.S. Air Force terminated operations of its Combined Air Operations Center in Prince Sultan, Middle East Newsline reported. The operations were transferred to a smaller $1 billion facility in the Al Udeid air force base in Qatar. About 100 U.S. aircraft at Prince Sultan had been planned to leave the kingdom by August.

Officials said the Pentagon and the U.S. military would maintain a presence of several hundred trainers and other personnel in Saudi Arabia to help maintain weapons programs in the kingdom. Thousands of other U.S. nationals are in the kingdom connected to private defense contractors.

Rumsfeld played down the affect of the Al Qaida attacks on the safety of any U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia. The secretary said he was not aware of any plan for U.S. troops to bolster security at Western compounds that house Americans in Saudi Arabia.

"The force protection issue is one that is looked at by the combatant commanders," Rumsfeld said. "The civilian issue is one that the Department of State addresses. And I've not seen anything in the last 48 hours, since the attack, on that subject, other than an announcement by the Department of State, I believe, that they were changing their guidance to families and civilians, if I'm not mistaken."

Officials said Al Qaida planned the midnight strikes to ensure maximum casualties among those sleeping in the Western compounds. But they said the strikes have not changed Pentagon assessments that Al Qaida has been severely weakened over the last 18 months.

"It's also much more difficult for the Al Qaida organization to communicate with one another," Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. "It's been severely restricted. Their freedom of movement of their leadership is also very restricted. The money flow has been severely curtailed. That does not mean that there are not going to be attacks in the future."

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