21st April 09:59
Saudis tell US forces to get out... on January 2002
The Guardian - Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic Editor
Saturday January 19, 2002
Saudis tell US forces to get out
Saudi Arabia's rulers are poised to throw US strategy
in the Middle East into disarray by asking Washington
to pull its forces out of the kingdom because they have
become a "political liability".
Senior Saudi officials have privately complained that the
US has "outstayed its welcome" and that the kingdom
may soon request that the American presence - a product
of the Gulf war - is brought to an end.
The US is reluctant to withdraw its 4,500 troops from
the Prince Sultan air base, south of Saudi's capital
Riyadh, because it could be perceived as a propaganda
victory for Osama bin Laden, who frequently protested
at the presence of non-believers so close to the main
Muslim holy sites.
But the increasingly brittle and vulnerable ruling House of Saud
is nervous about an internal revolt by Bin Laden's al-Qaida terror
network and other extremist militants, and has been publicly
loosening its links with Washington.
The huge Prince Sultan air base played a crucial logistical role
in the bombing of Afghanistan. Withdrawal would upset the
military balance in the Middle East by providing a boost to the
Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. US planes based in Saudi
regularly bomb along the Iraqi border as part of its policy of
containment of Saddam.
Britain, which jointly patrols the Iraqi no-fly zone with the US,
has planes based both in Saudi and Kuwait. A pull-out by
Washington would switch the focus to the British air base in
Kuwait, whose leaders try to avoid drawing attention to the
Two senior US state department officials have been in Saudi this
week: William Burns, the assistant secretary for the near east,
and Lincoln Bloomfield, the assistant secretary for political and
The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, who is in Nepal, denied
the Saudis wanted a withdrawal: "There has been no discussion
of such an issue."
Many in the US have been upset with Saudi because not only is
it Bin Laden's native country but 15 of the 19 terrorists involved
in the September 11 attacks were from the kingdom. The Saudi
media have reported that about 200 Saudis have been captured
in Afghanistan fighting with al-Qaida and the Taliban.
The kingdom is volatile, with a stagnant economy, high
unemployment, no democratic outlets and King Fahd unable to
crack down on militant clerics.
Hostility to the US is widespread but that is mirrored in the US
where there is a huge well of resentment that, having fought to
push back Iraq in 1991 and having protected Saudi since,
Riyadh refused to provide military help during the Afghan
Reflecting this, Carl Levin, who heads the US Senate armed
services committee, said : "We need a base in that region, but it
seems to me we should find a place that is more hospitable."
The US could continue its containment of Iraq from aircraft
carriers based in the Gulf. But the US air force secretary, James
Roche, said a pull-out would make life awkward: "It would be
difficult, unless we could replicate the air operations centre
REMEMBER ? This was during January 2002 ...............
* Ethic *