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Realignment of U.S. Forces in Saudi Arabia

Posted April. 30, 2003 22:32,   


The realignment of U.S. forces around the world has begun in Saudi Arabia. As soon as the war in Iraq ended, the United States shifted its Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in the Middle East from Saudi Arabia to Qatar. The day-to-day responsibility for overseeing hundreds of air missions in Iraq and the Middle East will be transferred from Prince Sultan Air Base to a backup headquarters the United States built last year at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The U.S. plans to hold a 500-member training exercise by the end of this year. As a result, the military and diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, established during the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s, faces great change.

The withdrawal of U.S forces in Saudi Arabia is part of the realignment of U.S. military forces around the world including the Far East and Europe. “Some U.S. military installations part of NATO could be moved from Western Europe to Eastern Europe,” said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Pentagon is also considering reductions in the 38,000 military personnel stationed in South Korea and moving those that remain away from the Demilitarized Zone. These changes are expected to put a quick end to issues over the U.S. military base in Central Asia, indicating a rapid change in the balance of global military power.

Military cooperation between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia started during the Roosevelt administration when the U.S. deployed its first strategic forces armed with nuclear weapons at Dhahran Airfield on Saudi Arabia`s eastern shore as a deterrent against the Soviet Union. The world`s largest oil producer has been coordinating international oil prices since the 1960s, and the U.S. sold the kingdom state-of-the-art fighters.

During the Reagan administration, Saudi Arabia led the declining trend in oil prices to deal a blow to the Soviet Union who secured dollars by selling crude oil. Moreover, the two countries supported the Mujahedeen against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

U.S. forces stationed in Saudi Arabia have increased to 5,000 since the Persian Gulf War in 1991 in order to keep an eye on the no-fly-zone in southern Iraq.

However, Muslim agitation has grown over the American military presence at one of the holiest Islamic shrines. Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden saw the U.S. military presence as a symbol of the desecration of Muslim pride. He organized suicide bomb attacks on a U.S. destroyer in Yemen and also is known to be the mastermind of the terrorist attacks on September 11.

As most of the high-jackers in the 9.11 terrorist attacks were found to be Saudis, Americans` anti-Saudi sentiment has been growing. It also seems that the two countries felt that the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia was less important and decided to change the location of the bases.

The withdrawal of U.S. forces is expected to improve the political foundation of Crown Prince Abdullah, the 79-year-old day-to-day ruler of the oil rich emirate. Despite concern over the cooling relationship between the two, he foresees a positive future for his people considering that the U.S. still needs Saudi oil and the country can act as a political buffer between the Middle East and America. Likewise, the U.S. says that it is still an economic partner and guardian of the Saudis.

Despite the military base move, widespread anti-American sentiment in the Middle East due to the war in Iraq and the Palestinian problem show no sign of abating.

Rae-Jeong Park ecopark@donga.com