US troops to leave Saudi Arabia

02 May 2003
Washington has decided to withdraw the vast majority of its troops from Saudi Arabia with the exception of some training personnel, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced during a visit to the kingdom on 29 April. Earlier the same day, US Rear Admiral David Nichols confirmed reports that the American air command centre would be moved from Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan airbase to Al-Udeid in Qatar.

'We were never interested in having forces based permanently in Saudi Arabia,' a senior spokesman for the US State Department told MEED on 30 April. 'The primary cause for them being there was the threat from Iraq. That's obviously now gone, so we had discussions with the Saudis and we thought it would be in the best interest of both countries to review the situation.'

Widespread local opposition to the presence of US forces in Saudi Arabia has been accompanied by a marked deterioration of US-Saudi relations since the attacks on Washington and New York on 11 September 2001. Fifteen Saudi citizens were involved in the attack. The presence of American troops on Saudi soil was one of Osama bin Laden's stated reasons for focusing the militant operations of Al-Qaeda on US military and civilian targets.

US officials stress that it will take time for a withdrawal to be implemented. 'We are in the early phases of discussions with the Saudis, but it will take some time,' says the spokesman. 'Don't expect a dramatic change in the positioning of American troops within a year.'

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