United States withdrawal from Saudi Arabia
Beginning during Operation Desert Shield in August 1990, while preparing for the Gulf War, the United States sent a large troop contingent to Saudi Arabia. After the war, a significant number of the troops, primarily U.S. Air Force personnel, augmented by a smaller number of U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps personnel, remained in Saudi Arabia under the aegis of Joint Task Force Southwest Asia (JTF-SWA), conducting Operation Southern Watch (OSW). The United Kingdom also maintained a contingent of Royal Air Force personnel and aircraft and France maintained a similar personnel and aircraft contingent of the French Air Force.
Operation Southern Watch enforced the Iraqi no-fly zones over southern Iraq set up after 1991, and the country's oil exports through the shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf were patrolled by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain.
In 2003, the United States withdrew most troops from Saudi Arabia.
Since Saudi Arabia houses the holiest sites in Islam (Mecca and Medina), many Muslims were upset at the permanent presence of non-Muslim U.S., British and French military personnel. The continued presence of U.S. troops after the Gulf War in Saudi Arabia was also one of the stated motivations behind the September 11th terrorist attacks and the Khobar Towers bombing. The date of the 1998 United States embassy bombings was eight years to the day (August 7) that American troops were sent to Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden interpreted the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, as banning the "permanent presence of infidels in Arabia".
Opinion polls conducted by Gallup from 2006–2008, found that many in Muslim majority countries strongly objected to U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia. 52% of Saudis agreed that removing military bases from Saudi Arabia would very significantly improve their opinion of United States. Also 60% of Egyptians, 39% of Jordanians, 40% of Syrians and Palestinians, 55% of Tunisians, 13% of Iranians, 29% of Turks, 40% of Lebanese, 30% of Algerians gave that opinion too.
The U.S. had rejected the characterization of its presence as an "occupation", noting that the government of Saudi Arabia consented to the presence of troops. However, some activists in the U.S., and many in the Arab world and elsewhere saw the presence of U.S. troops as supporting the House of Saud, the rule of which remains controversial.
On April 29, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld announced that he would be withdrawing the bulk of U.S. troops from the country, stating that the Iraq War no longer required the support. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had earlier said that the continuing large U.S. presence in the kingdom was putting American lives in danger. The announcement came one day after the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) was shifted from Prince Sultan Air Base to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. However, defense assistance activities such as the United States Military Training Mission Saudi Arabia (USMTM) and the Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Program (OPM-SANG) at the Eskan Village complex outside of Riyadh remained in place.
The move was controversial, as some said that it was a needless contingent that only enraged Muslim populations, while others said that the United States were caving to the demands of Osama bin Laden.
U.S. officials transferred control of portions of Prince Sultan Air Base to Saudi officials at a ceremony on August 26, 2003. The base had been home to about 60,000 US personnel over time.
Current U.S. units
- United States Military Training Mission Saudi Arabia (USMTM)
- Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Program (OPM-SANG)
- Office of the Program Manager - Facilities Security Force (OPM-FSF)
- 64th Air Expeditionary Group
- "US pulls out of Saudi Arabia". BBC News. 2003-04-29. Retrieved 29 November 2009.
- Plotz, David (2001) What Does Osama Bin Laden Want?, Slate
- Bergen, Peter L. (2001). Holy War Inc. Simon & Schuster. p. 3.
- Opinion Briefing: U.S. Image in Middle East/North Africa, dated January 27, 2009