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, remnant troops, primarily U.S. Air Force personnel, augmented by a smaller number of coordinating and training personnel from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps remained in Saudi Arabia under the aegis of Joint Task Force Southwest Asia (JTF-SWA), as part of Operation Southern Watch (OSW). The United Kingdom and France also maintained a small contingent of Royal Air Force and French Air Force training personnel.
Operation Southern Watch patrolled by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain 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.
In 2003, the United States withdrew remaining non-training troops or armament purchase support from Saudi Arabia, with 200 of these support personnel remaining, primarily at Eskan Village, a base which is owned by Saudi Arabian government itself.
Since Saudi Arabia houses the holiest sites in Islam (Mecca and Medina), many Muslims were outraged 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. Middle East expert Brian Becker stated:
"King Hussein of Jordan reports that U.S. troops were actually being deployed to Saudi Arabia in the days before Saudi Arabia "invited" U.S. intervention. Hussein says that in the first days of the crisis Saudi King Fahd expressed Support for an Arab diplomatic solution. King Fahd also told King Hussein that there was no evidence of a hostile Iraqi build-up on the Saudi border, and that despite American assertions, there was no truth to reports that Iraq planned to invade Saudi Arabia. The Saudis only bowed to U.S. demands that the Saudis "invite" U.S. troops to defend them following a long meeting between the king and Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney. The real substance of this discussion will probably remain classified for many, many years."
On April 29, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld announced that he would be withdrawing remaining U.S. troops from the country. 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.
Non-combat Defense assistance activities include United States Military Training Mission (USMTM) staff and the Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Program (OPM-SANG) at the Eskan Village, a Saudi owned complex outside of Riyadh.
U.S. officials transferred control of Prince Sultan Air Base to Saudi officials at a ceremony on August 26, 2003. The base had been home to up to 60,000 US personnel at one 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