U.S. Will Not Cut Troop Levels in Saudi Arabia
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, April 10, 2000 U.S. troops will not reduce troop levels in the area, contrary to news reports.
The April 9 story quotes an anonymous U.S. military official saying that Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Saudi Defense and Aviation Minister Prince Sultan agreed to reduce troop levels at Prince Sultan Air Base.
“The story is complete hogwash,” said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon. “We have no plans to reduce the number of airmen or planes at Prince Sultan Air Base, and the topic of reducing airmen in Saudi Arabia was not discussed tonight between Secretary Cohen and Prince Sultan. In fact, Prince Sultan expressed a strong desire for a continued U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia at current levels.”
U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Wyche Fowler said there “has been no discussion whatsoever at any level about reduction of American soldiers.” There are about 4,000 U.S. service members in Saudi Arabia.
During a news conference following meetings between the prince and Cohen, Sultan said the U.S. troops are in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under the U.N. framework to conduct operations over Southern Iraq. “These troops are doing their duties to keep the peace only, not to be aggressors,” Prince Sultan said. “Whatever is said more than that is not true.”
Cohen and the prince said the discussions were fruitful. One part of the discussions centered on the Peninsula Shield forces of the six Gulf Cooperation Council -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
All six GCC countries contribute to the force, but it is more a paper force than a real one. The forces only exercise together about once every two years. Prince Sultan suggested the United States join with Peninsula Shield forces to achieve more multilateral exercises.
The prince also commented on U.S.-Iranian relations. He said Saudi Arabia called for peace, and he hoped Iran would respond “with what is in its security interests. All steps taken by the United States toward this goal are welcome,” he said.
Cohen and the prince also discussed the Cooperative Defense Initiative, which seeks to tie the gulf states, Egypt and Jordan into an early-warning network to track missile threats. He said the United States thinks the initiative is an important program for the gulf because of the threat of chemical and biological agents in the region.
“There is no particular sense of timing to this issue,” Cohen said. “I have been talking about it for several years. We are talking about it because we have seen evidence that the spread of chemical and biological weapons continues.”