- The United States said today that it would withdraw all combat forces in Saudi Arabia by this summer, ending more than a decade of military operations in this strategic Middle East nation that is America’s largest oil supplier.
The American presence here began as a joint operation to contain Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, but increasingly became dangerous for the American troops involved because Osama bin Laden and fellow terrorists resented their presence in the land of Islam’s two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina. Twenty-four American soldiers died in two separate terrorist strikes here in 1995 and 1996.
American anger at Saudi Arabia swelled after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were identified as Saudi citizens.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his Saudi counterpart, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, said at a news conference in Riyadh that the end of the Iraq war and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government meant that America’s military mission here was over. Only a small, longstanding training program involving some 400 to 500 troops will remain.
“It is now a safer region because of the change of regime in Iraq,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “The aircraft and those involved will now be able to leave.” [NY Times]
This is of tremendous importance practically and symbolically: no longer will 10,000 Americans be in harm’s way under onerous behavioral restrictions in a country where they aren’t wanted or appreciated, and Americans will no longer provide symbolic support to the corrupt, autocratic, medieval regime of the overstuffed oil ticks – they can take their holy sand and ram it.
This move also forces the ticks to ive up to their agreement to democratize after the departure of the American troops:
- Earlier this year, Saudi officials told The New York Times that the departure of American soldiers would set the stage for a series of democratic reforms, including an announcement that Saudi men – but not women, at least initially – would begin electing representatives to provincial assemblies and then to a national assembly. The ruling royal family, these officials suggested, could more easily sell potentially unsettling reform if it appears to be less dependent on the Americans.