Beginning during Operation Desert Shield in August 1990, while preparing for the Gulf War, the United States sent a troop contingent to Saudi Arabia. After the war, the troops remained, under Operation Southern Watch.
Operation Southern Watch enforced the 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 protected by the US 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 military presence. The continued presence of US troops after the Gulf War in Saudi Arabia was 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 Prophet Muhammad as banning the "permanent presence of infidels in Arabia".
Opinion polls conducted by Gallup from 2006–2008, find that many in Muslim majority countries strongly object 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. has rejected the characterization of its presence as an "occupation", noting that the government of Saudi Arabia consented to the presence of troops. Many in the U.S., the Arab world and elsewhere saw the presence of U.S. troops as supporting the House of Saud, the rule of which is controversial.
On April 29, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld announced that he would be withdrawing US 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 US 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.
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. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2984547.stm. 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
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