The United States will keep some ground troops in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia after allied forces pull out, but it will not set up military bases, Saudi commander Lt. Gen. Khaled Bin Sultan said Thursday.
"Yes, eventually yes," the commander replied to a question on whether the United States would keep troops in the region after Iraq's defeat in the gulf war.Prince Khaled, the commander of Arab forces in the gulf war and son of Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan, refused to elaborate or to say how many soldiers would stay.
He added in English: "No sir . . . military bases, I can say it very openly it (the United States) is not (going to establish bases in either country)."
Non-Arab members of the U.S.-led allied force that drove Iraqi occupiers from Kuwait at the end of February have said they will not keep ground troops in the region.
Washington has said it will retain a forward command headquarters in the gulf, which was expected to be set up either in Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates.
The allies also plan to send more ships to the gulf and keep military hardware on the ground. Western diplomats say their troops will conduct regular military exercises with gulf Arab states in order to maintain a presence.
Since the 1970s the United States has had hundreds of military experts in the region, used naval facilities in Bahrain and had an accord with Oman to use its bases in case of war.
The emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, on April 7 urged Arab and Western states to leave some troops in place to protect the emirate.
Speaking after inspecting a joint Saudi, UAE and Qatari brigade, Khaled said the destruction of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's war machine meant he no longer posed a military threat "but as a person I would not trust him one bit."
A 1,440-member United Nations peacekeeping force is due to replace the allies by the end of the month, patrolling a demilitarized zone extending six miles into Iraq and three miles into Kuwait .
U.S. troops, who numbered more than 500,000 at the peak of the crisis, are leaving the gulf at a rate of between 3,000 and 5,000 a day. The Pentagon said Wednesday 270,000 remained in the gulf.
Khaled reiterated his belief that Saddam will be toppled within a month.
"I believe so, as a matter of fact I hope so for the sake of the Iraqi people and the whole (Arab) nation," he said.
He said Arab forces in the region - mainly Saudi, Syrian and Egyptian troops who participated in the gulf war - would not move north to replace withdrawing Western forces but would deploy westward into the Kuwaiti desert.
Egypt and Syria, which sent some 55,000 troops to the allied force, agreed on March 6 to form a joint peacekeeping force with six gulf Arab states to police the region.
Khaled said Saudi Arabia had bought U.S. Patriot defensive missiles and Apache helicopters, which proved their worth during the war. He refused to say what other military equipment the kingdom was interested in acquiring.