The U.S. military, mindful of the toll taken by terrorists the last time American troops were on Middle East soil, is improving the security for its growing force in Saudi Arabia.
Already strict security measures have been tightened even more in the past 72 hours, as Saudi officials expressed more concern about the possibility of terrorist attacks, a subject U.S. military officials refuse to discuss except in general terms.
“We are doing what we think is necessary to protect our people, equipment and installations,” one senior American officer said here. “But I’m not going to get into whether we feel there is more of a threat or less of a threat or things like that.”
A Saudi government official, however, said Saturday night that some concerns had been raised over the possibility that Iraqi or Iraqi-sponsored terrorists could have slipped into the Saudi kingdom with Kuwaitis fleeing their occupied country.
“We essentially have been allowing free crossing of the border and maybe at times we should have been more diligent,” the Saudi official said.
The official, like others quoted here, spoke only on condition of anonymity.
American military officers here have expressed concerns, both publicly and privately, that American military personnel might be targeted for terrorist attacks as the stalemate with Iraq drags on.
American diplomatic posts around the world were urged to take security precautions in the days after President Bush committed U.S. troops to the defense of the Saudi kingdom and its oil fields.
When asked about strict security measures here, U.S. officials repeatedly recall the devastating 1983 truck bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon.
“This is a very dangerous part of the world,” one U.S. military officer involved in security efforts said. “History would tell us to be vigilant.”
Visits in the past few days to several U.S. military installations have provided glimpses of security precautions not in place during earlier visits.
At one Army camp, guards kept M-16s aimed at a car filled with soldiers and journalists waiting outside a command post, even after the car had passed a series of elaborate security checks.
“It might make you nervous, but they’re doing their job and they’re doing it right,” the soldier driving the car said.
The possibility of terrorism is also one of the reasons American troops are not yet allowed to take recreation breaks in Saudi cities.
There have been some lapses in security.
Included in one package of material the Air Force gave reporters was a list of locations where military personnel were staying and the times and pickup points of shuttles to base areas. Several hours later, after a reporter brought the document to the attention of military escorts, reporters were asked to return the handout so it would not fall into the wrong hands if discarded.
And a Navy admiral opened a briefing this week by detailing the number and exact location of Marines and weapons recently arrived in Saudi Arabia, this despite specific written guidelines that such details not be discussed.
A television reporter at the briefing instructed his crew not to feed that part of the tape back to the United States because it could have been broadcast or intercepted during satellite transmission.
Not surprisingly, the Marines here appear most on edge about potential security lapses.
A shotgun-toting Marine, standing guard outside one area where Marines are stationed, refused to open the gate even after speaking with two Navy officers accompanying a small group of reporters.
Photographers were clamoring to take a picture of a Marine tank flying an American flag, but the Marines refused to allow the shot because from the background it might have been possible to pinpoint their location.
“They will never forget Lebanon, nor should they,” one of the Navy officers said. “They have every right to be extra sensitive.”