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Dangerous Duty in Saudi Arabia : Terrorist blast underlines risk to Americans there 5 years after Gulf War

Until a terrorist car bombing at a military base in Riyadh killed five Americans on Monday, most people in this country were probably unaware of the continuing U.S. military involvement in Saudi Arabia, five years after U.S. forces were sent there in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

But enemies of the Saudi monarchy have been aware, and in hindsight it’s easy to discern the threat that Americans face in the kingdom. They are a particular target for religious militants who criticize the regime for inviting into the land that is the site of Islam’s most sacred shrines Westerners they regard as inherently corrupt and immoral. The regime has always insisted that Americans keep a low profile. The bombing, which seems to have been carried out with ease, should prompt Washington to insist on much more rigorous security for the Americans.

Saudi Arabia has bought billions of dollars worth of U.S. planes, tanks, missiles and other military equipment, and hundreds of Americans are in the kingdom to train the Saudi military in the use and maintenance of this materiel. Americans are there as well to oversee the stockpiles of supplies that would be used by U.S. forces should they again be sent to help defend the country. The Saudi military, known as the national guard, numbers about 80,000 men, leaving it far inferior in size to the armies of Iraq and Iran, the most likely sources of external threat to Saudi independence.

Oil defines Saudi Arabia’s strategic importance. It sits atop about one-quarter of all known reserves and accounts for 30% of OPEC’s daily output. Saudi production is key in setting world oil prices. The United States, as it showed five years ago, will fight to defend Saudi Arabia against foreign threats. But it can do little to defend the royal family against its internal enemies.

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This week’s deadly car bomb attack could prove to be an isolated incident. Or it could herald the onset of a terrorist campaign to destabilize a regime whose tight hold on power may be starting to slip.


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