- The Washington Times - Monday, April 26, 2004

During the Iraq war, Saudi Arabia helped the United States with far more assistance than has been acknowledged, allowing operations from at least three air bases, permitting U.S. Special Forces troops to stage attacks from Saudi soil and providing cheap fuel, U.S. and Saudi officials said.

The American air campaign against Iraq essentially was managed from inside Saudi borders, where military commanders operated an air command center and launched refueling tankers, F-16 fighters and sophisticated intelligence-gathering flights, the officials said.

Much of the assistance has been kept quiet for more than a year by both countries for fear it would add to instability inside the kingdom. Many Saudis oppose the war, and the U.S. presence on Saudi soil has been used by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden to build his al Qaeda terror movement.

But senior political and military officials from both countries told the Associated Press the Saudi royal family permitted widespread military operations to be staged from inside the kingdom during the coalition force’s invasion of Iraq.

These officials would talk only on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity and the fact that some operational details remain classified.

Although the heart of the ground attack came from Kuwait, thousands of soldiers were permitted to stage their operations into Iraq from inside Saudi Arabia, officials said. These staging areas became essential once Turkey declined to allow U.S. forces to operate from its soil.

In addition, U.S. and coalition aircraft launched attacks, reconnaissance flights and intelligence missions from three Saudi air bases, not just the Prince Sultan Air Base where U.S. officials have acknowledged activity.

Between 250 and 300 Air Force planes flew missions from Saudi Arabia, including AWACS, C-130s, refueling tankers and F-16 fighters during the height of the war. Air and military operations during the war were permitted at the Tabuk air base and Arar regional airport near the Iraqi border, the officials said.

Saudis also agreed to permit search-and-rescue missions to stage and take off from their soil, the officials said.

Gen. T. Michael Moseley, a top Air Force general who was a key architect of the air campaign in Iraq, called the Saudis “wonderful partners,” although he agreed to discuss their help only in general terms.

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