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Friday, 28 September, 2001, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
Saudi base 'available for US strikes'
US Apache helicopters during the Gulf War
Thousands of US troops are based in Saudi Arabia
By Middle East analyst Roger Hardy

Saudi Arabia has agreed to let American troops and planes use the country for military action against Afghanistan, reports quoting senior US officials say.

The Washington Post - which last week reported that the Saudis were refusing to allow use of their base at Al-Kharj, south of Riyadh - is now saying they have changed their minds.

The Saudis feel uncomfortably squeezed between loyalty to their American ally and sensitivity to Muslim opinion

In public, Saudi officials are not ready to confirm that they have given the go-ahead for the use of the base - already home to about 5,000 US servicemen and women

But it is clear that they have been under sustained pressure from Washington to allow US forces to use the base for operations against Afghanistan.

According to the Washington Post, the US is anxious to use the newly installed command centre there to track and control the movements of hundreds of its aircraft.

Backlash feared

The Saudis feel uncomfortably squeezed between loyalty to their American ally and sensitivity to Muslim opinion both inside and outside the Saudi kingdom.

One knowledgeable Saudi told the BBC that the country was being "railroaded" by the Americans.

Saudi leaders feel compelled to co-operate with the US, but are afraid of a backlash if Afghan civilians are killed in any military action.

They are also sensitive to the predicament of their close ally Pakistan, which also finds itself pulled in different directions and is fearful for its stability.

See also:

25 Sep 01 | Middle East
Saudi Arabia warns of West-Islam split
12 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Saudi Arabia
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