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Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian National Guard


Saudi princes perform a traditional sword dance at the Janadriyah festival in 1985, sponsored by the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

Courtesy Aramco World

Although not subordinate to the minister of defense and aviation and frequently referred to as a paramilitary or an internal security force, the national guard came to be regarded as a integral part of the Saudi military establishment with the modernization of its active units and its role in the Persian Gulf War. The force was a direct descendant of the Ikhwan, the tribal army that served Abd al Aziz so well during his long effort to retake the Arabian Peninsula for the House of Saud. After having to curb the independent military operations and excesses of the Ikhwan, Abd al Aziz permitted it to reappear as the so-called White Army (the name stemmed from the traditional Arab dress rather than uniforms worn by the members), which later became the national guard. It was not a reserve component similar to the national guard of the United States; at least part of it was an active-duty armed force existing parallel to, but separate from, the regular military service branches. The strength of the guard in 1992 was estimated at 75,000, but 20,000 of that total served in a militia status, on call for mobilization rather than on daily active duty.

The head of the national guard for three decades since 1962 was King Fahd's half brother and designated successor, Amir Abd Allah. Three of Abd Allah's sons also held positions in the guard organization. The guard chain of command was completely separate from regular military channels, as was its communication system. Commanders of major units reported directly to Abd Allah, and he reported to the king. In the post-World War II era, as Arab monarchs in other countries fell to coups and revolutions, the Saudi royal family evidently decided that a parallel army such as the national guard would be a form of insurance against coups. Its continued existence was, however, also a matter of tribal and family politics. Abd Allah was considered the leader of the Shammar branch of the Al Saud, a rival source of power to the Sudairi branch that dominated the regular armed forces (see The Royal Family , ch. 4).

Training of the national guard became the responsibility of the Vinnell Corporation of the United States in 1975. About 1,000 United States Vietnam veterans were initially recruited to serve in the long-term training program designed to convert the guard into a mobile and hard-hitting counterinsurgency force that could also reinforce the regular army if necessary. These contractors were supervised by a United States military group with the designation Office of the Program Manager--Saudi Arabian National Guard (OPM-SANG).

Extensive military infrastructure facilities have been built to ensure the comfort and well-being of national guard units. Their major cantonments were in Al Ahsa Oasis near Al Hufuf and the major oil installations of the Eastern Province and at Al Qasim in Najd Province in an area where many of the tribal elements were recruited and most training was conducted. A large new housing project for guard personnel, with associated schools, shops, and mosques, has been constructed near Riyadh, also the site of the guard's military academy, the King Khalid Military College. Other national guard military cities were located at At Taif, Ad Dammam, and Jiddah. A new headquarters complex was built in Riyadh in the early 1980s.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the regular army and the national guard were both small and of roughly equal strength. The guard suffered when the army's expansion was given priority, but in the 1970s the decline was reversed when the guard was converted to a light mechanized force with the help of United States advisers. Initially consisting of four combined arms battalions, the active-duty component had by 1992 been enlarged to two mechanized brigades, each with four infantry battalions, an artillery battalion, and engineering and signals companies. The guard's mobility over desert terrain was assured by 1,100 V150 Commando wheeled APCs. Firepower came from 105mm and 155mm towed howitzers, 106mm recoilless rifles, and TOW antitank missiles mounted on APCs (see table 16, Appendix).

The second component of the national guard, made up of tribal battalions under the command of local shaykhs, was organized into four infantry brigades. These men, often the sons of local chiefs or of veterans of the original Ikhwan forces, reported for duty about once a month for the purpose of receiving stipends. They were provided with obsolete rifles, although many had individually acquired Soviet AK-47 assault rifles. Although neither particularly well trained nor well equipped, they could be counted on to be loyal to the House of Saud if called for service. Their enrollment in the guard was largely a means to bolster the subsidies paid to local shaykhs and to retain the support of their tribes.

The national guard was swiftly deployed to the border area after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and was actively engaged in the war, notably in the fighting to retake the town of Ras al Khafji (see Persian Gulf War, 1991 , this ch.). After the war ended, it was reported that an enlargement of the national guard to eleven or twelve active brigades was contemplated. In addition, the Commando APCs were to be replaced by more than 1,000 eight-wheeled light armored vehicles (LAVs) manufactured by General Motors in Canada. The LAVs were to be mounted with a variety of armaments, such as 25mm guns, kinetic energy guns, and TOW missile launchers.

Data as of December 1992

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