DHAHRAN, SAUDI ARABIA, AUG. 27 -- The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee urged the Bush administration today to seek more involvement by Egyptian and other Arab troops in Saudi Arabia's defense to strengthen ground forces in the region and to prevent the situation from becoming largely a U.S. confrontation with Iraq.
Speaking to reporters after briefings by U.S. commanders and a visit to American troops, Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) said well-equipped ground forces are needed, and he called on Arab countries "to get more of their own people over here."
"It's not easy to move tank forces in, and, in my opinion, we ought to give some priority to helping the Egyptians to get tank forces in," he said. "I think it's enormously important that the Egyptians and other Arab countries be part of the front-line forces."
Nunn said it also was "enormously important" that the buildup of troops in Saudi Arabia "not become an Iraq-United States confrontation."
Nunn, one of eight visiting senators, said he would take up the issue with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whom the group is scheduled to meet in Alexandria, Egypt, Tuesday morning before continuing on to Eastern Europe. Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (Kan.) said the largely Republican delegation considers Mubarak "a key player" in Saudi Arabia's defense.
The United States already has deployed nearly 60,000 troops in Saudi Arabia, with the total expected to exceed 100,000 in the next few weeks. Egypt has sent about 5,000 troops, and sources in Cairo have said it also is dispatching a 12,000-man mechanized infantry division. Syria has supplied 1,200 troops, Morocco has sent 1,000, and the United Arab Emirates has provided bases for foreign troops. France, Britain and other nations have dispatched troops and warships.
The other senators in the group were Don Nickles (R-Okla.), Connie Mack (R-Fla.), Steve Symms (R-Idaho), Jake Garn (R-Utah), Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.). Some of the lawmakers sought out soldiers from their home states and promised to phone their wives and parents to pass on greetings. Dole said the group had found that soldiers were adapting well to the heat and considered the food adequate, but wanted "more mail." He described the operation as going "pretty smoothly," thanks to U.S.-Saudi cooperation.
D'Amato said the "window of opportunity" for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to attack Saudi Arabia now appeared closed, and he described U.S. forces on the ground as sufficient to defeat Iraq.
Brig. Gen. Rich Timons, the 82nd Airborne Division's deputy commander for operation, described the senators' three-hour visit as helpful, saying it is important for legislators and the public to appreciate the difficulties here. "I think the American people need to be well informed about what's taking place and why we are here," he said.