HAFAR AL-BATIN, SAUDI ARABIA, SEPT. 4 -- More than a month after Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, thousands of Arab troops sent here to defend Saudi Arabia are assembling slowly under Saudi command but still have not taken up their positions.

The commander of Arab forces here under the auspices of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council told reporters today that he was waiting for orders to move the troops out from rear staging areas.

"We are awaiting completion of the arrival of the {Arab} forces. Once all the forces are here and gathered we will go forward and occupy our defensive positions," Saudi Maj. Gen. Turki Nufaie told reporters gathered under a tent at a staging area in the desert north of Hafar al-Batin.

He said troops from the six council states -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar -- were in "high spirits and high morale" and were just awaiting "orders to do our duty."

Troops from Egypt, Syria and Morocco also are scattered across the desert north and east of here and are not under Nufaie's command. Pakistan has committed 5,000 troops to the defense effort, but none has arrived here yet.

The slow pace at which the so-called "Arab-Islamic forces" have been put in place has been partly ascribed to the fact that Saudi Arabia has had to arrange all logistical support for them, coordinating everything from trucks and jeeps to food and other supplies.

The importance of Arab troops playing a prominent role in any defense of Saudi Arabia has been emphasized by political and military leaders, diplomats and analysts in both the West and Middle East. They have pointed to political and religious tensions that could arise if the Arab kingdom that contains Islam's holiest shrines were protected solely by Western forces.

Based on the often conflicting figures provided by officers here today, slightly more than 30,000 Saudi and other Arab troops are gathering around here to defend the kingdom's borders.

The council's "Peninsula Shield" force consists of 10,000 troops, including reserves called up because of the crisis. Egypt has provided 2,000 troops, Syria 3,200 and Morocco 2,000. Between 2,000 and 3,000 Kuwaiti soldiers who escaped the Iraqi occupation have also gathered here, according to officers, and three additional Saudi brigades of 4,000 to 4,500 troops have been brought in as reinforcements.

U.S. ground forces in the region are estimated to number about 60,000.

The officers also provided a rough idea of how Saudi Arabia's northern border is being defended. There are three separate lines of defense being formed, with the first made up of what are essentially observation points about 15 to 25 miles from the border. The other two are farther back, arranged to defend strategic targets. In this region the defenses primarily are set up to protect Hafar al-Batin and the huge King Khalid Military City, 35 miles to the south.

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Shehri, logistics commander for the northern front, expressed confidence that these forces could stall any Iraqi attack long enough -- "at least two to four hours" -- for U.S. and Saudi air power to swing into action.

Saudi armor is not thought to match the Iraqis'. But Iraqi tanks could be vulnerable from above, where the Iraqi air force is said to be no match for the combined U.S.-Saudi air power.

Saudi officers also seem convinced that Iraqi troops' morale is very low. Shehri said that between 50 and 100 Iraqi soldiers were defecting "every day" to Saudi Arabia, occasionally bringing a tank or armored personnel carrier with them. Despite his and other claims, neither Shehri nor any other Saudi commander has presented any defector to the foreign press.