HAFAR BATIN, SAUDI ARABIA -- Capt. Ali's home is only 140 miles from his desert military camp here. For the last four months, he has thought of little else but returning.

A tank commander in Kuwait's 35th Armored Brigade, Ali led his men in a four-hour battle against the invading Iraqis in the early hours of Aug. 2. But his outnumbered company was forced to withdraw, driving nine of its 13 British-made Chieftain tanks through the desert into Saudi Arabia.

"I feel some shame, yes," said the 34-year-old officer, who would not give his last name because his family remains in Kuwait. But he and his men have asked "to be in the front lines" if allied forces retake his country, "because we have an old revenge" to exact, he said.

Now, with the help of U.S. Army Special Forces, Kuwait's 4,500 ground troops deployed here are getting ready to do just that. Kuwaitis form one of the smallest contingents in the multi-national force arrayed against Iraq. As such, they are unlikely to play a major combat role in any military drive to regain their homeland.

But their participation will carry political significance in demonstrating their country's support. They are the only allied force with combat experience against Iraq, and they have a detailed knowledge of Kuwait's terrain.

Ali said the U.S. advisers, bivouacked in the desert near Egyptian and Syrian forces, are training his company "in clearing mine fields, handling POWs and calling in close air support."

U.S. Air Force pilots have begun training exercises with Kuwait's air force -- the 15 Mirages and 20 A-4 Skyhawks flown out of the emirate. Officials say these planes represent about 75 percent of Kuwait's former air force, but will not say how many of its 2,200 pre-invasion personnel have regrouped here.

A Kuwaiti A-4 pilot said he and colleagues have flown with U.S. F-111s and Airborne Warning and Control Systems planes, whose equipment can lead the A-4 attack planes to their targets.

U.S. civilian technicians, several of whom used to work in Kuwait, were called to Saudi Arabia shortly after the A-4s arrived here to refurbish and maintain them. The French-made Mirages, stationed in nearby Bahrain, were similarly brought back into shape by French mechanics.

The 4,500 Kuwaiti soldiers deployed here compare to a pre-invasion army of 16,000. Some Kuwaiti forces were killed in battle -- the government has given no casualty figures -- and some are with the underground resistance in the country. Others -- about 1,600 according to Middle East Watch, a New York-based human rights organization -- are being held by Iraq as prisoners of war.

Taken together, however, the casualties, resistance fighters and POWS do not appear to account for the 11,500 missing from the pre-invasion roster. Kuwaitis have said that a large number were Bedouins who did not hold Kuwaiti citizenship, even though they were born in the emirate, and that this could explain why they have not surfaced.

Responding to criticism that Kuwaiti exiles were not contributing their share to the multinational buildup, Kuwait's government-in-exile called for volunteers. It says 10,500 have signed up.

These volunteers are receiving a month-long course in basic skills at facilities in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.

The first group to go through the Saudi facility, mostly former students and white-collar workers, graduated last month. At the ceremony, the 600 trainees marched out-of-step around the parade ground. Many were overweight young men, sweating and struggling to keep up. Only about half the class is considered physically fit to be sent to the front lines for further training, officials said.

During their course, which lasts about one-third as long as U.S. boot camp, the volunteers are trained in only the most rudimentary military skills. The graduation ceremony included demonstrations in karate, urban warfare and small-arms.

Kuwaiti officials said they plan to deploy two more brigades with the multi-national forces -- bringing the Kuwaiti contingent to about 20,000 men -- but uniforms, weapons and other supplies have not arrived. For example, fewer than 50 of 300 new Yugoslav tanks ordered by Kuwait have arrived.

{Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, top U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf, asked by reporters Sunday whether weaker military forces such as those of Kuwait would compromise allied missions, said they would be positioned among stronger forces, Reuter reported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

{"I don't think any of them will be a military liability," he said. While Kuwaiti ground troops use outdated weapons, he said, "You don't want to dismiss these folks. It's not the size of the dog in the fight. It's the size of the fight in the dog."}

Like Ali, many professional Kuwaiti military men are angry about their rout by the Iraqis, despite the reportedly stiff resistance they put up at several sites the first day. Although outnumbered, they say they could have withstood the Iraqi assault for several days if they had been prepared.

Kuwaiti Defense Minister Nawaf Ahmad Sabah said in an interview that only 25 percent of his armed forces fought the Iraqis, since many were outside the country on vacation or unable to get to their military posts.

In the days just before the invasion, some top Kuwaiti officers, fearing an Iraqi thrust into their territory, pleaded with the government to at least alert the air force. But Nawaf and other officials demurred, concerned that this would be seen by Iraq as a provocative act.

"Nobody gave us a warning," said Ali.

Staff writer Molly Moore contributed to this article from Washington.