No pictures, the Syrian major said, displeasure strong across his broad face. No questions either, but you will stay for tea, he said. In Arabic, it sounded halfway between an invitation and an order.
Moments later, the fierce-looking veteran of fighting in Lebanon sat in his tent, strummed intently on a 12-string oude, and sang for his guests with great feeling:
"I can see the whole world in the eyes of my lover," went the refrain, translated from Arabic to French to English. The song finished, he glared at his two guests, who clapped with inappropriate gusto. A half-dozen of his troops, sitting on cushions in the large tent, added a nervous scattering of applause.
It was just another tableau that one finds near the border, where coalition troops stare out across the featureless desert at occupied Kuwait.
The Saudis generally watch in wonderment and wave enthusiastically as one drives past. The Egyptians seem greatly amused when approached by foreign journalists. The Syrians, lean and combat hardened, are another matter. After 10 years among Lebanon's warring factions, they treat strangers with caution.
Visitors to the camp were stopped well down the road by a sentry who kept his AK-47 aimed at them. Even after it was established that they posed no threat, an officer twice had to order the sentry to lower his weapon.
The short, muscular major was called. Through one French-speaking soldier, the major curtly declined to give his name, say how long his unit had been in Saudi Arabia, even comment about the weather.
Then came the invitation to tea. The neat tent had piled blankets and the oude was in a corner. After a visitor politely inquired about it, the major began his performance. As he sang, an A-10 "Wart Hog" flying nearby provided percussion.
The recital proved an icebreaker of sorts. The major allowed that he was 33, married with four children. He had been in the army for 15 years, 10 in Lebanon. He said he served in Libya and in the Soviet Union, and planned to stay in the army "forever until death."
Kuwaiti Advisers to Marines
Moltan Sultan said he learned English by watching American shows, such as "Colombo" and "Kojak," on TV in his native Kuwait. That broken English has landed him a job as an adviser to the U.S. military.
Sultan, 30, is camping in the desert with U.S. Marines, just south of the Kuwaiti border, as they prepare for a massive ground assault into his homeland. He will serve as their guide inside Kuwait if they break through Iraqi defenses.
"I am on my way back to my country," Sultan said. He is one of hundreds of Kuwaitis who have been assigned to American combat units to serve as interpreters and guides. Marine officers say Kuwaitis such as Sultan, who had been given a commission in the Kuwaiti army, will help U.S. forces entering populated areas differentiate between Kuwaitis and Iraqis.
Dogs of the Cavalry
Some military units have acquired pets. A squad of the 1st Cavalry adopted a dog they found scavenging around their garbage dumps: a great, shaggy beast like a husky. It had lost its tail and was thus christened Bob, short for Bobtail. No one knows where it came from. It was better fed than most dogs that hang around Bedouin encampments, now long deserted; perhaps it had been cared for by another unit earlier.
Delta troop had a young bitch they called Sandy, although she is predominantly black. She had had all her shots, given by a vet, a sergeant said. Veterinarians in the desert? There are no more horses or mules with the U.S. Army, but some of the military police have dogs, cared for by a vet.