Kuwait’s Army Faces Problems Of Discipline As Well As War Damage
KUWAIT CITY (AP) _ The rebuilding of Kuwait’s battered armed forces will require more than new weapons. Allied and Kuwaiti officers say many of the emirate’s soldiers are undisciplined, ill-trained or even criminal.
In an interview Tuesday, Kuwait’s armed forces commander, Maj. Gen. Jaber al-Khaled al-Sabah, said troublemakers ″really disgrace our army″ and would be weeded out over the next few months with the help of the Justice Ministry.
Al-Sabah said the majority of his soldiers were dedicated and professional, but that some misfits and criminals joined the ranks after the Iraqi invasion forced the army into exile in Saudi Arabia.
″We had volunteers who joined us after four weeks’ training,″ he said. ″Some of them had been in prisons that were opened by the Iraqis. I don’t expect them to be 100 percent military quality.″
Specific Kuwaiti officers and units have won praise for competence. But overall, the army is held in low esteem by the Western forces that fought to end Iraqi occupation and stayed on to assist the recovery.
One U.S. officer voiced exasperation while discussing the hazardous multinational effort to clear Kuwait of Iraqi mines and unexploded allied bombs.
″The Kuwaitis don’t seem to be very interested,″ said Maj. Chuck Maggio. ″I don’t know where the Kuwaiti army is, if in fact it exists.″
U.S. concern about Kuwait’s army is particularly keen, in part because the emirate has requested a continued American military presence.
″We went to a lot of expense and spent more than 100 lives to free Kuwait, so we’ll maintain some type of defense relationship, like small joint-training operations,″ said a U.S. colonel who has worked closely with the Kuwaitis and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Civilians, as well as allied troops, have criticized Kuwaiti soldiers, even accusing them of stealing cars and abusing or raping foreign residents.
In U.S.-occupied southern Iraq, officers of the 3rd Armored Division say Kuwaiti soldiers have crossed the border to loot, steal sheep and mistreat Iraqi civilians.
Some Kuwaiti army units engaged Iraqi troops during the invasion, and Gen. al-Sabah said about 1,000 Kuwaiti soldiers remain unaccounted for, including some possibly still held by Iraq.
The U.S. colonel, although saying he had little respect for the Kuwait army as a whole, praised one brigade based in western Kuwait which fought Iraqi invaders until its ammunition ran out.
The Kuwaiti role in February’s ground war was minor and no Kuwaiti troops were reported killed then. During the aerial bombardment before the ground campaign, Kuwaiti pilots flew missions.
Al-Sabah said Kuwait’s military manpower is almost back to its pre-invasion level of about 22,000.
Sixty percent of its force consisted of foreign nationals or stateless people known as Bedouins. These non-citizens, most of whom served in support units or performed menial tasks shunned by the Kuwaitis, are now being screened to determine if they collaborated with the Iraqis.
″Just because they are not Kuwaiti doesn’t mean they aren’t loyal,″ the general said. But he said future decisions about the military’s size will hinge on how many Bedouins and other non-citizens remain in the force.
During Iraq’s invasion and occupation, Kuwait lost its air defense system, most armored personnel carriers and artillery, and eight of 10 warships.
The air force has ordered 40 sophisticated U.S. F-18 jet fighters, and the army is buying about 200 Yugoslav-made tanks. But even such multibillion- dollar acquisitions will leave Kuwait far short on self-reliance.
Kuwaiti officials say assistance, in addition to continued U.S. training, probably will take the form of a regional security force established in cooperation with neighboring Arab states.
But they also want to beef up their own forces.
Gen. al-Sabah said the military will intensify its conscription program, requiring all young men to serve two years.
In the past, university graduates served only one year, but the general said this was not enough to acquaint them with modern tactics and complex weapons systems.