Saudi Military Forces Represent Less Than Meets the Eye
July 5, 2014 • 11:20AM

In recent conversations with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, both Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama pressed for Saudi military cooperation against the ravaging forces of ISIS, who are grabbing up vast parcels of land in both Iraq and Syria for their self-proclaimed "Caliphate." Indeed, 30,000 Saudi troops have been dispatched to the Saudi-Iraqi border, ostensibly in compliance with the US requests.

But there are several things wrong with this picture. First, the Saudis were instrumental, along with other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and Turkey in the launching of ISIS in the first place. Massive amounts of Gulf money and weapons—some that originated from the White House not-so-covert operations in Benghazi, Libya after the overthrow of Qaddafi—went into the build up of ISIS. And the top Saudi official who oversaw the unleashing of the Sunni jihadists against both the Syrian regime and "secularist" Syrian rebels, Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, was just this week reinstated by the King into a post as a top national security advisor.

But even more to the point, U.S. military officials who spent years serving in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states emphasized in recent talks that the Saudi armed forces are a joke. If the Iraq Army has been caving in in the face of ISIS attacks in almost every battle so far, the Saudis can be expected to do likewise. In fact, according to a well-informed Washington intelligence official, members of the Saudi military that have trans-border tribal connections to Yemen and Iraq already defected from the Saudi army, necessitating Riyadh's deployment of better trained, "more loyal" forces to the border.

According to one former U.S. military attaché in Riyadh, the only viable military force in Saudi Arabia is the bedouin-dominated National Guard. The National Guard, which was headed for decades by King Abdullah (and is now headed by his son) has been extensively trained by the U.S. military for decades, and represents a competent light armored fighting force. But, the source emphasized, "that's all there is." The vast quantities of American and British hardware, including advanced fighter jets, are beyond the capacity of the Saudi Air Force. In the event of a serious threat to the survival of the Kingdom, American and British pilots might covertly take command of the planes, but left to their own devices, according to a consensus of American military experts, the Saudis could not perform even basic maneuvers.