For the second time in its short history, the Saudi royal house is raising an army of several thousand young Muslims dedicated to the Saudi brand of Sunni Islam for beating back alien and competing influences and interlopers.
Whereas in 1985, Saudi Arabia worked hand in hand with the American Central Intelligence Agency, this time Riyadh is acting on its own for an enterprise frankly designed to frustrate and delimit the pro-democracy uprisings the Obama administration is espousing in the Muslim world, the Middle East and North Africa.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the leading Muslim financial powerhouse rated no mention in the Middle East vision US President Barack Obama unveiled May 19. The president only disparaged (nameless) military intervention in Bahrain. Riyadh too left the implied aspersion without comment.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and counter-terror sources point to the striking differences between the Muslim jihadi force the Saudis enlisted in the 1980s and the fighting force they are mustering in 2011, symptoms of the striking changes which have since overtaken the strategic thinking and actions of the most conservative of Arab regimes and the radical somersault in Saudi-US relations.
In 1985, King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz bin Saud placed his director of intelligence, Prince Turki bin Faisal bin Saud and a bright young Saudi talent, an engineer called Osama bin Laden, in charge of raising a new force for vanquishing the Red Army and ending its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. CIA Director William Joseph Casey provided with a $1 billion war chest led the American side of the enterprise.
Prince Bandar builds Muslim Army No. 2 as the architect of No. 1 is terminated
Then, the US and Saudi Arabia were as one for a common cause. But already, Riyadh was entertaining the notion of developing a Sunni army able not just to contain Soviet expansion but also to eventually confront the nascent Islamic Republic of Iran and its aspiration to export Shiite revolution beyond its borders and offset Iran's first offshoot, the Lebanese Hizballah.
In the meantime, Osama bin Laden's early start in the service of the United States and Saudi Arabia evolved into a terrorist organization dedicated to destroying both – al Qaeda.
A cynical quirk of history led the CIA and US Seals commandos to terminate the architect of Muslim Army No. 1 at a villa in Pakistan at the very moment that the Saudi impetus for establishing Muslim Army No. 2 was in full flight.
The architect of the new enterprise is Prince Bandar bin Sultan al Saud, head of the Saudi National Security Council, whom King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz has entrusted (as we reported in previous DEBKA-Net-Weekly issues) with managing the kingdom's current military, political and intelligence strategy in the face of the seven-month old Arab Revolt sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.
His duties are extensive and varied and take him as far as South Asia and the Far East.
Thursday, May 26, Prince Bandar embarked on his second visit in three months to China, Pakistan and the Muslim nations of Asia and Central Asia.
Recruiting in Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, training in Central Asia
During his first visit to Beijing on March 18, he brought with him a two-part proposition: Saudi Arabia and China would sign a military pact making Beijing the oil kingdom's primary arms provider. (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 489 of April 14: Saudis Buy Advanced Nuclear-Capable Missiles in China)
As relations evolved, Saudi Arabia would grant China a naval base or bases in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea in lieu of partial payment for its arms purchases.
The Saudi prince's tour also took him to Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia (from whose universities the original US-Saudi Muslim army raised its recruits). There, he whipped out draft contracts for military collaboration for establishing the units of a Saudi-funded rapid response force.
As outlined by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources, the deal called for the Islamabad, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur governments to hold these special forces on call for intervention in any part of the Arab and Muslim world which Riyadh deemed at risk after consulting with those governments.
According to intelligence estimates, this mixed bag force would number 5,000 men under arms in the first stage – structured very much on the lines of the original Muslim army of the 1980s.
Recruitment centers would be established in Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, while the new volunteers would receive military training at facilities the Saudis plan to erect in the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan and Tajikistan.
A fully mobile, trained Muslim rapid response force
Pakistan and Jordan have undertaken to run in the training centers and provide instructors. Riyadh has still to persuade Beijing to send weapons instructors, a step that would expand China's military presence in Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East and move a key block onto the big powers' regional game board.
Bandar and his team calculate that if the combined effort moves forward as planned, it will take two to three years to muster 10-15,000 combatants; the Saudi-led multinational Muslim legion will be ready to go in 2014 at latest.
Their plan provides for the graduates of the special courses to remain at their training facilities with three tasks:
To provide assistance to local forces called on to shield their governments against Arab Revolt-style uprisings;
To combat Iranian incursions in the three republics. They will be taught tactics for repulsing the intruders and covert cells planted in those countries by the al Qods Brigades, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' external terror and intelligence arm.
They will be on call at all times for the rapid transfer at short notice to other countries on orders from Saudi or its treaty co-signatories. Air transports chartered by Riyadh will carry them to threatened locations.
For its airlifts Riyadh routinely charters the Soviet-made air transports readily available in Central Asian republics.
Saudis go forward with Muslim legion after taking stock
Saudi Arabia and its GCC allies in the Persian Gulf are therefore providing themselves with a standing, highly mobile, paramilitary force to be at their disposal on short notice for dealing with crises in their countries and aiding any Muslim centers in trouble.
Our military experts note that the conception and organization of the new Muslim legion are clearly the products of a close Saudi study of the revolts threatening other Arab regimes. They have evaluated the outcome of Saudi intervention in the unrest and closely analyzed Iran's thrusts for footholds in the Bahraini, Iraqi, Lebanese and Palestinian arenas.
The next article sums up Saudi Arabia's military and clandestine activities thus far in ten Arab and Muslim countries.