GCC To Discuss ‘Peninsula Shield’ Expansion

RIYADH, 2 November 2006 — The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will discuss the possible expansion of their joint force called “Peninsula Shield” following a proposal made by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah in this regard recently.

“A meeting of senior GCC officials will be held in Abu Dhabi on Monday to review the proposal,” according to GCC general secretariat sources.

“Ministers of defense from the GCC countries together with senior defense officials will attend the meeting,” said Salem Al-Alwi, a spokesman of the GCC secretariat, here yesterday. When asked about the names of the high-ranking Saudi officials who will be present in the meeting, Al-Alwi refused to disclose their names.

But a GCC secretariat statement released here yesterday said, “The meeting will review King Abdullah’s proposal to expand the joint force and discuss other defense-related issues.”

The Saudi proposal calls for bolstering regional security and upgrading combat efficiency with the help of an expanded joint force.

According to the proposal, the soldiers comprising the Shield will be stationed in their home countries and will be called for joint exercises from time to time. The troops will conduct themselves under a joint command and control system. The proposal will cut operational and stationing costs and will also reduce hassles if the Gulf states eventually decide to expand the size.

King Abdullah’s proposal to bolster the Peninsula Shield has been conveyed to the leaders of the Gulf states by Prince Khalid ibn Sultan, assistant minister of defense and aviation, in his several visits to these countries recently.

“In fact, a strong joint force will enhance the collective defense capability,” said the GCC secretariat’s statement. At the moment, the 7,000-strong Peninsula Shield has soldiers from all GCC member states including Saudi Arabia.

But the fate of this joint military force has been uncertain in the past, mainly because of lack of consensus among the Gulf states. The GCC even debated to disband the force once and for all. There was also discussion about expanding the size of the Peninsula Shield and maintain it at its Saudi base. But no final decision has been taken so far. The Shield, if expanded to a division level, will comprise 22,000 personnel.

At the moment, the Shield maintains a low profile on the security front. The Shield was set up in 1986 as a GCC multimember defense force with about 5,000 soldiers. The Peninsula Shield is currently headquartered at a Saudi Army base at Hafr Al-Batin, near the Kuwaiti and Iraqi borders. Referring to the agenda of the defense ministers’ meeting, the GCC secretariat said that the defense ministers would also discuss how to unify the defense training manuals and courses in Gulf states.

Many other important projects will also be discussed at the Abu Dhabi meeting. These joint projects aim at enhancing the fighting capability of the Gulf states. On the defense front, the Gulf states have already executed some major projects. An SR319 million project to boost defense cooperation by linking the member states by an advanced radar network is already in place. This is in addition to an SR263 million security communication network.

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