Special Operations: Gulf Arab Special Operations Forces (SOF)


October 26, 2005: Quite a number of countries, including some Arab ones, have been contributing Special Operations Forces (commandoes) to the US/NATO Coalition forces in Afghanistan (one SOF operator called the war there "a SOF Olympics"). Normally, a contingent remains for a year and then rotates home, to be replaced by fresh troops. But some countries don't have all that many SOF personnel available to sustain a continuous rotation. This is particularly true for some of the Gulf Arab states. All of these countries have some SOF capability (though quality varies), and several have contributed contingents to operations in Afghanistan. But they are not able to sustain a continuous presence. There are several reasons for this. One is small population. Most of the Gulf states have a surprisingly high proportion of non-citizens in their ranks, usually men from poorer Moslem countries, notably Pakistan, who may be subject to the influence of Islamist radicalism; for example, of about 11,000 troops in the Kuwaiti Army, over 3,500 are foreigners, while of some 44,000 ground troops maintained by the UAE and its member states, over 13,000 are foreigners. While all of the Gulf states are working to reduce the proportion of foreigners in the ranks, they have a long way to go. This just complicates the problem of relatively low numbers, as all of these nations have quite small armed forces to begin with, and thus extremely small SOF/Commando contingents. In addition, they all have to retain some SOF personnel at home, given that they are themselves on the front lines in the war on Islamist extremism or other problems..

The current ground force and SOF Capabilities (both approximate) of the Gulf Arab states are;

Country Army SOF

Bahrain 8,500 550

Kuwait 11,000 500

Oman 25,000 1000

Qatar 8,500 150

UAE 44,000 Unknown

As a result of this shortage of SOF personnel, "rotation" of SOF contingents from the Gulf Arab states appears to proceed on somewhat different terms than that of other country's personnel. To begin with, the Gulf Arab contingents do not seem to remain for an entire year, but rather for 6-9 months. And when they leave, they are replaced by a contingent from one of the other Gulf Arab states.

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