Kuwaitis train to fight way home Refugees say they want to be first to enter Kuwait WAR IN THE GULF

February 13, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Sun Staff Correspondent

EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA -- Bader al-Hussein, a tall, gangly 19-year-old whose family made a desperate escape across the desert last summer, says he's ready to go back home to Kuwait, even if it kills him.

His friends, including Nasser Abeed, 17, also fled Kuwait and are counting the days until their return.

"Every mother's worrying about her son," Mr. Hussein said. Asked about his own mother, he said, "She's also a little afraid."

At a Spartan campground in the windy eastern Saudi Arabian desert, Mr. Hussein and 609 other Kuwaiti teen-agers, young adults and middle-aged men have gathered to learn the rudiments of infantry weapons, hand-to-hand combat and chemical warfare protection.

They are the latest recruits in the Kuwait Volunteer Army, which says it is assembling 30,000 troops on the Saudi-Kuwaiti border.

Col. Sadi al-Shamari, the Kuwaiti commander who runs the camp, has had the daunting task of molding thousands of Kuwaiti men and boys into battle-ready soldiers in just four weeks of basic training. Since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, the camp has turned out 2,400 soldiers.

The current crop of volunteers, most of them students, but some as old as 50, will be sent in a few days to Kuwaiti armored units on the border or assigned to U.S. and allied divisions where they will act as translators and guides, Colonel Shamari said in an interview yesterday.

When they join their units, the soldiers will get some additional, "specialized" training for the coming ground war against Iraq, he said.

"As commander of this camp, my role is to train these people very well and give the Kuwaiti government good soldiers," the colonel said.

He said the emerging army would total 30,000 troops, a larger force than the 22,000 men Kuwait had under arms before the invasion.

The new army is based on 8,000 soldiers who escaped, 22,000 others drawn from the ranks of reservists who escaped and the volunteers here and in similar camps in Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

"Some of our army, when they got out of Kuwait, just went to another country and didn't show up," Colonel Shamari said.

Some of the roles Kuwaiti soldiers will play remain to be decided by the Saudi and U.S. officials of the allied high command. What was clear to everyone at the camp was that the Kuwaitis would go to the front, he said.

"Every Kuwaiti hopes to be in the first lines, to be first in Kuwait," the colonel said.

A 49-year-old veteran of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, who fought in both Egypt and Syria against Israeli troops, Colonel Shamari professed confidence in the fighting skills and readiness of his inexperienced charges.

Besides, he added later, the fighting "is going to be easy" after another week or two of allied bombing. By the time the allies reach Kuwait City, Iraqi resistance "will be very, very weak" as a result of the continuous bombing raids, Colonel Shamari said.

But another Kuwaiti officer who heard these remarks said unhesitantly, "That's not my opinion; that's his opinion."

As Colonel Shamari spoke, a flatbed truck loaded with armed recruits sped along the edges of the dusty training ground, a hard, flat surface barely the size of a football field. Each man practiced jumping off and diving to the ground to assume a firing position.

In the center, companies of uniformed men did a brisk Kuwaiti goose step, but their arms were swinging so wildly out of cadence that the marching took on the appearance of a poorly rehearsed Busby Berkeley routine.

The training drills at a far end had about 60 bare-chested men, clad in brightly colored sweat pants, throwing each other in the dust. They were learning a blend of karate and tae kwon do, their martial arts instructor said through a translator.

Throughout the camp, however, the volunteers seemed aware of the dangerous times that lay ahead.

"My first thought when I enlisted was that I am going to die," said Nayef al-Temmeri, 20, a medical student at the University of Kuwait. Asked whether he was afraid of dying now, he replied, "No, I am not afraid."

Nader al-Azmi, a 15-year-old boy who stands barely 5 feet tall, sounded tough. "We will smash the Iraqi army, free our country, then deliver a slow death to Saddam," he said.

"I know I am very young, but I am strong and I am not afraid," he said. "I was a boy at school, but now I must fight like a man for my family and my country."

While there were no women in this camp, their presence is certainly felt in the sudden surge of volunteers wanting to fight.

"My mother said to go into the army of Kuwait," Nasser Abeed said, "and that we didn't come here to enjoy ourselves."

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