WASHINGTON (Reuters) - About 10,000 U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have been put on the highest state of alert because of ``credible'' threats of possible attacks by anti-Western guerrillas, the Pentagon (news - web sites) said.
Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon said on Tuesday forces in the two Gulf states on Monday had been placed on ''Threat Condition Delta'' — the highest protective alert status in the U.S. military — following threats ``involving unspecified targets.''
The latest step in the volatile Gulf and Middle East region followed the Oct. 12 deaths of 17 U.S. sailors in an apparent suicide bombing against the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen. U.S. troops in Bahrain and Qatar also were put on ``ThreatCon Delta'' alert after that attack in Aden harbor.
Under the highest alert, U.S. troops carefully screen visitors to bases where they are located and make sure that vehicles that might contain explosives are not parked close to buildings.
Bacon confirmed a report from the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City earlier on Tuesday that the alert level of around 5,000 troops each in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia had been increased.
``In both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, U.S. forces are at the highest alert level, which is Threat Condition Delta,'' he said at the daily Defense Department briefing.
``It is due to credible-threat information involving unspecified targets,'' Bacon added.
But when asked if the threats had come from any specific anti-Western groups, such as that headed by exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, the spokesman refused to elaborate.
``I've said all I can about the threats,'' he told reporters.
A Variety Of U.S. Forces In Region
U.S. personnel in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait include Air Force units in both countries that conduct almost-daily flights over southern Iraq to enforce a Western-declared ``no-fly'' zone.
The United States has a variety of forces deployed in and around the Gulf region.
U.S. ground forces also are deployed in the Kuwaiti desert close to the border with former occupier Iraq. The U.S.-led Gulf War ended Iraq's seven-month occupation of Kuwait 10 years ago next February.
The embassy in Kuwait said that the increased alert status was due to ``continued threats and tensions'' in the Gulf region.
``Late yesterday, October 30, all U.S. military units present in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were ordered, based on continued threats and tensions in the region, to adopt additional force-protection measures,'' said a U.S. Embassy warden's message obtained by Reuters in Kuwait.
Defense officials, who asked not to be identified, said last week that the ``Delta'' alert in Qatar and Bahrain had followed specific threats picked up by U.S. intelligence against U.S. embassies in those two countries and an international school in Bahrain attended by American students.
Another Pentagon spokesman said last week that the credibility of those earlier threats was not known. There are about 1,000 American military personnel in Bahrain, which serves as headquarters for the U.S. Fifth Fleet, and another 50 or so soldiers in Qatar maintaining American armor stored there.
Bacon said on Tuesday that the threats involved in the Kuwait and Saudi Arabia alerts, although credible, did not involved specific targets.
U.S. citizens in the wider Middle East were advised earlier this month to take extra security precautions in view of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops over the past month.