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Kuwait - Military Personnel

Before the Iraqi invasion, the army's manpower strength was 16,000 officers and enlisted men. An estimate of the postwar strength of the Kuwaiti army, published in The Military Balance, 1992-1993, revealed the devastating effect of the Persian Gulf War. The disparate ground forces, estimated to number about 8,000, were to be reconstituted into four understrength mechanized and armored brigades, a reserve brigade, and an artillery brigade. The total Kuwaiti active force as of 2004 was about 21,500 personnel, with another 5,900 reservists. The total Kuwaiti active force as of 2010 was about 15,500 personnel, with another 23,700 reservists.

Conscription was suspended in 2001. Unlike other Persian Gulf states, Kuwait had a conscription system that obligated young men to serve for two years beginning at the age of eighteen. Men between 18-30 years of age were previously subject to compulsory and 18-25 years of age for voluntary military service; women age 18-30 may be subject to compulsory military service. Educational deferments were granted, and university graduates served for only one year. In practice, exemptions were liberally granted, and most young Kuwaitis were able to avoid military duty.

Estimates are that only 20 to 30 percent of the prewar military ranks were filled by Kuwaiti nationals. Military and security forces had been purged of Shia personnel during the 1980s. At the outbreak of the gulf war, Palestinians filled many technical positions, supported by thousands of Pakistanis, Indians, and Filipinos in maintenance and logistic functions. Officers on detail from Britain, Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan provided military expertise. Lower ranks in the army and security forces were occupied predominantly by bidun who had taken reasonably well to military life but were poorly prepared to absorb training in operating and servicing modern equipment. In spite of reports that many bidun fought well against the Iraqis, many were expelled from the army in 1991 for alleged collaboration.

The lack of manpower was greatly noticed during the Gulf War. The Kuwaiti army was made up of biduns, people who were not Kuwaiti citizens. The Bidoon are people living in Kuwait who assert rights to Kuwaiti citizenship and who deny that they have a right to citizenship in any other country. The term "Bidoon" means "without" in Arabic, because these people are without citizenship. There is no connection with the Arabic term "bedouin," although some Bidoon are members of bedouin tribes that maintained a nomadic lifestyle in the pre-oil era.

Restrictions on the Bidoon escalated in the aftermath of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. In September 1990, the Iraqi occupation authorities ordered, under the penalty of death, all noncitizen residents of Kuwait to join the Popular Army, a militia that was formed to support the Iraqi army. Failure to provide evidence of registration with the militia became grounds for immediate imprisonment. Seizing on the fact that a few individual Bidoon joined the Popular Army -- and blaming the Bidoon for the Kuwaiti army's failure to stop the Iraqi invasion, since the Bidoon constituted the overwhelming majority of the armed forces rank and file -- many Kuwaitis came to view all Bidoon as collaborators.

Until the mid-1980s, the GOK treated Bidoon as lawful residents of Kuwait whose claims to citizenship were under consideration, a status that distinguished them not only from other foreign residents but also from other groups of stateless residents, such as Palestinians from Gaza. At that time, the number of Bidoon was included in the total number of Kuwaiti citizens in the Ministry of Planning's Annual Statistical Abstract, and Bidoon were issued documents identifying them as Bidoon. With the exception of voting rights, they received the benefits of full citizens, including subsidized housing, education, and health services.

In 1985, the government began applying provisions of the Alien Residence Law 17/1959 to the Bidoon and issued a series of regulations stripping the Bidoon of almost all their previous rights and benefits. It is unclear why the government changed its policies so radically, but the sharp 1984/1985 drop in oil prices probably made the GOK more concerned about the number of new citizens eligible for government benefits. More restrictions followed. In 1986, the government severely restricted Bidoons' eligibility for travel documents. It also fired government employees not employed by the army or the police who could not produce valid passports, whether issued by Kuwait or another country, and instructed private employers to do the same.

Because of their removal and the removal of Palestinians and other non-Kuwaitis, the ranks of the services became seriously depleted. Few Kuwaitis volunteer for military service, and conscription is not regarded as an acceptable option. Under the circumstances, Kuwait will be hard pressed to meet its goal of a postwar armed strength of 30,000. A relaxation of the policy toward bidun was hinted at by the statement of the minister of defense that people of "unspecified nationality" may be retained after screening for loyalty and may even be given Kuwaiti citizenship. With respect to conscription, the minister of defense in July 1991 said that the system was being reviewed to make it more effective.

Most Kuwaiti officers are members of the ruling family or related tribal groups. Education standards are high--many are graduates of Sandhurst--and living conditions, pay, and benefits are excellent. The Kuwaiti Military College accepts secondary school graduates for eighteen months of cadet training in army, air force, and navy programs. The United States provides pilot training and assistance in developing a flight training facility within Kuwait. United States, British, and French military missions and civilian contractors provide training for more technologically advanced systems. A small Soviet advisory group provided training in the use of Soviet missile systems before the Persian Gulf War.

Traditionally, the officer corps--with its close links to the ruling family--was considered to be a loyal and trustworthy defender of the regime. In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, however, there were displays of discontent among officers arising from the inadequate response of the armed forces to the Iraqi invasion and the failure to launch postwar reforms. Many of the 6,000 officers and men taken prisoner by the Iraqis were prevented from rejoining the armed forces and were angered at their treatment by senior officers who fled to Saudi Arabia.

Kuwait's 100,000 stateless Bidoon residents were long denied access to the free healthcare, education, and other welfare-state benefits enjoyed by Kuwaiti citizens. Demonstrating a growing social awareness of the plight of the Bidoon and a sensitivity to the wishes of "tribal" voters, in 2009 the government issued a resolution to allow free healthcare for Bidoon who are handicapped or younger than eighteen. In addition, Kuwaiti courts established a precedent which makes it easier for the Bidoon to obtain marriage and birth certificates. Despite these assurances, the Bidoon issue is unlikely to be fully resolved anytime soon through an expansion of citizenship because many Kuwaiti citizens remain vehemently opposed to increasing the rolls of those eligible for the full benefits of the welfare state. The issue remains one of Kuwait's most difficult and sensitive human rights issues.

In 2004, Chief of Staff of the Kuwait Armed Forces (KAF), LTG Fahed Al-Amir, requested assistance from the US in the support of internal counter-extremism education programs. Subsequently, the KAF became aware of a number of military members allegedly plotting attacks on U.S. targets. Additionally, a number of military members were reportedly caught in the Ministry of Interior (MOI) anti-terrorist operations conducted in early-2005. As a result, the KAF began to develop and implement several programs designed to reduce the threat of extremism in their ranks. These programs included efforts to eliminate non-Kuwaiti or stateless Arabs (bidoons) from military service, to develop clandestine programs to identify potential extremists within KMOD, and to develop counter-extremism information / education programs.

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