The US has begun to reconfigure its military capabilities in the Gulf and removed at least three Patriot missile defence systems from the region, the Wall Street Journal reported.
US officials told the Journal on Thursday that at least one Patriot anti-missile battery was removed from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia despite repeated rocket and drone attacks from both Yemen and Iraq.
Sources told the newspaper that an aircraft carrier and surveillance systems were being diverted from the Middle East, responding to military needs elsewhere and additional reductions were also under consideration.
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The US Defence Department did not confirm to Middle East Eye the movement of military assets, but said it continues to evaluate “resource allocations for US operations around the world according to priorities, threats and opportunities”.
“Without speaking to specific capabilities, we continue to take a strategic approach to the allocation of forces and routinely make adjustments to account for a wide number of factors,” Pentagon spokesperson Commander Jessica L McNulty said.
The Pentagon in February did announce that it would conduct a global force posture review of the US’s military footprint, resources, strategy, and missions at the directive of President Joe Biden.
Biden has vowed to recalibrate Washington’s relationship with Riyadh, following the Trump administration’s close ties to the kingdom, despite controversial instances such as the murder and dismemberment of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
On Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price would not confirm the movement of US military assets, but told reporters that the administration remains “committed to working together to help Saudi Arabia strengthen its defenses” against threats to its territory from Yemen and elsewhere in the region.
“There are many areas where we believe it is in our interest to maintain strategic cooperation with Riyadh, and that includes working together to deter and defend against threats to the kingdom, including those ultimately emanating from Iran,” Price said.
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“We do want a working partnership with the Saudis to help defend against this aggression, to end the war in Yemen, and to take on other challenges.”
Since the Biden administration came to office in January, it has worked to end Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, moving to block a massive offensive weapons deal that had been agreed upon during the Trump administration.
The administration also made public an intelligence report that confirmed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s culpability in the murder of Khashoggi.
Still, Biden officials continue to highlight the importance of US-Saudi ties and have been adamant about the necessity of defending the kingdom from ongoing rocket and missile attacks.
The removal of Patriot batteries, permanent aircraft-carrier presence and other military capabilities means that several thousand troops may leave the region over time, the WSJ reported.
Around the end of 2020, there were about 50,000 US troops in the region, down from 90,000 at the height of tensions between the US and Iran in 2018.