The United States is removing its Patriot missile defence system and other weapons from Saudi Arabia.
Washington’s decision to pull out Patriot missile batteries from Saudi Arabia has made the kingdom’s leadership nervous.
President Donald Trump said the move is part of an effort to scale back on a military presence that he says does not benefit the US.
The two batteries in Saudi Arabia were helping protect the country’s oil fields and are likely to be replaced by Saudi Patriot batteries, according to the official, who asked not to be identified discussing the change. More than 12 Patriot batteries and one THAAD battery, which can intercept ballistic missiles at higher altitudes, remain in the region, the official added.
The four Patriot batteries were scheduled to be withdrawn in March but their redeployment was delayed after two rocket attacks at Camp Taji in Iraq in mid-March, according to the official. The U.S. blamed the strikes on Iranian-backed militias.
American weapons and fighter jets were sent to the kingdom last year after Saudi-Aramco oil facilities were attacked.
They were also intended as a deterrent as tensions rose between the US and Iran.
Despite the modest drawdown, which was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal, senior U.S. defense officials maintain that Iran remains a threat.
“It’s fair to say that Iran continues its malign behavior throughout the region,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters Tuesday at the Pentagon. “The Iranian government continues to export terrorism, continues to export this malign behavior from the Houthis, up into Iraq, across into Syria, you name it.”
But the reduction in the US military presence is believed by some to be based on assessments that Iran no longer poses an immediate threat to strategic American interests.
Saudi Arabia and neighboring Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates, spent billions of dollars over the past decade boosting their missile defenses with the latest upgrades of the Raytheon Co.-built Patriot and other antimissile systems.
The kingdom took delivery of Patriot-3 hit-to-kill missiles bought years ago to defend against cruise and ballistic missiles. It has used them to defend against missile attacks by the Houthi rebels it’s been fighting across its border in Yemen since 2015.
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