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US to remove Patriot missile batteries from Saudi Arabia: Report

Removal of military equipment and personnel may mark end of military buildup countering Iran, officials tell Wall Street Journal
US deployed batteries and personnel to Saudi Arabia after attacks on country's oil facilities rattled global energy markets (AFP)
By MEE staff in Washington

The US is removing four Patriot missile defence systems and dozens of troops deployed to Saudi Arabia amid heightened tensions with Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The military assets were sent to the kingdom in late September after a series of drones and missiles targeted two Saudi oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais.

The attacks on the Saudi Aramco facilities shut down 5.7 million barrels per day of crude oil production, which is about 6 percent of total global supply, causing a spike in oil prices.

Yemen's Houthi group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but both Saudi Arabia and the United States blamed Iran for the attacks, which Tehran denied. 

A leaked report by the UN secretary general said its investigators could not corroborate claims that the drones and missiles in the attack were of Iranian origin.

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The Journal reported on Thursday that the US withdrawal was based on a belief among "some officials" that Iran "no longer poses an immediate threat to American strategic interests."

The Journal said that in addition to withdrawing the Patriot systems and dozens of military personnel, the US was also considering winding down its naval presence in the Gulf.

Washington has already ordered the relocation of two fighter jet squadrons, it said.

Some US officials have voiced concern that reducing military presence in the region may give rise to new challenges from Iran, especially while the Trump administration's economic pressure campaign against Tehran remains in force. Others say that military resources, including warships and weapons systems, should be devoted to other priorities.

According to those officials, the Pentagon plans to focus its efforts in countering China's expanding military influence in Asia.

Iran maintains the largest ballistic and cruise missile capabilities in the Middle East and could overwhelm virtually any Saudi missile defence system, according to think-tank CSIS, given the geographic proximity of Tehran and its regional proxy forces.

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