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US to pull defence systems, aircraft and hundreds of troops from Middle East: Report

Pentagon is removing eight Patriot missile defence batteries from Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal reported
A US Air Force member looks on near a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan air base in al-Kharj, Saudi Arabia on 20 February 2020.
A US Air Force member stands near a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan air base in al-Kharj, Saudi Arabia on 20 February 2020 (AFP)
By MEE staff in Washington

The Biden administration is pulling eight Patriot missile defence batteries from countries in the Middle East, including Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

US officials told the Journal that in addition to the Patriot batteries, the Pentagon is removing another anti-missile system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, from Saudi Arabia, and jet fighter squadrons that were assigned to the region are being reduced.

The reported withdrawal is a major realignment of Washington's military footprint in the Middle East and comes as the country aims to focus its efforts and attention towards Russia and China.

In addition to the removal of the equipment is the redeployment of hundreds of American troops operating and supporting the missile defence systems.

US removes military assets from Saudi Arabia, Gulf: Report
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The newly reported reductions began earlier this month, according to the Journal, and came after a 2 June call between US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The majority of the military equipment that is being removed is coming from Saudi Arabia.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment.

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.

Under the Trump administration, the US sent Patriot and Thaad systems to Saudi Arabia, along with thousands of troops, in order to bolster the kingdom's defences after an attack on its oil facilities that was blamed on Iran.

The decision to remove some of the defensive systems reflects a Pentagon view that the risk of escalating hostilities between the US and Iran has lessened as the Biden administration seeks a negotiated return to the 2015 nuclear deal, an official told the Journal.

"What you're seeing is a realignment of resources with strategic priorities," a senior defence official said.

'Still a substantial presence'

In recent months, the US has been reducing its military presence in the Middle East, including the redeployment of troops and removal of equipment.

Last September, the US announced it would be pulling 2,200 troops from Iraq, citing confidence in the country's domestic security forces.

In April, at least three Patriot anti-missile batteries were removed from the Gulf, and an aircraft carrier and surveillance systems were diverted from the Middle East in response to US military needs elsewhere in the world.

Still, the senior official noted that the equipment is just a portion of the US military presence in the Middle East, and it will continue to have a "substantial" footprint in the region.

"We still maintain tens of thousands of forces in the region, we still have forces in Iraq and Syria, those forces aren’t leaving. We still have our bases in the countries of our Gulf partners, they aren’t shutting down, there is still substantial presence, substantial posture in the region," the official said.

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