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US disassembles air defense systems in Saudi Arabia

According to a report issued by the Wall Street Journal, the United States started to remove its anti-missile systems from the Gulf region.

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The United States disassembled a minimum of three Patriot systems from the Gulf region, including ones located in the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, a US official told to the Wall Street Journal. Apart from the Patriots, an aircraft carrier and tracking systems were also removed to be located elsewhere in order to meet military needs, the Journal added. Further removals are being evaluated and may come into question, according to the official’s statements. Within this context, the removal of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), missile defense system, had also been offered. However, it was decided that it would remain in the region.

The move has drawn attention amid a situation where missile and drone attacks coming from both Yemen and Iraq, targeting Saudi Arabia, has intensified. However, US officials have frequently reiterated their country’s commitment to the safety, security, and stability of its partners throughout the Middle East. Speaking upon the question regarding the matter, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood said that “the US approach in this way is not changing, and it never will.” Another US official also supported this view saying that Iranian-backed Houthis should know that the US stands with Saudi Arabia and will continue to support them.

While the US missile defense systems are being removed, Pentagon is considering other options, including selling weapons, expanding intelligence-sharing, sharing technologies, and training, to support its partner. It was also reported that commenting upon a question during an off-camera press briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that the United States would continue “to support the defense of Saudi Arabia in partnership with the Saudi military, including their abilities to counter inbound threats.”

These removals are being affiliated with the Biden administration’s policy preference regarding reducing the US’ presence in the Middle East. On the other hand, President Biden had frequently pledged, in his election campaign, to rebalance the relations with the US’ Gulf partners, particularly with Saudi Arabia, which was given a blank check in the Trump era. US-Saudi relations became tense when the intelligence report, revealing the Saudi Crown Prince’s involvement in the Khashoggi murder, had been declassified.

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