US to deploy 3,000 more troops, boost missile defence systems in Saudi Arabia

Updated October 12, 2019

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US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper authorised the deployment of two more Patriot missile batteries, one THAAD ballistic missile interception system, two fighter squadrons and one air expeditionary wing, the Pentagon said in a statement. — AP/File
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper authorised the deployment of two more Patriot missile batteries, one THAAD ballistic missile interception system, two fighter squadrons and one air expeditionary wing, the Pentagon said in a statement. — AP/File

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon said on Friday it has approved the deployment of 3,000 additional troops and military hardware to Saudi Arabia, boosting the country’s defences after attacks on its oil installations blamed on Iran.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper authorised the deployment of two more Patriot missile batteries, one THAAD ballistic missile interception system, two fighter squadrons and one air expeditionary wing, the Pentagon said in a statement.

“Secretary Esper informed Saudi Crown Prince and Minister of Defence Mohammed bin Salman this morning of the additional troop deployment to assure and enhance the defense of Saudi Arabia,” it said.

“Taken together with other deployments this constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorised within the last month,” it said.

Esper later told reporters that the deployments were in response “to continued threats in the region” and came after a conversation with bin Salman about “efforts to protect from further Iranian aggression.” The Saudi prince had requested additional support, Esper said.

Since May, the US has increased the number of its forces by about 14,000 in the Central Command area covering the Middle East, the defence department said.

In September, the US announced deployment of 200 troops as well as Patriot missiles to the kingdom in the wake of the attacks on Saudi oil installations blamed on Iran.

Friday’s announcement came after the owner of an Iranian oil tanker said suspected missile strikes hit the vessel off the Saudi west coast port of Jeddah, raising fresh concerns about Middle East oil supply.

The planned deployment will include fighter squadrons, one air expeditionary wing and air defense personnel, the Pentagon said.

It was unclear whether some of the newly announced troops might replace other American forces expected to depart the region in the coming weeks or months.

The Pentagon has yet to announce, for example, whether it will replace the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its strike group when it eventually wraps up its deployment to the Middle East.

The deployment is part of a series of what the United States has described as defensive moves following the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities last month, which rattled global energy markets and exposed major gaps in Saudi Arabia’s air defenses.

Iran has responded to previous US troop deployments this year with apprehension. It denies responsibility for the attack on Saudi Arabia as well as attacks on oil tankers earlier this year.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2019