Saudi Arabia to pay for additional US troops, says Trump

Updated October 13, 2019

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US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House. — AFP/File
US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has said that Saudi Arabia will pay for the deployment of thousands of additional American troops in the kingdom.

“We are sending troops and other things to the Middle East to help Saudi Arabia,” said President Trump while talking to reporters outside the White House on Friday afternoon.

“Are you ready? Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we’re doing. That’s a first!” he added. “And we appreciate that.”

Days before the Pentagon announced the new deployments, President Trump decided to withdraw US troops from Syria, saying that Washington was no longer willing to fight for and in other countries.

In a series of tweets on Oct 9, Mr Trump said that US presence in the Middle East was “the worst decision ever made” and that he was in the process of bringing US troops home.

“The United States has spent EIGHT TRILLION DOLLARS fighting and policing in the Middle East. Thousands of our Great Soldiers have died or been badly wounded. Millions of people have died on the other side,” he wrote.

But on Friday, he argued that sending additional troops to Saudi Arabia made economic sense.

“So, we are sending more troops to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a very good ally from the standpoint that we get along with them very well, a very important player in the Middle East,” he said.

“The relationship has been very good. They buy hundreds of billions of dollar worth of merchandise from us. Not only military equipment. And military equipment of about $110 billion. Its millions of jobs.”

The Pentagon announced on Friday it’s deploying thousands of additional troops to Saudi Arabia to bolster the kingdom’s defence.

Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said that “at the request of US Central Command, Secretary of Defence Mark Esper authorised the deployment of additional US. Forces … to Saudi Arabia.”

The authorisation includes the following equipment: “Two fighter squadrons, one Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW) two Patriot batteries and one Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system (THAAD),” Mr Hoffman added.

The air expeditionary wing can include tankers, fighters, surveillance and reconnaissance, and the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), a US official tells ABC News.

The deployments follow the Sept 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities, which both Washington and Riyadh have blamed on Iran.

A Pentagon notification said that Secretary Esper informed Saudi Crown Prince and Minister of Defence Muhammad bin Salman of the additional troop deployment on Friday morning, telling him that this deployment was being made to “assure and enhance the defence of Saudi Arabia.”

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

Since May, the US Department of Defence has increased the number of forces by approximately 14,000 to the US Central Command area of responsibility “as an investment into regional security,” Mr. Hoffman said.

“As we have stated, the United States does not seek conflict with the Iranian regime, but we will retain a robust military capability in the region that is ready to respond to any crisis and will defend US forces and interest in the region,” he added.

The Pentagon did not explain if new deployments would further enhance US military presence in Saudi Arabia or will replace the troops already stationed there.

The US aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln has been in the Gulf region since May and is expected to depart later this year.

Iran, which denies responsibility for the Sept. 14 attack, has said that it views US troop deployments in Saudi Arabia as an act of aggression.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, had long wanted additional air, ground and maritime forces in the kingdom and he said earlier this week that more troops were needed to counter growing threats to US interests in the region.

Secretary Esper, however, has clarified that the US troop deployments were “defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defence.”

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2019