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US troop withdrawal from Saudi imminent as Washington seeks to contain China

June 21, 2021 at 12:34 pm

US Marine Corps General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. (C), commander of the US Central Command, is shown by coalition spokesman Colonel Turki bin Saleh al-Malki (C-R) reportedly Iranian weapons seized by Saudi forces from Yemen’s Houthi on July 18, 2019 [FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images]

US military hardware and personnel are being withdrawn from Saudi Arabia and several other countries in the Middle East as Washington nears the completion of its global review of American forces and issues final recommendations on confronting the threat from China.

The removal of forces is expected to take place over the summer. Some of the military assets will be returned to the United States for maintenance and repair, Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Jessica McNulty is reported saying, while other assets will be redeployed to other regions.

“This decision was made in close coordination with host nations and with a clear eye on preserving our ability to meet our security commitments. It’s about maintaining some of our high demand, low density assets so they are ready for future requirements in the event of a contingency,” McNulty said in a statement, adding that the Pentagon would not disclose where the military assets would be going or when. With the withdrawal coinciding with the imminent release of recommendations by Pentagon’s China Task Force, its presumed that assets will be strategically placed to confront Beijing.

READ: US withdraws Patriot missile defence system from Middle East

The removal of forces from Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries comes as part of a broader drawdown in the Middle East and the wider region. In Afghanistan, where the US has been in a 20 years long war with the Taliban, it is set to complete the withdrawal of all forces before the 20-year anniversary of the September 11 terror attack in New York in 2001. Many see what has become America’s longest war in its history as a major defeat, as the Taliban remains a major political force.

“These initiatives, some of which will remain classified, are designed to focus departmental processes and procedures and better help department leaders contribute to whole of government efforts to address the challenge of China,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby is reported saying last week at a press briefing.

The US bulked up its troop presence in Saudi Arabia following the 2019 missile attack on Aramco oil facilities and to counter the threat posed by Iran. In the wake of the attack, two Patriot missile batteries and one Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) systems were also sent to the kingdom. It’s reported that the withdrawal of forces from the Middle East would primarily affect these and other air defence assets.

In March, the Pentagon’s China Task Force began work engaged in identifying priorities for the Defence Department with regards to its Asian competitor. Its report, which is expected soon, will issue specific and actionable recommendations and milestones to meet the China challenge.