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US withdraws Patriot missile defence system from Middle East

June 21, 2021 at 12:09 pm

A member of the US Airforce looks on near a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan air base in Al-Kharj, in central Saudi Arabia on 20 February, 2020 [ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

The United States is withdrawing its Patriot anti-missile defence batteries from four Middle Eastern states as it continues to reduce its military presence in the region, according to a report published by the Wall Street Journal.

Citing anonymous US officials, the newspaper revealed on Friday that the Pentagon is currently in the process of pulling out eight of the Patriot system’s batteries from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system based in Saudi Arabia – established by the Trump administration – is also reportedly being removed. Hundreds of US troops who operated the systems and their batteries in the countries will be redeployed elsewhere.

According to the report, the withdrawal began earlier this month after the US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin called Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on 2 June to inform him of the move.

READ: The US strategic shift in the Middle East

The withdrawal of the batteries does not, however, signal the full withdrawal of the US military from the region or the abandonment of its allies. “We still have our bases in the countries of our Gulf partners,” a senior defence official told the Post. “They aren’t shutting down, there is still substantial presence, substantial posture in the region.”

Amid the decreased presence of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, many see the latest move as President Joe Biden’s attempt to de-escalate tensions with Iran in the region. A series of events last year, including the Iranian drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities and the Iran-backed militias’ firing on US forces in Iraq, were the initial cause of Washington’s deployment of the anti-missile batteries and troops to Saudi Arabia.

It was revealed three months ago that the US was planning to deploy the short-range mobile AN/TWQ-1 Avenger air defence missile system in Syria and Iraq.

READ: US seeks ‘fallback’ Saudi bases to avoid potential Iran attacks