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US foreign policy

US removing anti-missile batteries from Middle East due to age, not policy shift

“This whole discussion is because of their age, and it’s more maintenance-related than anything else. They’ve been sitting in the desert for God knows how long,” the diplomat told Al Arabiya English.

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Discussions by US officials to remove anti-missile batteries from countries in the Middle East have to do with mechanical issues as opposed to a policy shift away from traditional allies in the region, diplomats and officials said Friday.

“The Secretary of Defense directed the Commander of US Central Command to remove from the region this summer certain forces and capabilities, primarily air defense assets. Some of these assets will be returned to the United States for much-needed maintenance and repair. Some of them will be redeployed to other regions. We will not provide specific details,” Pentagon Spokesperson Commander Jessica L. McNulty told Al Arabiya English.

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Biden administration officials were quoted as telling the Wall Street Journal on Friday that eight Patriot anti-missile batteries would be withdrawn from Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia as the White House looks to more pressing threats from Russia and China.

Earlier this month, the White House said it had 2,742 US forces in Saudi Arabia and 2,976 in Jordan. It is believed there are just above 2,000 troops in Iraq.

As for Kuwait, there are close to 13,500 troops based primarily at Camp Arifjan and Ali al-Salem Air Base, according to the State Department. Only Germany, Japan and South Korea host more American forces than Kuwait, the State Department says.

But a Western diplomat pushed back against any perceived policy shift and said there had been talks on the batteries dating back to the Trump administration.

“This whole discussion is because of their age, and it’s more maintenance-related than anything else. They’ve been sitting in the desert for God knows how long,” the diplomat told Al Arabiya English.

Officials reportedly said that hundreds of US troops would also be pulled from several Middle Eastern countries.

However, with the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, these forces will be redeployed to “some of these countries in the region,” the diplomat told Al Arabiya English.

Despite the Pentagon, State Department and White House publicly stating that Russia and China were the biggest threats to the United States, Iran continues to warrant attention, especially as its proxies in Iraq and Yemen continue to target US troops and allies.

On Friday, presidential elections were held in Iran as well. “Based on the results and who wins, it will be telling to see what [US] military strategy comes out of that,” the Western diplomat said.

McNulty warned that the US maintained a “robust force posture in the region appropriate” to any threats. “We also retain the flexibility to rapidly flow forces back into the Middle East as conditions warrant,” the commander added in a statement emailed to Al Arabiya English.

Reassuring US allies and partners in the region, McNulty said Washington’s commitment was “very clear” based on close defense consultations and remaining ground, air, and naval footprint.

Asked about the move, McNulty said it was coordinated with the host nations. “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.”

“The Defense Department maintains tens of thousands of forces in the Middle East, representing some of our most advanced air power and maritime capabilities, in support of US national interests and our regional partnerships,” she said.

Read more: Iran is ‘greatest, single threat’ to stability in Middle East: US general