Exclusive US-GCC defense working groups to look at increasing integrated air, missile defense

Meeting comes on heels of joint military exercises between US, Saudi Arabia, UAE

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Senior American officials will go to Saudi Arabia next week as part of a delegation that will host the next iteration of the US-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Defense Working Groups.

A US military official told Al Arabiya English that the meetings aim to advance US-GCC cooperation and multilateral integration against shared air and maritime threats.

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Dan Shapiro, the top Pentagon official for the Middle East, will lead the US delegation, which will begin meeting on May 22. The sides will provide updates and exchange views on ways to enhance integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) and maritime security cooperation.

Last month, senior US and Emirati officials met at the Pentagon for the annual US-UAE Joint Military Dialogue (JMD), with specific discussions focused on integrated air and missile defense and cooperation on emerging capabilities.

“This event is policy-focused and strategic in nature, and in addition to the office of the Secretary of Defense, will bring together senior civilian and military representatives from the Joint Staff, Missile Defense Agency, US Central Command (CENTCOM), US Naval Force Central Command (NAVCENT), Air Forces Central (AFCENT) and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency,” the military official added.

Last year, the US delegation included State Department officials, led by then-US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley. He has since had his security clearance revoked and placed on leave pending a federal investigation. Al Arabiya English has contacted the State Department to ask if they will be sending any representatives to the meetings next week.

All GCC members will send a commensurate level of representation.

Ahead of these meetings, but not directly related, US President Joe Biden’s top national security aide will lead a senior delegation to Saudi Arabia this weekend. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and other top White House officials are also expected to go to Israel amid the monthslong war between Israel and Hamas.

Washington and its GCC allies formed a partnership following the Camp David Summit in May 2015, with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain committing to establish a stronger partnership to address regional challenges.

“This partnership is based on reciprocal commitments to improve the security, stability and prosperity of the region,” the White House said.

Unprecedented US-Gulf military coordination

Next week’s defense meetings come on the heels of last week’s joint military exercises between Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the US.

Exercise Native Fury 24 (NF24) utilized a Saudi port facility in the Red Sea, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan Air Base, the UAE’s Al Dhafra Air Base, and a UAE port facility in the Gulf of Oman.

NF24 showcased the US and partner forces engaging in on-load and off-load operations using commercial maritime shipping, long-distance convoys, urban combat training, and various dynamic training events in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The purpose of NF24 was to practice combined abilities between the three countries to conduct maritime logistics of troops and equipment and then effectively move those troops and all their gear across the Arabian Peninsula, a US defense official told Al Arabiya English. “By engaging in regional exercises, we aim to enhance interoperability with our partners and prepare for potential responses to crises and other contingencies in the area,” the official said.

Although NF24 was in its eighth iteration, there were several unique achievements this year.

The official said that includes the first-ever integration of US Army Autonomous Tactical Vehicle Systems into US Marine logistics formations and the first multilateral iteration between the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Previous iterations were limited to bilateral exercises as opposed to this year’s multilateral.

“NF24 represents a significant milestone in the US military’s collaboration with the Royal Saudi Armed Forces and United Arab Emirates Armed Forces, demonstrating the positive outcomes of sustained cooperation,” CENTCOM said in a statement.

Read more: Biden’s top national security officials set to travel to Saudi Arabia

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