The US Department of Defense is to deploy 500 troops and other equipment to an air base near the Saudi capital of Riyadh, CNN reported, citing anonymous US Defense officials.
According to the sources, the troops will be deployed to the Prince Sultan Air Base, located east of Riyadh in a desert area. A small number of troops and support personnel are already on site with initial preparations being made for a Patriot missile defense battery as well as runway and airfield improvements, the officials said.
In addition, in a statement on July 18th, US Central Command chief Kenneth McKenzie pledged that the US would “aggressively” work to ensure maritime safety in strategy Persian Gulf waters.
“We are currently talking with the international community about the importance of the right of freedom of navigation in the Middle East,” McKenzie told reporters at Prince Sultan air base near Riyadh.
“We are going to work very aggressively with our partners… to come to a solution that will enable the free passage of critical oil and other commodities… through the region.”
His comment comes after US General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last week said the US aims to form a coalition to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Gulf amid fraught relations between Washington and Tehran.
The effort is called Operation Sentinel – and its goal is to “promote maritime stability, ensure safe passage, and de-escalate tensions in international waters throughout the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait (BAM) and the Gulf of Oman.” Still, showing that the US refuses to call the Persian Gulf by its actual name thousands of years after it was established as that.
On July 19th, the SPA – Saudi Arabia’s official press agency reported that an unnamed Saudi Defense Official confirmed the deployment.
“An official in the Saudi Ministry of Defense stated that based on the efforts to strengthen regional security and stability, and based on the joint cooperation between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America; His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, has approved hosting US Armed Forces in the Kingdom to increase joint cooperation in defense of regional security and stability and to preserve its peace.”
According to Reuters, the U.S. Defense Department confirmed the move in a statement, saying it would deploy troops and resources to Saudi Arabia to “provide an additional deterrent” in the face of “emergent, credible threats.”
In June, the US Department of Defense said it would deploy 1,000 troops to the Middle East but did not say where they were going.
The following satellite imagery captured by Planet Labs show an initial deployment of US troops and support personnel to the air base in mid-June, according to Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, who has studied the new images.
Subsequent imagery captured in late June and early July appear to show preparations being made to the site ahead of the deployment of US troops, Lewis said.
“A small encampment and construction equipment appeared at the end of a runway by June 27, suggesting that improvements are already underway. The encampment to the east of the runway is typical of Air Force engineering squadrons deployed overseas,” he said.
The deployment is surely tied to the recent tensions between the US and Iran. But more than anything they’re most likely a way of the US proving its support for Saudi Arabia and marking Washington’s plan to involve itself a bit further in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. After all, being active against the Houthis, in Washington’s perspective is fighting against “Iranian proxies.”
In April 2019, the US Congress voted to end US role in the Yemen war, but US President Donald Trump vetoed the decision.
Notably, the US continues selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. Trump said there were no U.S. military personnel in Yemen accompanying the Saudi-led coalition fighting ‘Iran-backed’ Houthis, although he acknowledged that the U.S. has provided limited support to the coalition, including intelligence sharing, logistics support, and — until recently — in-flight refueling of non-U.S. aircraft.
He said the U.S. is providing the support to protect the safety of more than 80,000 Americans who live in certain areas of the coalition countries subject to Houthi attacks from Yemen.
“Houthis, supported by Iran, have used missiles, armed drones and explosive boats to attack civilian and military targets in those coalition countries, including areas frequented by American citizens, such as the airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. “In addition, the conflict in Yemen represents a ‘cheap’ and inexpensive way for Iran to cause trouble for the United States and for our ally, Saudi Arabia.”
Another part of US activity in Yemen include drone attacks and special forces operations, allegedly only aimed against al-Qaeda.
The most recent strike, which New America tracks, took place on June 24th.
“On June 24, 2019, three U.S. drone strikes (recorded here as one as it is not clear if they were distinct sets and New America counts strikes in rapid succession as a single strike) killed at least five militants in Yemen’s Al Bayd’a region, according to a Xinhua report. The report cited anonymous local security sources. Asked about the strike, CENTCOM confirmed that the Office of the Secretary of Defense acknowledged a strike on June 24 in Yemen.”
According to data that can be confirmed in 2019 there have been 6 drone strikes by the US allegedly targeting al-Qaeda targets.
One thing is certain, the slow and steady build-up in the Persian Gulf region appears to not be coming to a halt, but rather is primed to continue.
The tensions are growing, especially with US claims of downing an Iranian drone, Iran openly mocking the claims, and now Iran seizing a UK tanker, amid the UK deploying more warships to the Gulf.
The pressure on Iran in recent weeks, with the seizure of its tanker by the UK, the attempt to sanction it over downing a US drone, and the reports of the USS Boxer downing an Iranian drone have been less than effective.
Thus, Washington, viewing the intervention in Yemen as a fight against “Iranian Proxies” has presumably discovered another direction from which to exert pressure.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Military Situation In Yemen On July 18, 2019 (Map, Video)
- Iran Seizes 2 British Tankers In Strait of Hormuz (Updated)
- UAE Tanker “Disappears” In Persian Gulf. US Blames IRGC. Iran Says It Answered A Distress Call