US expands troop presence in Saudi Arabia

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The US military is using a range of ports and air bases in Saudi Arabia’s western desert and developing options for bases to use in the event of a conflict with Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

The paper said the information was according to the highest US military commander in the region, who added the unreported use of the Saudi bases over the past year or so coincides with senior military commanders’ search for alternatives to transport soldiers and equipment to and from the region safely and reduce exposure to Iranian ballistic missiles.

Thousands of American soldiers, fighters, and other weapons have been stationed in Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia since 2019 in order to respond to regional threats from Iran. In fact, former President Donald Trump deployed these soldiers after establishing close relations with Saudi leaders in the wake of the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in 2018.

Though the Biden administration had previously hinted that it was planning to take a tougher approach towards Saudi Arabia, especially with regard to human rights issues, the continuing potential danger posed by Iran is still a key factor, according to US officials.

The tensions between the United States and Iran remain high, despite the fact that US military officials have expressed a sense of relief earlier as Tehran did not attempt to attack American soldiers in Iraq or US interests prior to Biden’s inauguration, as many officials had feared.

READ: US military training mission in Saudi Arabia extended for $350m

On the other hand, the potential attacks on Saudi Arabia, US forces in the region, or other allies have forced US military officials to take what they described as prudent measures in order to prepare for the possible confrontation with Iran.

On Monday, Iranian officials said that the presence of the US and other foreign forces in the Middle East is the main reason behind “the chaos and lack of security in our region.”

The United States is negotiating with Saudi Arabia to invest in boosting the infrastructure of commercial and industrial ports on the coast of Yanbu, as well as two airbases in Tabuk and Taif to make them more suitable for the use of the US military. These will provide the US alternatives to the military bases it already uses in Kuwait and Qatar should Iran launch an attack.

The Saudis will pay for improving the infrastructure of the dual-use sites, which will not be dedicated for military purposes only. However, the Saudi officials did not provide an immediate comment in this regard.

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