LONDON: Two of the US’ four Patriot anti-missile battery units in Saudi Arabia have been removed along with another two in the Middle East because tensions have eased with Iran, according to a US official.
The two units in Saudi Arabia were helping to protect the Kingdom’s oil fields, but will likely be replaced by Saudi Patriot batteries, Bloomberg reported the anonymous official as saying.
Despite the removals, more than 12 Patriot batteries and one Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, used to intercept ballistic missiles at higher altitudes, will remain in the region.
The four units in the region had been scheduled to be withdrawn in March, but it was delayed following two rocket attacks on Iraqi camp Taji that month, which were blamed on Iranian-backed militia.
The rotation of US fighter squadrons has also been announced, meaning there has been a net loss of two 12-aircraft units in the region, the official added.
When asked by Bloomberg about the changes to US deployment, a Pentagon spokesman said US response and capability remained “robust” in the Middle East region, adding that the US will continue to look to boost its air defenses in the Middle East.
“The Department maintains robust in-theater capabilities, including air defense, to address any Iran-related contingencies as needed,” Navy Commander Sean Robertson said. “We also maintain the capability to augment these forces on short notice.”
US President Donald Trump initially deployed additional forces to the region following the downing of a US drone over the Arabian Gulf and the attacks on Saudi Aramco facilities in the Kingdom, which were widely blamed on Iran and its proxies.
That boost of forces included the Patriot missile batteries, four radar systems and 200 troops to Saudi Arabia in September in a bid to extend its air defense coverage of the Kingdom.
“Well, I don’t want to talk about it but we’re doing some things,” Trump said on Thursday when asked about the decision to remove the Patriot batteries.
“We’re making a lot of moves, in the Middle East and elsewhere. We’re doing a lot of things all over the world militarily.”
Iran remains a threat despite the easing of tensions, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.
“It’s fair to say that Iran continues its malign behavior throughout the region,” he told reporters on Tuesday at the Pentagon. “The Iranian government continues to export terrorism, continues to export this malign behavior from the Houthis, up into Iraq, across into Syria, you name it.”