US Pulls Missile System in Saudi Arabia amid Yemeni Resistance Ops
By Staff, Agencies
The United States removed its most advanced missile defense system and Patriot batteries from Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, even as the kingdom faced continued aerial operations from Yemen’s Ansarullah resistance movement.
The redeployment of the defenses from Prince Sultan Air Base outside Riyadh came as Gulf Arab countries nervously watched the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, including their last-minute evacuations from Kabul’s besieged international airport.
While tens of thousands of American forces remain across the Arabian Peninsula as a counterweight to Iran, Gulf Arab nations worry about the US’s future plans as its military perceives a growing threat in Asia that requires those missile defenses.
“Perceptions matter whether or not they’re rooted in a cold, cold reality. And the perception is very clear that the US is not as committed to the Gulf as it used to be in the views of many people in decision-making authority in the region,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
“From the Saudi point of view, they now see Obama, Trump and Biden – three successive presidents – taking decisions that signify to some extent an abandonment.”
Prince Sultan Air Base, some 115km southeast of Riyadh, has hosted several thousand US troops since a 2019 missile-and-drone operation on the heart of the kingdom’s oil production. That operation was claimed by Yemen’s Ansarullah resistance.
Just southwest of the airbase’s runway, a one-square-kilometer area set off by an earthen berm saw American forces station Patriot missile batteries, as well as one advanced Terminal High Altitude Air Defense unit, according to satellite images from Planet Labs Inc. A THAAD can destroy ballistic missiles at a higher altitude than Patriots.
A satellite image seen by The Associated Press news agency in late August showed some of the batteries removed from the area, though activity and vehicles could still be seen there. A high-resolution Planet Lab satellite picture taken on Friday showed the batteries’ pads at the site empty, with no visible activity.
The redeployment of missiles had been rumored for months, in part because of a desire to face what American officials see as the looming “great powers conflict” with China and Russia. However, the withdrawal came just as an Ansarullah drone operation against Saudi Arabia wounded eight and damaged a commercial jetliner at the kingdom’s airport in Abha. The kingdom has been locked in a stalemate war with the Ansarullah since March 2015.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby acknowledged “the redeployment of certain air defense assets”. He said the US maintained a “broad and deep” commitment to its Middle East allies.