US continues building troop presence in Saudi Arabia

John Vandiver – Stars and Stripes Nov 20, 2019

US troops deploy to Saudi Arabia in Oct 2019. More will be joining them soon. Click to enlarge

U.S. forces are continuing to deploy to Saudi Arabia as part of a planned troop buildup aimed at deterring Iranian aggression in the region, President Donald Trump said in a letter sent to Congress this week.

Some American forces have already arrived in the country while others will be deployed in the coming weeks, Trump said Tuesday.

The deployments, which were approved by Defense Secretary Mark Esper in October, are intended to guard against “hostile action by Iran and its proxy forces” and will bring the total number of troops in Saudi Arabia to 3,000, the letter said.

The U.S. presence in the region seeks to “assure our partners, deter further Iranian provocative behavior, and bolster regional defensive capabilities,” Trump wrote. The troops will remain in Saudi Arabia “as long as their presence is required” to fulfill those missions, he wrote.

Military assets including radar and missile systems to improve air defenses, an air expeditionary wing to support fighter aircraft and two fighter squadrons, are also being sent to Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. began increasing its troop presence in the Middle East in May after intelligence reports indicated new Iranian threats to U.S. interests. Tensions have continued to escalate, and in September Washington accused Iran and its proxies of attacking oil and natural gas facilities in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who U.S. and Saudi officials say are backed by Iran, claimed responsibility for the attacks, whic halved the output of Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company.

A Saudi-led military coalition has been fighting to unseat the Houthis since 2015, a year after the rebel group seized control of the Yemeni capital Sanaa and much of the north of the country.

Trump has repeatedly talked about his desire to pull the U.S. military out of engagements in the Middle East, such as the conflict in Syria. But instability in the region continues to consume the Pentagon, even as it attempts to shift its focus to the Pacific and to countering Russia in Europe.

The latest U.S. deployments come at a time of turmoil within Iran itself, where Amnesty International has said more than 100 people have been killed in a government crackdown against demonstrators protesting steep fuel price hikes.

Iranian forces used “excessive and lethal force to crush largely peaceful protests” that began Friday, the rights group said.