The Biden administration is moving several anti-missile batteries out of Middle Eastern countries as the Pentagon shifts its strategic focus away from the region and toward China and Russia, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
The newspaper, citing officials, reported that approximately eight Patriot weapons systems are being moved, most of them from Saudi Arabia. Batteries are also being moved out of Iraq, Jordan and Kuwait.
In addition, the US is pulling another anti-missile system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), out of Saudi Arabia and reducing jet fighter squadrons in the Middle East.
“What you’re seeing is a realignment of resources with strategic priorities,” one official told the Journal, adding that the US still has “tens of thousands of forces in the region, we still have forces in Iraq and Syria, those forces aren’t leaving. We still have our bases in the countries of our Gulf partners, they aren’t shutting down, there is still substantial presence, substantial posture in the region.”
According to the Journal, the moves began after a June 2 phone call between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also serves as the country’s minister of defense. A Pentagon readout of the call, during which Austin reportedly told the crown prince of the withdrawals, made only a passing mention of “bilateral efforts to improve Saudi Arabia’s defenses.”
The Pentagon began sending anti-missile batteries and the THAAD system to Saudi Arabia in 2019 following Iranian drone and missile attacks on a pair of major oil facilities. Iraq received Patriot systems after Iran-backed militants fired missiles at an airbase where US forces were stationed following the January 2020 drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
News of the logistical move comes amid the final withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, which the Biden administration has said will be completed by this summer. It also comes as the State Department pursues negotiations with Iran to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal, which then-President Donald Trump left in 2018.
Last month, the head of US Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, told reporters that Russia and China would likely seek to expand their influence in the Middle East as the United States tries to reduce its presence.
“The Middle East writ broadly is an area of intense competition between the great powers. And I think that as we adjust our posture in the region, Russia and China will be looking very closely to see if a vacuum opens that they can exploit,” McKenzie said.
“I think they see the United States shifting posture to look at other parts of the world and they sense there may be an opportunity there.”
Pentagon officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.