Saudi King Salman has approved hosting of hundreds of US troops in the kingdom amid rising tensions in the region between the United States and Iran.
According to the kingdom’s defense ministry, King Salman has given his approval “based on mutual cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America” and Washington’s “desire to enhance everything that could preserve the security of the region and its stability.”
CNN reported on Thursday that around 500 troops were expected to be dispatched to the Prince Sultan Air Base, located in a desert area east of the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Two US military officials told CNN that a small number of troops and support personnel are already in the air base, with initial preparations being made for a US-made Patriot missile system as well as runway and airfield improvements.
Washington is expected to fly stealth, fifth-generation F-22 jets and other fighters from the air base, the unnamed US officials said.
The kingdom has not hosted US forces since 2003 when they pulled out following the end of the war with Iraq. The US troops were present in Saudi Arabia for 12 years, starting with Operation Desert Storm in 1991, when former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
At the peak of the Iraq war, 200 US aircraft were stationed at the Prince Sultan air base, which is situated around 80 kilometers south of Riyadh. As many as 2,700 missions a day were also handled by the headquarters in Saudi Arabia.
Since 2015, the US has been supporting a a Saudi-led war against Yemen that seeks to reinstall the impoverished country’s former Riyadh-backed officials. The American patronage has featured aerial refueling, which the US only stopped last year after the Saudi-led coalition grew independent of it, as well as logistical and commando support.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis have lost their lives since the onset of the war, and the country has been pushed close to the edge of outright famine.
A year after the war was launched, Trump made his maiden visit to Saudi Arabia, announcing more than $100 billion in arms sales to the kingdom.
$1.48bn contract for THAAD missile system
Meanwhile, a $1.48 billion contract to build the THAAD missile system for Saudi Arabia has been awarded to Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon said on Friday.
In November 2018, Saudi and American officials signed letters of offer and acceptance formalizing terms for Saudi Arabia’s purchase of 44 THAAD launchers, missiles and related equipment.
In April, a $2.4 billion contract for THAAD interceptor missiles was awarded to Lockheed. some of those missiles are set to be delivered to the kingdom, which is the United States’ largest arms client, with over $129 billion in approved purchases.
The arms exports and deployment of troops come against the backdrop of rising tensions between Iran and the US in the Persian Gulf.