The US is deploying ground-based air defense sytems and 200 troops to Saudi Arabia in response to this month’s strikes at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure.
The United States is sending one Patriot missile defense battery and four ground-based Sentinel radars to Saudi Arabia to bolster the kingdom’s defenses following the attack on Saudi oil facilities blamed on Iran, the Pentagon said Thursday.
“This deployment will augment the kingdom’s air and missile defense of critical military and civilian infrastructure. This deployment augments an already significant presence of US forces in the region,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said.
The air defense systems will be accompanied by around 200 support personnel.
Two additional Patriot batteries and one Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) were also given orders to maintain a heightened readiness to speed up a possible deployment, the Pentagon said.
The US military already has tens of thousands of troops spread across the Gulf region, including in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.
Germany, France and Britain this week joined the United States and Saudi Arabia in blaming Iran for being behind the September 14 attacks that temporarily knocked out half of the kingdom’s oil production.
Iran denies involvement and Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed credit for the sophisticated strikes .
The brazen attacks at the heart of Saudi oil infrastructure highlighted major gaps in its air defense system despite Riyadh ranking as the world’s largest arms importer over the past five years.
Most of the kingdom’s air defenses are directed towards the south, where Iran-aligned Houthi rebels regularly launch drone and missile attacks to retaliate for the Saudi-led intervention in the country’s multi-sided war, which has created the world’s largest humanitarian disaster.
So far, the United States has not provided concrete evidence Iran was behind the attacks, but officials say they believe a swarm of cruise missiles and drones were launched from inside or Iran or Iraq, where Iran-backed Shiite militia hold considerable sway.
On Friday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani challenged accusers to provide evidence to back up their claims his country was behind the attacks.
“If you do have any evidence or documentation please do make them available to me,” Rouhani said, adding that Western countries should stop arming Saudi Arabia in its war against Yemen.
cw/rc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)