Saudi Arabia prepares to receive US troops
The Saudi Ministry of Defence on Friday (July 19th) announced that based on efforts to increase joint co-operation in defence of regional security and stability, King Salman has approved the hosting of US armed forces.
The US is re-establishing a presence at Prince Sultan Air Base, located in the desert south of Riyadh, and has been moving equipment and hundreds of troops to the base, with more expected to follow as part of an air squadron.
"In co-ordination with and at the invitation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Secretary of Defense has authorised the movement of US personnel and resources to deploy to Saudi Arabia," the US Central Command said in a statement Friday.
This move has been anticipated "in view of the unstable security situation prevailing in the region", former Saudi military attaché Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Shehri told Al-Mashareq.
Iran and its regional proxies, including Yemen's Houthis (Ansarallah), are responsible for the growing climate of instability, "making it imperative to take prompt actions", he said.
The repeated attacks on sites such as Abha International Airport in the kingdom's south are a "clear challenge whose elimination has become imperative, as the number of civilian casualties rises with every attack", he said.
Nine civilians were wounded in a July 2nd attack on Abha airport that was claimed by the Houthis, the latest in a series of recent strikes on the site.
With regard to regional threats, he said, US policy is in line with that pursued by Saudi Arabia, "which centres on restraint and not getting drawn into a military conflict".
"US forces are already present at some sites inside the kingdom under bilateral agreements between the two sides," political researcher Abdul Nabi Bakkar told Al-Mashareq.
These agreements encompass defence, training and joint co-operation in counter-terrorism, he said, adding that the US also has special interests and citizens residing in the kingdom who require protection in case of emergency.
The increase in the number of troops and equipment is not intended only to protect the kingdom "but the stability of the region as a whole", Bakkar said.
From the military standpoint, the increase in the number of US troops in Saudi Arabia is intended to secure the forces already present in the kingdom, Egyptian military expert Wael Abdul Muttalib told Al-Mashareq.
The arrival of additional troops and equipment will enhance their ability to respond to any direct threats, he said.
'A clear message to Iran'
"This is a clear message to Iran that the US is fully committed to deter any Iranian military operation in the region, which would be outright aggression that must be dealt with and eliminated," Abdul Muttalib said.
The US is committed to the security of the region under the partnerships forged with most Gulf states, he said, and dispatching additional troops aims to "protect common interests, troops and civilian and diplomatic premises".
"As for the Prince Sultan Air Base, it is one of the largest military bases in the Middle East and can accommodate large numbers of troops, equipment and vehicles," he said.
More importantly, it can accommodate "a large number of fighter jets" and aircraft equipped with airborne warning and control systems (AWACS), a long-range radar surveillance and control centre for air defence, he said.
The transfer of fighter jets to the Prince Sultan Air Base will provide the kingdom and the US air superiority that will fully protect ground forces in the case of a conflict, he added.