The US has removed its most advanced missile defense system and Patriot batteries from Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show.
Prince Sultan Air Base, some 115 kilometers (70 miles) southeast of Riyadh, has hosted several thousand US troops since a 2019 missile-and-drone attack on the heart of the kingdom’s oil production, claimed by Yemen’s revolutionaries.
Just southwest of the air base’s runway, a 1-square-kilometer (third-of-a-square-mile) area set off by an earthen berm saw American forces station Patriot missile batteries, as well as one advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense unit, according to satellite images from Planet Labs Inc. A THAAD can destroy ballistic missiles at a higher altitude than Patriots.
A satellite image seen by the AP in late August showed some of the batteries removed from the area, though activity and vehicles still could be seen there. A high-resolution Planet Lab satellite picture taken Friday showed the batteries’ pads at the site empty, with no visible activity.
The redeployment of the defenses from Prince Sultan Air Base outside of Riyadh came as America’s Gulf Arab allies nervously watched the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, including their last-minute evacuations from Kabul’s besieged international airport.
While tens of thousands of American forces remain across the Arabian Peninsula, Gulf Arab nations worry about the US’s future plans.
“Perceptions matter whether or not they’re rooted in a cold, cold reality. And the perception is very clear that the US is not as committed to the Gulf as it used to be in the views of many people in decision-making authority in the region,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
“From the Saudi point of view, they now see Obama, Trump and Biden — three successive presidents — taking decisions that signify to some extent an abandonment.”
Source: Associated Press