US to bol­ster Saudi de­fense against Ira­ni­ans with troops, jets

The Morning Call - - LOCAL / NATION - By Lolita C. Bal­dor

WASH­ING­TON — The U.S. is de­ploy­ing dozens more fighter jets and ad­di­tional air de­fenses to Saudi Ara­bia, beef­ing up ef­forts to de­fend the king­dom against Iran even as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­peat­edly in­sists that Amer­ica must get out of end­less Mid­dle East wars.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper an­nounced the de­ploy­ments Fri­day just hours af­ter Iran said two mis­siles struck one of its oil tankers trav­el­ing through the Red Sea off the coast of Saudi Ara­bia.

The Pen­tagon moves are part of a broader re­sponse to the sus­pected Ira­nian mis­sile and drone at­tack on Saudi oil fa­cil­i­ties Sept. 14.

The height­ened ten­sions be­tween Iran and Saudi Ara­bia have led the U.S. to pour about 14,000 more U.S. troops into the re­gion since May, in­clud­ing ad­di­tional ships to main­tain mar­itime se­cu­rity in the Per­sian Gulf area.

The de­ci­sion un­der­scores the com­plex­i­ties of Amer­ica’s Mid­dle East poli­cies that strug­gle to align Trump’s stated de­sire to pull troops out of the re­gion with what have been per­sis­tent threats from Iran and a volatile mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in Syria.

Esper said the de­ci­sion fol­lowed dis­cus­sions with the Saudi min­is­ter of de­fense about the coun­try’s de­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“Saudi Ara­bia is a long-stand­ing se­cu­rity part­ner in the Mid­dle East and has asked for ad­di­tional sup­port to sup­ple­ment their own de­fense and de­fend the in­ter­na­tional rules­based or­der,” he told re­porters at the Pen­tagon.

In the lat­est de­ploy­ment, the U.S. will send two fighter jet squadrons, a unit of other sup­port air­craft, two Pa­triot mis­sile bat­ter­ies and one anti-mis­sile de­fense sys­tem known as THAAD. U.S. of­fi­cials said this new de­ploy­ment in­volves about 1,800 ser­vice mem­bers.

FAYEZ NURELDINE/GETTY-AFP

Ma­rine Gen. Ken­neth F. McKen­zie Jr. meets Saudi of­fi­cers dur­ing his visit in July at a base in al-Kharj, Saudi Ara­bia.

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